The obsession with things ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ and ‘Al Qaeda” has been turned into a veritable multi-billion dollar industry and this despite the very little concrete and independently verified evidence to suppor the many claims of underground ‘Islamic/Al Qaeda’ cells and networks.
The Pakistanis are of course very much involved in this business, particular many of our journalists, and intellectual writers who find an easy audience amongst the ‘powerful’ in Europe and the USA. The vast majority of the claims made by these journalists and writers are of course unexamined, unchecked and what is worse, unverifiable. They are however writing for papers as diverse as The Christian Science Monitor, Asia Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek and others. And when they are not writing, they are feeding and ‘guiding’ foreign journalists to where these stories can be ‘excavated’ and supported.
I had earlier written a post called ‘Only Interesting If Its Madness’ about how American newspapers and magazines have found that selling stories about the madmen of the Middle East and Islam is big business because it confirms America’s fears and paranoias and nothing sells better than that.
And the Pakistanis are unfortunately thick in the middle of this business, churning out articles, essays, research and what not based on the most species of information and the most biased of sources. But it reels in dollars, and convinces otherwise intelligent international journalists and intellectuals who are also of course tied into the entire industry of fear.
But perhaps what worries me most is how little journalistic practice is involved in the writing and publishing of these pieces on ‘Al Qaeda’ or ‘Islamic terror’. No one is asking about the sources, or bothering to confirm facts. It is as if none of the usual standards of journalism apply. What matters is that we just rush out and print it. From Carlotta Gall’s shameless piece on the front page of the New York Times simply regurgitating then Pakistan military government’s claim that ‘Al Qaeda’ had killed Benazir Bhutto at a time when the body parts were still lying around on the streets, to more recent piece on Pakistan by David Sanger suggests that we have now suspended our intelligence and common sense just to get our ‘by line’ printed on the pages of publications. At no point was there a challenge, a questioning of the source, a scepticism that is crucial to the definition of journalism.
When it comes to Pakistan, no one is asking any questions as long as they confirm that it is ‘mad’, that it is ‘on the edge of an Islamic takeover’ and that it is ‘dangerous’. And sadly, some of our supposedly finest minds are in on this game, sending out stuff that at times is staggering to read. We are feeding the beast, perhaps seduced by the easy association with those in ‘power’, with their attention and their ability to make us, small post-colonial minds, feel ‘important’ and relevant.
Not a single major Pakistan intellectual, writer, artist or politician has challenged the story of Pakistan that has been constructed in international media. Not a single person seems to want to say ‘show me your sources’, or investigate where certain stories have emerged from. We are all just going along for the ride.
And all this despite the complete lack of credibility that is the real reputation of mainstream American journalism today. Just read Bill Moyer’s talk about it. For after all, all the main newspapers in the USA, the same papers that repeatedly tell us that they are on the front lines of the democracy and the protection of the citizens of the country that they serve the interest of the public (when in fact they are private, profit making enterprises), failed to ask a single sceptical question of the American administration on its rush to war in Iraq.
An entire intelligence community was bent and mutated to serve the needs to go to war. It is now a well known fact that evidence was falsified, informers were paid, dissenters were silenced, and lies disseminated to newspapers and journalists to build a care for pre-emptive war against a nation that was not a threat to even its neighbors, let alone the USA.
Some more articulate comments on this issue come from the tireless Mark Danner
Or Michael Massing’s work more specifically on the failures of American journalism and the shameless pandering to nationalist and patriotic fervor that led them to ignore facts, distort evidence and simply close their minds to doubts they later claimed they had, so that they participate and profit from the mindless march to war and the destruction of millions of lives and a nation.
And there are many more pieces of analysis of the failure of American’s so-called ‘best’ newspapers and their finest.
And now, despite this stain on their record, despite the fact that the intelligence community is completely discredited and the administration too, the same papers and their editors continue their march, turning their eyes to Pakistan yet again. Here is a new piece in this weeks New York Times Sunday Magazine by David E. Sanger called ‘Obamas’ Worst Pakistan Nightmare’.
And just a few lines into the piece, we start to get a good idea of the sources of Mr. Sanger’s alarms and worries. For example, ‘…members of the federally appointed bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism made it clear that for sheer scariness, nothing could compete with what they had heard in a series of high-level intelligence briefings about the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear technology going awry.’
Sounds familiar does it not? A commission appointed by the very administration that lied to us about Iraq is an opening source of Mr. Sanger’s piece!
A few lines down there is more – ‘By now Obama has almost surely been briefed about an alarming stream of intelligence that began circulating early last year to the top tier of George W. Bush’s national-security leadership in Washington.’
Now, if I am not mistaken, isn’t this again the same ‘top tier’ that promised us chemical weapons factories, nuclear sites, and a 45-minute time line to the destruction of the ‘free world’! All of which by the way were proven to be lies.
