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Interview: MintPress News’ Mnar Muhawesh On Paris Attacks & Response Of Western Countries

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks and blasts in Beirut, it seems very likely that Western countries will overreact and play into the hands of the Islamic State. It is also clear there will be little reflection on how Western countries, including France, created a climate that fueled the radicalization of individuals who would want to target locations in Paris.

I interviewed Mnar Muhawesh, founder and editor-in-chief of MintPress News (MPN), and asked to her to react to how Western countries are responding to the attacks in Paris. She also addressed the media’s ignorance and dehumanization of people who were killed in blasts in Lebanon. We also discussed how MPN has been critiqued for its coverage of Syria and how there are journalists who have somewhat ridiculously fashioned themselves as sleuths and gone after MPN.

Listen to the interview by clicking on the below player. You can also listen and download the interview by clicking here, or find our recordings on iTunes under “Shadowproof Presents.”

Below is a transcript of my interview with Mnar Muhawesh.

GOSZTOLA: I’d like to setup my first question to you by acknowledging all of the deaths. In the Paris bombings, there were 129 people killed at this moment. Over 350 people injured. There were blasts in Beirut, Lebanon, that deserve just as much attention with at least 41 people killed. Over 200 people were injured last week. In Turkey, in October, there were over 100 people killed in attacks, with over 400 people injured. There was the Russian airliner that crashed and 254 people were killed. It’s largely suspected that there was a bomb placed on the airliner.

In response to the attacks, we’ve seen this backlash in the United States. Mostly Republican states are refusing to take Syrian refugees. Muslims in France, meanwhile, are being asked to take responsibility as if they should have known men were going to attack Paris. The French interior minister has called for the dissolving of mosques. They’re going to escalate deportations of preachers. So, I want to ask you to share your reaction to this response from Western countries to the attacks of the past weeks.

MUHAWESH: It’s very unfortunate to see the recent attacks in France, and, of course, even more unfortunate to see the media completely silent, if not dehumanizing, to the attacks that you mentioned before. Those that took place in Beirut, Baghdad, Turkey, and, of course, against the Russian airliner. They made the news barely and, if they did, for example, when ISIS attacked southern Beirut, the media dehumanized the entire population by calling it a Hezbollah stronghold. Of course, when it’s covered in Baghdad, it’s again presented in a sectarian framework.

So, this kind of dehumanization is nothing new. It’s been the constant fearmongering by the media since 9/11 whether it’s in the United States or in any NATO country that has been involved very heavily in destabilizing the Middle East.

The fact of the matter is ISIS, for the last couple of years, has killed over 100,000 Muslims because Muslims are the inhabitants of the Middle East for the most part. The media has been absolutely silent so it’s really hypocritical for the media to suddenly react and act like only the lives of Western nations matter. Really, it’s all lives matter if that’s how we should present it.

With this attack in Paris, for example, we have eight to ten people, who perpetrated this attack, and now all of the refugees have been demonized and dehumanized. So that’s eight people out of the millions of people that have been running away and escaping war-torn Syria, war-torn Libya, two countries that have been destabilized because of direct NATO intervention by countries like the United states, like France.

We like to think of France as this socialist nation, but in reality, France, just like the United States, has a very strong war machine. It has a lot of influence in the destabilization of the Middle East. So, when the media goes on to target and attack all of these refugees, there is a political agenda behind it and that is to ensure these wars and military presence in these countries can be justified. Because when thousands upon thousands of people get killed because of these rebels that are being armed by these NATO members and these Western nations, the only way to justify that is if we dehumanize the victims of these wars and that’s exactly what’s happening.

GOSZTOLA: Any thoughts on how people—not just the media but the officials who are making war—have to keep this separate? They say these attacks are terrorism but our bombs when they are dropping in these countries, whether it is from Saudi Arabia leading a coalition or other countries, those are part of warfare. It is just a part of counterterrorism. It seems even more one of the things we have to confront is this the war that we’re fighting spilling over into these countries. On one hand, we accept the hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives that are lost, where we are waging war. But like you say, we don’t accept a single life lost—and that’s the way it should be for all of these lives—when they’re killed by terrorists or militants in Paris.

