Published in partnership with MintPress News.
MINNEAPOLIS — Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored to be here and humbled to be among local game-changers who work tirelessly every single day on a grassroots level to improve our communities.
I’m even more honored that Margaret invited me to speak. She has been such an enormous [source of] support for me and for the work that I do.
As cliche as it might sound, it always warms my heart and puts a big smile on my face when I look around and see that my strongest advocates are a Christian pastor and anti-war Jewish activists and rabbis. Because in a world that is so divided, it’s friends and circles like these that give me hope for a peaceful future.
It’s no wonder [that our world is so divided]: Our media works tirelessly day in and day out to divide us and to make us fear what is different.
I’m excited to hopefully shed some light on re-empowering our local communities through watchdog journalism and grassroots efforts, and an interesting concept that I came to — and quite literally live by — “GLOCAL” and how it’s essential to reviving media narratives.
It simply means: think globally, act locally. In a world that seems so vast and large, sometimes confusing and frightening, we are all more interconnected than we’d like to think, and our everyday decisions do impact people around the world.
Yet why do so many of us live in fear of what we do not know and what is different? With wars raging in Africa and the Middle East against rising terrorism and the war here at home for justice against government corruption, income inequality and police brutality — that silly concept of peace seems nearly impossible.
How we hear and learn about the world, and even about what’s going on in our own nation, is through one lens, which is the media. But never has this lens been more narrow and more extreme than it is today. We do not have a mainstream media anymore; we have an extreme, corporate media beating the drums of war.
There’s the over-hyping of Donald Trump’s ridiculous rants and racist raves, the media whitewashing of white supremacist crimes while villainizing young unarmed African-American teens murdered by police. The unlimited coverage of terror attacks in Western nations like France while daily terror that strikes Gaza, Somalia, Mali, the Congo and Liberia goes without a mention. And how can we forget about personal attacks between the two-party candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush?
The media are actually training us to fit the mould of a shallow society that thrives off of fear, sensationalism, and one that encourages us to hate and support war whether it’s at home or abroad.
And when it comes to the Middle East, coverage of ISIS, the beheadings of journalists, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Syrian civil war, the Sunni-Shiite divide, and Palestinian resistance — it seems almost instantly the naïve and evil preconceptions about the Middle East post-9/11 have resurfaced all over again.
Muslims are the boogeymen of our time. In fact, Islamophobia is such a hot button topic, it’s an industry worth $200 billion per year.
And th resurgence of this cold war rhetoric between the United States and Russia and NATO allies — first over Russia’s strategic alliance with Syria’s Bashar Assad, then the tug of war over Ukraine, and now Turkey’s downing of Russian fighter jet that was targeting ISIS. It’s as if we’re careening toward World War III, and the media is cheerleading this on.
And in our own backyards, there is a revolution brewing that we rarely hear about that demands justice against police misconduct and brutality and against a 1% elite that have amassed the wealth of over 50 percent of the world’s population. While gunmen are shooting up schools, Planned Parenthood facilities and, just yesterday, with the tragic shooting against our most vulnerable — the disabled — in San Bernardino. California, Why do some stories get unlimited coverage while other real important stories can go without a mention?
I talk to a lot of people about these stories and give a lot of presentations about these issues. And I always hear the same thing from people: I don’t even like turning the TV on anymore or care to follow the news. It’s too depressing. I can’t do anything about it.
And in our fast food headline-driven industry, we experience information overload to the point where most of these stories don’t make sense, and I know the media isn’t telling the full story. How many of you can related to that? Raise your hands.
You’re not alone: A recent Gallup poll showed that over 60 percent of Americans don’t trust the corporate press anymore.
The people who say those things to me are the same people who are truly concerned about war and its human casualty, the growing income inequality in this nation, climate change, net neutrality, big money in politics, police brutality, Big Brother spying on us, and the fading away of our civil liberties. In fact, these are not the concerns of a fringe minority, nor are they the concerns of a silent majority. In fact, these are the concerns ofthe silenced majority.
We are silenced by this extremist corporate media that’s driven by a headline news industry and gives us fast food-style news snippets that don’t have much substance. That’s why it’s more important now than ever that we take our media back through independent, alternative and grassroots journalism like MintPress. Without an independent media acting as a watchdog to those in power, we are only feeding into a system that drives revenue to elitists through the most profitable act of business our nation has come too comfortably to love which is WAR, which is only possible through hate. Let’s face it, hate sells.