You would think that a writer working on a piece will try to find then another set of sources for the ‘fears’ and ‘alarmist views’ that underpin this essay. Well, no.
The next source is ‘one of the most senior officials in the Bush administration, who had read all of the intelligence with care’ !
A senior Bush administration official who had read all of the intelligence with care. My, how impressive that sounds. Senior. Official. Intelligence. Care. All the words that offer us authority and ensure that we may not ask the obvious question – was the intelligence concocted? Is the official much like those who fed us these ‘truths’ about Iraq?
But apparently only I am thinking of these things as Mr. Sanger proceeds unheeded and drops in the paragraph that every American editor’s wet dreams; ‘The Osama Bin Ladin’. We are told about a ‘secret meetings’ (well, how secret could they have been if knew about them!) with mad Pakistani scientists and Osama Bin Laden! The American officials love this ‘smoking gun’ – to somehow create a link that their target ‘met’ with Osama Bin Ladin – that bogeman who pops up everywhere and anywhere, whenever we need him, where ever we want him. From Iran to Gaza, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq to…..North Korea next?
Eerily similar to the arguments about how some Al Qaeda members had ‘traveled’ through Iraq – arguments that have conclusively been shown to be lies, they are used to istill real fear in the minds of the reader – oh no, there is that supernatural beast Al Qaeda again and so it must all be true and real. And so here, in this piece, because it lacks anything ‘concrete’, any real evidence, any serious investigation i.e. because it lacks journalism Mr. Sanger has to bring in the ‘smoking gun’ statments to further close the readers mind by overwhelming it with fear and scare the intelligence out of her!
Mr Sanger is fed the right ‘details’ of a meeting by some unspecified American intelligence source, but later quotes George Tenet himself saying that the specifics of the meeting were ‘ frustratingly vague’. That is, they have no idea what the meeting was about for it could as well have been about the weather. It may never even have happened other than in the minds of those who imagined it. Some well paid source maybe?
But that does not stop Mr. Sanger saying that someone had a canister of nuclear material at the meeting!
A meeting about which the so-called intelligence organization knew ‘frustratingly vague’ details i.e. not even if it took place, or who was there, or what little was said, is the basis of Mr. Sanger putting in the sensationalist ideas that nuclear material was present, that trigger designs were discussed. This does not sound ‘frustratingly vague’ to me, but a writer who seems to have more details than even Mr. Tenet!
And this level of sloppy journalism, in fact, clearly irresponsible journalism continues through the article which is burdened one after another with incredible claims. At no point does Mr Sanger express any doubts, ask any questions, challenge any of his sources. In fact, he writes to ensure that we realize that the American sources and their statements are ‘true’ and/or carry ‘more weight’, while the Pakistani responses and sources are ‘shifty’ or ‘questionable’.
This idiocy continues and ends at the article, where in the very last paragraph we have this gem: ‘At the end of Bush’s term, his aides handed over to Obama’s transition team a lengthy review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, concluding that in the end, the United States has far more at stake in preventing Pakistan’s collapse than it does in stabilizing Afghanistan or Iraq.’
A Bush aide hands President Obama a review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan! We may now understand how American foreign policy follies continues from one administration to the next! If the Obama Presidency is being briefed by possibly one of the most corrupt, lawless, discredited, criminal, violent, murderous administration in American history, then our hopes are truly over!
The American journalist’s love of rubbing up to power, to be known as someone with access to the ‘inner’ corridors of power, is perhaps its greatest failing at the moment. Mr. Sanger is spending all his time in the offices of ‘officials’ and eating too much of the fine cuisine available at fine restaurants that I am sure he is dined at. In Pakistan he is traveling through the living and dining rooms of the small elite – unable to speak the country’s language, ignorant of her history and her cultural diversity, uninterested in confronting it as a complex entity, Mr. Sanger has produced the classical American piece on Pakistan; sensationalist, fear mongering, officially sanctioned, and fed.
He now steps into the small footsteps of the likes of Carlotta Gall, David Rohde and others who have looked at Pakistan not through their own intelligence, but through the reports and supplied statements of ‘American officials’ or ‘Pakistani Government spokesperson’ or, left largely unsaid, the local journalists and fixers they pay large wads of cash to come back with stories about the mad men with nuclear weapons sitting in mountain caves and breathing the destruction of America with each breath.
None speak the language of the country. None know the history of the country. None understand the historical and cultural ties that still connect us to issues and matters in India. None have traveled outside the sanctioned corridors to report on the nation. They are blind, deaf and mute, and need others – American officials, Pakistani officials, translators and fixers (official and otherwise) to give them what they need. And since they are unable to understand the very nation and its dynamics they are supposed to be reporting on, they simply feed the editors what the editors want – the stories to confirm the stories the editors are hearing from the ‘officials’ in Washington d.c..
Children create monsters to help deal with their evolving emotions and fears.
It seems that we are all still children.