Ramzy Baroud: A Matter of Opinion
A Matter of Opinion
By Ramzy Baroud
What do an organic farmer from Spain, a union worker activist from Brazil, and a human rights scholar living in London have in common? They are all individuals who affect substantive change in their communities, and they are also individuals who are overlooked by the corporate media. The latter has its own lists of ‘experts’ – usually well-groomed males with little involvement in the daily struggles of the unseen and unheard multitudes of the world, yet able to influence their lives (most often detrimentally) from a well-guarded distance.
So how does the business of expertise work? Why are those qualified to address their own affairs so widely ignored by mainstream channels in favour of intellectual middlemen who purport to have some sort of legitimacy over a range of narratives, without any convincing credentials, let alone first-hand experiences?
The phenomenon precedes the advent of network television and satellite news. It is embedded in a Western tradition that was formulated around imperial conquests: for a people to be conquered, they have to be understood in a language that prioritises the interests of the colonialist over the rights of the colonized. The latter’s identity is replaced by verbal and textual reductionism. Thus Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, the Somali leader who strove for twenty years to free his people from British and Italian colonialism was termed ‘Mad Mullah’ by the British. Hassan, of course, was as ‘mad’ as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the vigorous leaders of numerous struggles around the world. The list of these individuals is ever expanding, as activists are written off by those in power, those whose ‘sanity’ preaches subscribing to the status quo and the inherent wisdom of the ‘system’.
This system serves not the majority of people living within it, but rather the combined interests of those with the money and those with the weapons: one funds the other’s military adventurism, and the other guarantees unhindered access to cheap supplies, labour and markets. Without Bush’s war in Iraq, Blackwater could not generate over a billion dollars of extra contracts; the relationship is painfully obvious.
Of course neither Bush nor Blackwater executives are imprudent enough to speak of their real motives, and it would be equally imprudent for us to trust that Blackwater’s ultimate objective is to contribute to the efforts of the US military to ‘protect’ their country and its founding principles. Unfortunately, though the deceptiveness of dominant rhetoric may often be apparent, when repeated numerous times to millions of people worldwide, it eventually gathers force, and even credibility. The process has real and very deadly consequences: Blackwater mercenaries go on killing sprees; endless media airtime is given to its executives and sympathetic ‘experts’ who ‘objectively’ defend their company’s image; a congressional hearing of good cop/bad cop is held whereby one congressman thanks Blackwater for protecting the lives of Americans overseas while another gently reprimands it for not using extra care. Extra care in gunning down innocent people? At this question the story is shelved. By the time Blackwater kills again it is no longer even newsworthy.
Many far from credible ‘experts’ are employed in this way to neutralise and effectually justify violence. Their roles are those of apologists of state and corporate crimes, and as ideologues who tailor information to fit political and economic agendas. They are dangerous because they have the leverage of being presented as impartial observers, even when their very identity should give away their partiality. Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to reinvent himself to US publics as a ‘terrorism expert,’ thanks to Fox News. As for the former Israeli Prime Minister’s own crimes while in office, and his close ties to the neoconservatives – the ‘intellectuals’ behind the Iraq war – and his persistent use of anti-peace language – these are unimportant diversions.
According to the corporate media and the selective samples of humanity they endlessly feature and tout for their ‘expertise’, the world is a convenient place that consists of big companies (and no workers, thus no workers’ rights), prison guards (no prisoners, thus no prisoners’ rights), war engineers (no victims, thus no accountability), celebrities (no ordinary people, thus no widespread and urgent grievances). All those in brackets don’t exist as actual, living and breathing individuals; they only exist as part of skewed narratives, designed carefully by an expert and a think tank. That ‘expert’ needs not be there to understand, he needs only to speak in a language that manipulates prejudice. The working women of India fighting globalization, the lawyers of Pakistan fighting for judicial independence, the teachers of Palestine fighting for survival amid siege and boycott, the millions of uninsured Americans fighting for a doctor’s appointment – these people simply don’t exist as far as corporate media is concerned. Or worse, they exist but don’t matter.
As those justifying violence on the basis of security, justice and democracy work to make the world increasingly unsafe, unjust and undemocratic, there seems an equally increasing need for a new kind of media, one which requires a new kind of ‘expert’.
When I contacted Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Arun Ghandi, Ilan Pappe and many other intellectuals and activists from all over the world, proposing an alternative to ‘expertise’ in the media, I didn’t expect that just a year later the discussion could evolve into JUSTmedia (JustMedia.net). JUSTmedia is the first initiative to be launched by the People Media Project, a global scheme that hopes to offer a different kind of platform for discourse, dialogue and commentary by promoting the voices of people from all walks of life. Supported by intellectuals who refuse to play by the roles of the ‘mainstream’, the idea is to extend a bridge across cultural, language, geographic and political divides to show and extend the possibilities of true democracy and human rights in the media.
They say it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. After much darkness and much cursing, another kind of candle may well be lit, one which only the efforts of ordinary people could keep alight.
-Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London)