MUHAWESH: Exactly, whether it is one person killed by an air strike or a drone or one person killed by a militant, really at the end of the day, what is the difference? They’re all being killed for political reasons.

In Yemen, we’ve had over 3,000 civilian deaths, most of which have been children. And it’s an already impoverished nation by a country Saudi Arabia, which is on the offensive there. Of course, these arms are coming from Western nations, like the United States, like Britain.

When the media covers them, it’s presented again in a sectarian framework. It’s a Sunni-Shia war, when the people on the ground have been protesting by the thousands. The majority of people have come out on the streets protesting the Saudi bombing spree that they’ve been on. And that’s just the truth of the matter is that the media is really good at dehumanizing the people that are being killed by these wars.

But we really need to talk about the root cause and where this all started and that is September 11th. The fact of the matter is that we have hijackers that took over these planes and that allowed for a justification of an all-out invasion of two countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, who had nothing to do with 9/11. At least, the people didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, and since that war has started and they’re both unending—Even in Iraq, we have more boots on the ground continuing to go in. But we’ve had over 4 million Muslim deaths occur because of those two invasions from direct and indirect military operations by the United States and NATO members. And that includes France as well.

The only way to justify this continuous to destabilize the Middle East—And, of course, it’s not just about destabilizing. This is all for control over gas and resources, and that’s what the root cause of all this is. Afghanistan is very resource-rich. So is Iraq. It has the second or third largest oil reserves in the world. The only way to continue these wars is to dehumanize the victims of these wars. And, of course, Syria has been a victim of all this as well, of this kind of destabilization, arming of rebels and airstrikes coming from everywhere, because Syria just so happens to be at the epicenter where gas and oil happens to run through to reach Europe. And that’s really what these wars are about.

GOSZTOLA: What are your thoughts or concerns about the next chapter of warfare in Syria, especially as France escalates and bombs with new ferocity any targets that are affiliated with the Islamic State?

MUHAWESH: Unfortunately, this is only going to get worse. We have a really, really frightening and terrifying and just monstrous war machine that is fueling each NATO country’s war economies. We have war economies ruling the world as we speak, and all of these bombing sprees. All of these arms flowing to countries like Saudi Arabia, like Qatar and Turkey that are [leading to arms ending up in the hands of] groups like ISIS is only pouring fuel on the fire.

I think France really needs to hold itself accountable for the monster that it helped create in Syria. People have said to me it is really insensitive to talk about that. We have to mourn the victims. Of course, we can mourn the victims, but we should also go to our leaders, as concerned citizens, and say, why have you been arming rebels, fascist right-wing rebels inside Syria and Libya knowing very well that these groups would either defect to ISIS or turn their arms to ISIS or al-Qaida and al-Nusra.

Mintpress has for the past three years warned that arming rebels would create the monster that we see today, which is ISIS, because these groups, the only way they are going to become stronger is through this arms race. And so, we have countries bombing them, but for the last several years they were arming them. Then we have allies in the region, like Qatar and Turkey, as I was mentioning before, who are actively arming these same rebel groups. It’s like this non-stop endless cycle of violence that is taking place.

The only way to stop ISIS is to cut their supplies, and I think that’s where we have to be honest with ourselves in saying this foreign policy of arming right-wing rebels—Just like we did in Afghanistan, just like we did in countries across Africa, like we are still doing in Somalia, in Sudan, in Mali, and Libya and elsewhere, where we are arming these right-wing rebels—They’re only creating more terrorism. Whether we think they’re moderate or not moderate, they end up joining these larger terror groups.

Thankfully, independent organizations like WikiLeaks have been able to publish leaked U.S. State Department documents that have shown that this has actually been the plan all along. I think it’s really naive of us to say that, well, maybe we need to reconsider our foreign policy. We need to stop this and stop that. Just like the things I just laid out.