And if our leaders here or anywhere in the world can get us to fear each other, to hate each other, to fight each other, to divide us and distract us from the real issues at hand that I just mentioned, then conquering and exploiting us here or abroad wouldn’t be that difficult.
As of 2001, six corporations now own the media — General Electric, News Corp., Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS.
And if you heard that right, that means the defense, arms, cable and entertainment industries like the powers that be in Hollywood control over 90 percent of what 300 million Americans see, hear and read. So, statistically, for every 50 million Americans, one corporation provides their news.
Through this process of media consolidation and corporate ownership, the entities the press is meant to hold accountable became the owners of that media.
They’ve effectively turned the media into a lapdog for those in power, dulling the teeth of the watchdog the First Amendment was written to protect.
And if you noticed, I pointed out that it was in 2001 that the media was wrapping up its consolidation. And in 2001, when U.S. launched its official “war on terror” after 9/11, a new era erupted in the American press: A general climate of fear and anger toward American Muslims was fomented, as seen in the “civilization of jihad” narrative and the biased media coverage of American wars for oil in the Middle East.
This climate of fear has manifested itself for the past 14 years in institutional policies that view American Muslims as a threat, and [they] are treated as suspect when doing just about anything.
Despite most of the 9/11 hijackers being from Saudi Arabia, President Bush went on to invade Afghanistan and Iraq — two nations strategically located in a resource-rich region still untouched by multinational corporations, and countries which could later act as a military base buffer zones to China and Russia.
Now despite the United States’ long history of funding and arming both the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the terrorist mujahedeen movement in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO entered a new era of endless war, [grabbing resources], fomenting civil strife, supporting more right-wing militias, and spreading American-style democracy — or what we like to call “monopoly capitalism.”
Take the Iraq War, for example. I used this example in a presentation I did on Islamophobia a few months ago. The Iraq War is many things to different people. If we look at Hollywood war porn propaganda movies like “American Sniper,” the Iraq War was a patriotic mission in defense of American freedoms and values.
Even though the movie was released 12 years after 9/11, the producers attempted to insult our intelligence by rewriting the U.S. destruction of Iraq by tying 9/11 to Saddam Hussein to justify that war.
Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who the hollywood blockbuster was based on, wrote a book by the same name that encapsulates his hatred, bigotry and enthusiasm for killing Iraqi “savages.”
What he wrote in his book is a microcosm of the way the American press portrayed Arabs and Muslims alike to foment fear and justify these military operations. He wrote:
The media’s caricature of Muslims as savages is also responsible for the rise of hate crimes that have targeted American Muslims.
Just this summer, I found my family at the center of a hate crime because of Islamophobia. This story made it to national news, but it was originally covered by KARE 11 here. My own parents were held at gunpoint because a blonde, white, middle-aged suburban mom thought they looked suspicious.
My parents are Palestinian-Americans. My mother, who wears the hijab, and my father, who has a darker complexion, were waiting to pick up my 16-year-old brother from a friend’s house in their car in Brooklyn Park.
This woman approached my parents with a rifle directed at them and threatened to shoot them because she thought they looked suspicious. My parents put their hands up and told her they were there to pick up my little brother.
The woman didn’t believe them. She went to my father’s side and ordered him to get out of the car. She put the rifle against the back of his head and lowered it to his back. She then ordered my dad to prove to her that they were there to pick up my brother.
And she kep on insisting that they looked suspicious. She marched my dad up to this friend’s house, and out comes my brother. She then put her rifle behind her back. My parents later pressed charges against this woman, and she’s facing a court hearing actually this month, but the scars this terrifying incident left on my family will stay with us forever.
My parents are certainly not alone. It’s estimated that about 500 hate crimes occur against Muslims in the United States every year. And studies have shown time and time again that the perpetrators are following right-wing news that teaches hate like Fox News.
And in the past year, right-wing groups have armed themselves with loaded guns, holding pig heads, bullet-riddled Qurans and American flags as they marched to mosques to tell American Muslims they are not welcome here.
Now, despite the nearly 2 million civilian casualties in the Iraq War and nearly 2 million deaths from the U.S. war in Afghanistan that we rarely hear about, the War in Iraq was a cash cow for over 25 multinational oil, construction, agriculture, equity and banking corporations.
Take for example Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, which gained $17.2 billion in Iraq War-related revenue from 2003-2006.
But the often censored part of the Western wars in the Middle East is the human cost. Since 1990 it’s been estimated that up to 8 million Muslims have died due to direct and indirect military operations in just Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. and its NATO allies.
