An important read.:
Why is the dominant media narrative still portraying Iraqis as either terrorists or victims the West should fight or rescue? Once again the oppression of the binary dialectic rears its ugly head as ISIS has put Iraq back on the media map after a long hiatus.
When I first travelled to Iraq in 1997, to write about the humanitarian disaster of the sanctions regime for the NY Times, right wing pundits called me an evil Saddamist for my efforts.
No matter how hard I tried to convey the complexity of the situation – a client regime where sanctions hurt everyday Iraqis and entrenched Saddam’s power; a booming theatre scene that could critique the ruling class via clever double meanings; a higher status for women than most places in the Arab world slowly being eroded by the excesses of the embargo – I could feel people’s eyes gloss over – All the nuance wiped away by an unblinking ‘but Saddam is evil- no?’ response. It was as if the entire nation was reduced to a single image of an archetypal Arab dictator.
The other day at a reception, an American woman academic asked me about my plans for the fall. When I mentioned I’d be travelling to Iraq to research my next book – a political travelogue of ancient sites that subverts the traditional touristic narrative with stories of widows, orphans and the displaced – I felt the same blank stare. “Oh great, so you plan on ending up as an ISIS sex slave then?” she deadpanned – as if ISIS were the singular narrative – and singular evil – in a country of some 33 million souls.
A decade ago, the caricatured reduction of 33 million people to mini-Saddams that once typified mainstream media portrayals of Iraqis before the invasion was replaced by a terrible new cartoon: Iraqis as mad suicide bombers magically transformed from secular to sectarian within a few years of occupation. The victims of the new terror were labeled as its perpetrators.
For years Iraqis have had to live with this bizarre conflation and ISIS provides a whole new opportunity.
“ISIS sex slave” is the new neo-liberal dinner party circuit catchphrase – the 2015 equivalent of “Saddam is evil” that eviscerates context, complexity and any sense of Iraqi agency.
Why must the dominant media narrative continue to portray Iraqis as either terrorists or victims the West is either fighting or rescuing? Once again the oppression of the binary dialectic rears its ugly head as ISIS has put Iraq back on the media map after a long hiatus.
In the past decade so many foreign news bureaus have been shut down in the country that on the ground reports have been few and far between. It was as if Western audiences were satiated by horror stories and could consume no more. That is until ISIS – the ultimate conflation of Western fears and neo-colonial fantasies about the region, straight out of a Hollywood action movie and starring characters from central casting – came along and hogged the media spotlight.
The media attention of course feeds right back into the ISIS agenda, so much so that an odd collusion of right wing Islamophobes and the brutal terrorists they decry has emerged as a fresh new monster. Pamela Geller and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would seem a match made in heaven- with a marriage performed on YouTube.