While everything I said is true, I think it’s naive of us to think our governments are actually going to change because if you look at what WikiLeaks has dumped for us from all of these State Department cables and government cables, like the Saudi cables, these things have been laid out quite consciously, knowing full well that destabilizing these nations, overthrowing these governments, arming these rebels, would work in our interests to have them control these terrorist organizations, take over these oil fields. We would then get really cheap oil, have the Saudis still control the oil market, and then it would require to continue to act like we need to bomb them. It this endless cycle of violence that is really profitable, and that’s really what it is all about.

GOSZTOLA: Now, I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but MintPress News has been dragged into this critique that you’re somehow part of an information war around Syria. And MintPress News publishes a lot of varying content. You’re not only a place for journalism on the ongoing violence in Syria, but you have been associated with things that are intended to marginalize MintPress News. Would you talk about handling that in the last couple of years?

MUHAWESH: I find it really, really interesting. We’ve been critiqued by Buzzfeed. We always laugh when we say that. I made it to the front page of Buzzfeed, and I always laugh when I tell that story because we wear it as a badge of honor that a news organization that is the official mouthpiece of the Israeli Defense Forces and gets a lot of money from these special interest groups came and targeted myself and our newsroom. Then, we’ve been critiqued by one local newspaper called MinnPost, which is ironic because they’re supposedly this leftist citizen-driven news organization.

I just find it so interesting that they have come after MintPress after all of our reporting, which we always have everything cited. We have amazing interviews. And it’s all citations that we usually get from WikiLeaks dumps. And we present these issues in Syria and these articles go totally viral. One of our articles on Syria broke our website because it was getting over 100,000 unique visitors every three minutes. This was a couple years ago when there was the Syria chemical weapons attack.

Then, we have an article I wrote a couple weeks ago about the refugee crisis that broke down and reminded the public this crisis in Syria is really about gas pipelines. And, again, I’m citing WikiLeaks in presenting all of my facts. That article goes totally viral, has over 40,000 shares just on Facebook. Obviously, it brought of traffic to our site, and then, instead of discussing the issue at hand, this war machine that is driving the largest refugee crisis, this is I’ve been trying to bring attention, I’ve been critiqued personally as this really obscure and like suspicious person, basically treating me as suspect.

I always find this interesting. Why aren’t we talking about these issues at hand? Why is it always coming back to who Mnar Muhawesh is and—You know, I’m kind of flattered because these people seem to think that I’m so interesting. But there is really nothing obscure about us. We have about 3 million unique visitors per month that come to our site. We reach millions upon millions of people on social media.

The truth is it’s really not about me. I’m not the first person in media to be targeted by these so-called journalists, and pundits I would say. It’s diversion. That’s all it really it is. When we’re talking about the war machine, why are we going back to talk about me? And the fact that I am a twenty-eight year-old woman running a journalism startup?

Yeah, that’s kind of interesting and cool, but why aren’t we going back and talking about Buzzfeed? Where did Buzzfeed just get their last $50 million? Why aren’t we talking about Buzzfeed getting a lot of special interest money from the Israeli Defense Forces to skew public opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why aren’t we talking about the New York Times that is getting gag orders from the Israeli government? Why aren’t we talking about CNN that’s getting the same thing, special interest money from Bahrain so CNN would not report on the uprising there? That’s what we should be talking about.

We should also be talking about the wars that are happening overseas, the issues that we are trying to bring attention to. So, it is a diversion. It’s a lot of McCarthyism as well. I’m a young woman, and I think it is interesting I have been targeted like it’s so hard for a young woman to succeed these days. Like, it’s 2015. Let’s get with the system here.

GOSZTOLA: The journalists who want to come after MintPress News fashion themselves as if they are exposing malevolent actors that are hiding among us. This guy from the Minnesota Post—I don’t want to give him too much inflated importance—but the style in which he came after MintPress News was to act like he was doing a major investigative journalism story and was going around to find all your accounts to contact you and there’s no responses. Then, he’s looking for your office and made it sound shady by saying all your phones are disconnected.