Now take a second to think about that: 8 million innocent people. We’re not talking about terror groups, but civilians. This report was released a earlier this year by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning doctors based in D.C.,Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Surprisingly, CNN released statistics just this month that showed that since 2001, about 3,000 Americans have died due to terrorism [compared to more than 400,000 who have died as a result of domestic gun violence]. Americans are more likely to be killed by right-wing hate groups with guns than a terrorist.
So, how do politicians justify the murder of 8 million Muslims and convince the masses that these wars are being fought for human rights?
This is the most important question we can ask tonight because it can help us really understand how this climate of fear is crafted and how war is sold to the public. I’ve sat down with former Pentagon and CIA officials like John Kiriakou. Kiriakou told me that there’s no such thing as “American exceptionalism.” While the U.S. claims to be defending human rights around the world, it’s really just securing its oil interests.
We love to say that we’re … this shining city on the hill where we support human rights, but the truth of the matter is, we only support those human rights when the country also has oil that it can sell us. That’s just a fact of American policy in the Middle East.
Jumping to the current “war” we’re involved in — now that the media has fear-mongered the public into supporting it — is the one against ISIS.
It has turned into a gravy train for profits. From a report that we conducted at MintPress [in October 2014]:
Since the beginning of this year, the defense stocks of America’s top five arms producers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman — are trading at record prices as shareholders reap the benefits from escalating military conflicts around the world including against ISIS, fuelling the very military-industrial complex that has ownership of our media and drives the public into war.
But it’s important to break down this specific conflict because it would help us understand not only how the media manipulates conflict narratives to justify war, but it could better help us understand how we need to reform our foreign policy to focus more on a peace economy.
The war on ISIS: It seems complex and hard to follow, thanks to our media.
The fact that U.S. intelligence assesses that ISIS poses no current threat to the U.S. is repeatedly ignored by our politicians and media.
In the last two years President Obama and others have presented the American public with the idea that ISIS could pose a threat to the U.S. — which is why our “no boots on the ground” initiative against ISIS started over a year ago in Iraq and is expanding into Syria, completely contradicting evidence provided by U.S. intelligence.
In fact, what the media has done is provided unlimited airtime to these politicians, analysts and pundits who directly profit from war without questioning them once.
But the narrative is Orientalist. It’s dehumanizing.
We’re told that the conflicts in the Middle East are sectarian. The people there can’t get along. They’ve been fighting each other for 1,400 years — which is just not true.
The story is as simple as this: What we see taking place in the Middle East is indeed a mess fueled by sectarianism, but it’s a mess that we allowed to happen.
It’s a mess that is also being fomented by competing regional allies in the Middle East — Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Israel — not only for economic and regional influence, but most importantly for control over oil and gas supplies. Because at the end of the day, money means power.
The story really begins in invading Iraq, and the near invasion of Syria two years ago.
According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark in a video that has gone viral, a memo from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years,” starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”
In a subsequent interview, Clark argued that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources.
Thanks to alternative media like WikiLeaks, leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, including notes from meetings with Pentagon officials, have confirmed that the U.S. and U.K. were actively training Syrian opposition forces since 2011, [training activities] aimed at the “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.”
This was the same strategy the U.S. and NATO would engage in Libya with the fall of Gadhafi.
These leaked documents I was just refering to go on to say:
The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized… For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources.
And how this will be accomplished will be through sectarianism and civil strife. This goes on to say:
Divide and Rule focuses on exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts. “This strategy relies heavily on covert action, unconventional warfare, the United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy campaigns. US leaders could also choose to capitalize on the ‘Sustained Shia-Sunni Conflict’ trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.
And how would this be executed? This report lays out the plan of shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
Noting that this could actually empower al-Qaida jihadists, the report concluded that doing so might work in Western interests by bogging down jihadi activity with internal sectarian rivalry rather than targeting the U.S. — all of this supports a military-industrial complex that supports endless war.
And as a result, this same terror group — ISIS — that we’re air striking in Syria and Iraq has taken control of oil and gas reserves there in Syria and Iraq. They’re now officially the richest and most well-financed terror group in the world next to Boko Haram, according to reports from the last two weeks.
But the media won’t tell us that it’s about economics. Who would support a war for oil, for gas, or for money? That’s not ethical or respectable. It’s immoral.
Not many people would jump on board. But we do jump on board when we say we’re ending tyranny, we’re fighting an enemy that hates us, we’re saving those people.
Having said all this, I’ve spent the last 15 years — since I was 13 years old — speaking about this very subject — the driving factors of war — and I’ve been dissecting war narratives for my entire adult life. It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen this path of speaking up against injustice, whether it’s through exposing the puppeteers behind media manipulation, neoconservative attacks on peace movements or war profiteering.
Perhaps it’s because of everything I’ve shared with you today about war, the targeting of Muslims, media manipulation, and this overall climate of fear that we’ve all fallen victim to — have literally affected and defined every aspect of my life as a Muslim-American.
I’m certainly not alone, but it’s important to hear this from a personal perspective. My story is one of trials and tribulations, identity crises, and standing firm and tall against the wind.
From my early childhood, I learned the hard way that wars were never really about defending human rights. Bombing people to save people just didn’t make sense.
Growing up in the United States, I actually didn’t know much about my parents’ culture, heritage or religion. I grew up in a very secular Palestinian family.
But one day my parents decided it was time to move back to the entire family back to Jerusalem to be closer to family and learn more about our Palestinian heritage.
I was young, just 9 years old. I didn’t speak a word of Arabic, and had no idea how this move would eventually change my life forever and impact my decisions as an adult.
We moved to Jerusalem in 1997. We assimilated. I got to meet my parents’ family, make new friends, visit historic and tourist holy sites — Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish temples.
The people and geography were certainly something to remember. The skies were always clear, the sun always shining, everyone you meet smiles at you and invites you in for a meal or some tea.
But al these details aside, it was hard not to notice even at 9 years old that we had just moved into apartheid and a semi-war zone under colonial occupation.
The first year we lived in Jerusalem, things were a bit calm politically. But, soon into the second and third years, the Palestinian Uprising, or Intifada, had erupted against Israeli apartheid and military occupation.
By this time, I was 12, [and] had already witnessed human rights abuses by a state that had convinced the world it was a civilized democracy.
I witnessed Palestinians subjected to discriminatory laws, having their travel controlled, living behind a 30-foot-tall concrete apartheid wall separating them from the world. Every single day was a matter of survival while living under martial law and military occupation.
I was surrounded with thoughts of children being killed by bombs, families left homeless from airstrikes, electricity and water cutoffs, entire cities having their water poisoned by Israeli settlers.
Men and young boys were abducted by police in middle of the night raids and held in indefinite detention without trial and on no charge.
I would cross through checkpoints where the taxi driver would yell, “Duck!” because Israeli soldiers would be shooting rubber bullets and live ammunition at young children who were throwing rocks at them because they were being blocked and essentially denied from going to school.
I would go to school at 6th and 7th grade with nearly half the seats empty in the classroom because the rest of those kids were blocked from crossing armed checkpoints.
Soldiers pointing guns at citizens roamed the streets, Israeli settlers would kidnap children and planting bombs at Palestinian elementary schools was common.
I was traumatized, to say the least.
Now, I didn’t come here to talk about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. But I wanted to use the media coverage of Israel and Palestine as an example of just how irresponsible the media has been in its coverage of the topic.
What the media has done for this conflict is to break it down in a language that they’re too good at — it’s a religious fight: Muslim versus Jew. It’s religious.
They describe it as: Palestinians are Muslim militants who want to kill all Jews and annihilate the state of Israel, which is the only democracy in the Middle East. And the use the pretext of the Holocaust to boost sentiment.
When I described the experience I lived through, I don’t know if you noticed, but I didn’t mention religion.
I painted a picture of my personal experience living through a human rights crisis as a child. I described the reality on the ground of fascism, a police state, inequality, colonialism, and, most obvious, apartheid and war.
But this conflict and most conflicts are never presented to us that way, especially if it’s a U.S. ally and major arms buyer from the United States.
Little did I know moving overseas [that this experience would] shape not only my perspective on life but how the media operates.
We finally moved back to the United States in 2001, just a few months before 9/11.
I was absolutely traumatized. I suffered from what military service members suffer from when they return from Iraq, which is survivor’s guilt. I had PTSD and severe anxiety.
I was now living a comfortable life in Maple Grove, Minnesota, but I couldn’t forget what I had left behind, and the suffering I knew people there were still enduring. If anyone uttered the word Palestine or Jerusalem, I would burst out in tears.
I was now 13, felt like no one understood what I had witnessed. This is Maple Grove we’re talking about here. While most teenagers at this age are worried about football games, shopping and partying, I turned to the media to stay up to date on the war I could not let go of.
But what I got were images of Palestinian men covering their faces bearing guns, and the reporters would refer to the Palestinians as Hamas or militants. Never just regular people. Never the regular people that I saw and met.