And, for you to clarify for people who were taken by this story and believed there was something to be concerned about in terms of your organization, you were telling me you haven’t had an office for a while?

MUHAWESH: We did have an office we were renting for two years, but when I restructured our business plan, just like any other business startup—We don’t have all the funding that organizations like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post had, although we wish we did so we could make an even greater impact. We just don’t. So, we had to get rid of our office, and now we’re a virtual office just like most independent journalism websites. And it’s simply because of the costs. That’s all it really is.

We changed our business model completely in the last one to two years into a freelance business model. And I just find it so amazing and so interesting that since we actually have done that we’ve actually reached, educated, and empowered more people than we have in the past. Now, we focus on investigative reporting instead of daily news. We’ve partnered up with a lot of organizations so that we can still have syndication to posts on our websites, to update constantly so we have daily news available. But MintPress specifically, we’re trying to focus on investigative journalism, which is really missing in the news media world.

So, that’s where we’re putting our footprint in the journalism world. We’re making a big impact, and we’re pretty proud of that. But the fact that this guy went on this investigative spree to try to contact me when we actually checked all of our accounts. He had never even tried to contact us, which I thought was interesting. He had sent me one email. That day I had just been super, super busy. I didn’t even see it until the next day when someone sent me the article and brought it to my attention.

GOSZTOLA: They make you seem shady, and I think if you had this money you probably would have an office. If someone was really funding you from outside the United States, then you maybe would go to the trouble to have an office and be a force that could challenge the New York Times or something like that.

So, talk about starting MintPress News. How long has MintPress News been around and what drove you to launch this organization?

MUHAWESH: MintPress News actually started out as my personal blog. I first actually started out working in the corporate media here locally. I worked at KARE 11. I was an intern. I did online news writing and worked with the journalists there. They do really, really good work KARE 11. It’s an NBC affiliate there at a local TV station.

But having lived under Israeli occupation and apartheid when I was a young teenager and seeing just how the media really manipulates conflict narratives and the way it dehumanizes victims of wars and just the way media works in its establishment neoconservative talking points that it is constantly shoving down our throats every single day, I really never felt like my work in local media and corporate press was really fulfilling. Because it it was really driven by their business model, which was an advertising business model.

I’ve always wanted to create this new media model and represent independent journalism that could provide a real voice for people on the ground in wars, whether it’s the Middle East or in South America or in Africa or everywhere around the world. I’ve always wanted to be that voice for them. So, in the early stages of starting MintPress, I was really naive and overly excited. I was a young entrepreneur and journalist and I really looked up to Arianna Huffington and I really wanted to be her. Except, she strayed into the corporate special interest world. But I wanted to emulate what she had done [by building] this journalist organization and also be this successful entrepreneur. And that was my vision when I started MintPress.

Of course, things don’t always go as planned. My vision for MintPress has always been very grand and large, but sooner or later, I realized that with my plan to be editorially independent it’s really, really hard to find lenders and investors with any sort of funding to support these kind of endeavors. I was working originally with investors, but that plan fell through.

We’ve taken on this new model, which is a freelance business model, and we’ve been able to reach organically 3 million people a month. We’ve been able to make a huge impact through our investigative reporting and because we’ve stayed away from that daily news we’ve been able to focus on issues like Syria, like the infringement on our civil liberties and the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment. We’ve been able to follow protest groups in the United States and across the globe and really show what is driving all of these conflicts.

What we try to do at MintPress is show everything from an economic perspective. Everything is driven through economics and that’s what we try to show. We’ve been able to successfully do that, and I feel really proud about what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Of course, whenever you try to challenge the status quo, whenever you are a new voice that is trying to shake people up and reinvigorate them and help them become better informed citizens, you better believe that you’re going to get attacked. While you may have a lot of supporters and readers and this and that, you’re always going to have critics and so we definitely have gotten used to that.

Part 2 will be posted next week.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."