The media instilled fear in the hearts and minds of Americans to help justify Israel’s apartheid and fascist policies on a defenseless population. Why wouldn’t they? Israel buys over $3 billion dollars of military aid from the U.S. each year. Once again, it was all about economics.
The media did what the media does best in covering events in the Middle East: Say it’s a religious war.
A few months later, the tragic day of 9/11 took place. And immediately, the war drums were beating. Although I was young, I was mature enough to understand that media was creating a new climate of fear as I mentioned earlier: Anger toward American Muslims was fomented, as seen in the “civilization of jihad” narrative, the region was filled with savages.
The media convinced us that the people in the Middle East hated us for our freedoms — they are backwards, savages, evil.
The media encouraged and even justified our country turning into a surveillance state by passing the the Patriot Act and enabled NSA spying and villainized over a quarter of the world’s population, who are Muslim, because of the horrific actions of a few.
Although I was only 13, it was obvious to me that solutions to these human rights crises could never be solved with more bombs, more weapons flowing into the region, more killing, and certainly not a media that was acting as the military mouthpiece.
Within a few weeks after 9/11, peers who I thought were my friends abandoned me and said that “my people” had committed 9/11. The administrative office of the school called me down one day, and searched my locker and undressed me to search me. They gave me no reasoning; they just said they were concerned about me.
It took one day, one experience, one tragedy, and I, like many other Muslim-Americans across the nation, were officially an “Other.” And as a Palestinian, I was told I didn’t have a home in Palestine due to Israel’s ethnic cleansing, and as an American, being Muslim meant I had to try really hard to prove that I loved my country and supported its wars.
Having lived through apartheid, having lived through a war, and having witnessed our media act as a lapdog to special interest groups, I pointed to the media as the source of the lack of solutions we have available bring peace, unity and real justice into the world.
I blamed the media for my fellow Americans’ lack of understanding [about] these issues and empathy for the human casualty on the ground.
My story of what I witnessed and what I lived through is only one of thousands of life under occupation. I have sat and watched events unfold in Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Congo and elsewhere, and wonder how the media continues to be complicit in Israeli war crimes in Gaza, NATO crimes in Libya and Syria, U.S. arms flowing to dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and new right-wing militias.
But I found courage and catharsis in pursuing journalism to speak up not just for Palestinians, but for all people around the world who are suffering and who are being massacred in the name of power, money and greed, whether it be in Sudan, the Congo, Burma, Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, China, Mexico or any of the many more under-reported regions across the world.
And in 2009, against all odds, I became the first American woman to wear the hijab while anchoring or reporting the news. Ironically, I started my journalism career in St. CLoud Minnesota in a Michele Bachmann district — most people I would meet had never met a Muslim before. They’d always thank me for speaking and dressing “American.”
Soon after, I interned with NBC – KARE 11 for about a year and worked with their reporting and online news programs. I helped them launch the 4 o’clock show now hosted by Dianna Pierce and built their online presence.
But despite how much I learned from my work there and [my] work in a corporate newsroom, let’s be honest here: Even local news doesn’t get to the heart of the story. And this is mostly because of the corporate ownership of media that provides the public with sensationalized junk food news.
Don’t get me wrong, KARE 11 has a lot of great stories, but one of the top stories that was being covered during my time there was about a woman who dropped her wedding ring in a lake and the report was about how the city came together to find the ring in the river. While it was an interesting story and a heartwarming one, a lot of the coverage lacked depth.
I still felt like my career in journalism wasn’t being fulfilled. The whole reason I became a journalist was to challenge the establishment narrative, provide a voice for the voiceless, and expose the true costs of war.
I then left the corporate media and launched my own personal blog called MintPress, where I freelanced and covered the stories that I thought the media was ignoring. I had the opportunity to interview some big names like former Pentagon official Col. Wayne Quist, who in several interviews explained to me the driving forces of the “War on Terror.”
Journalism has become my outlet for the helplessness that I grew up feeling when I suffered from PTSD for several years, the anxiety that I live with every single day because of what I’ve endured, for the trauma that I carry because of my life in a warzone and knowing that so many people I left behind are still suffering, whether it be in Palestine and Israel or anywhere in the world.
Providing a voice to the voiceless and covering national and international stories through the lens of social justice and human rights is the whole reason I started MintPress News, and I hope more of us can come together in the cause of human rights and know that every life is precious.
Because, at the end of the day, it really is not about Islam. This is a class war being waged by the 1% global elite. We are simply humans struggling in a life for freedom, in a world divided by nations.
And if I could leave you with anything, it’s this: Remember: Political language has unfortunately been designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.
Malcolm X once said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”