Steve Nimmons - A Discordant Counterpoint
The narratives of the Arab Israeli conflict are rife with bias and questionable characterisation. Haitian blood libels, suppressed reports and airbrushed pictures taint the discourse. De-legitimisation attempts to represent Israel as an affront, an apartheid state. A state imposing subjugation and humiliation on a people displaced for its very creation. Crass caricatures are adopted with glee by sections of the British press, complicit in championing a false victim and cheer leading the intemperance of digital and print intifada.
Words are the building blocks of ideas; ideas contesting on the cognitive battlefield, habitually and egregiously abused in their representation. Apologetics, stereotypes and tropes are fashioned from the same building blocks as truth and honourable critique. The calumny of immutable victimhood, the false correlation of provocation and reaction deny moral accountability of the perpetrator while demanding moral account from the victim. The dogma of false victimhood fuels a nefarious underlying contention that ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’.
Ahistorical and faux-factual accounts twist and deplete the moral discrepancy between authoritarian, reactionary Islamist movements and ideals of liberal Western democracies. Israel’s position as a liberal democracy and strategic ally in the Middle East is negated. Worse, the evils visited upon the victim are trivialised and blamed on the victim.
These are not mere idiosyncrasies marinated in the juices of post-Imperial guilt. For three decades in the sodden fields of South Armagh and grey industrial streets of Belfast it provided succour to Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. There were those ready to portray criminals as revolutionaries, romantic idealists and poets. Monsters that went about their business of murder and the grotesque oppression of their own communities learned to obfuscate their parasitic reality with media management and terrorist-chic. They at least had a tempered programme of expansionism. Secure the North and secure a future separate, ourselves alone.
The Good Friday and St. Andrew’s agreements gave way to profligate public enquiries. Suspected principal actors in historical outrages avoided scrutiny and moral retribution; the British state was ascribed effective unilateral blame and capitulated to demands for public apology and reparations. It was an archetypal display of ‘cause and effect fallacy’ laying the blame for conflict at the feet of the British and absolving republican perpetrators of their crimes. The press demanded transparency and full-disclosure, a principle not universally applied within their operations.
The ‘cause and effect’ fallacy is well-worn in the Arab Israeli conflict. The barrier to lasting peace is the Zionist agenda, the State of Israel, Israeli influence on American foreign policy and other falsehoods. The battle for hegemony raging across Syria and Iraq attests to a different reality, and yet ‘War on Terror’ narratives falsely claim ‘Zionist influence’ is driving American and British foreign policy. Theories wilder than the next gain legitimacy, grounded by the gravitational pull of mainstream acceptance of ‘Israel, the aggressor’.
There is too little challenge from left-leaning commentators to the expansionist policies clearly at play within the Islamist world. A return to type is the vilification of Israel, the conflation of the Arab Israeli conflict with every woe from South London to South Sudan. The solution is simplified to the establishment and peaceful co-existence of a Palestinian state, the opportunity for which has been hitherto squandered despite bold moves by Peres, Rabin and Barak.
The Middle East is complex; stories on the region attract intense scrutiny. The BBC face accusations of anti-Israel bias and in 2004 then BBC Director of News Richard Sambrook commissioned the Balen Report to investigate. Some 9 years later, the report remains unpublished despite Freedom of Information request and judicial review. The internalisation of the enquiry is a discordant counterpoint to the calls for openness over Bloody Sunday or the murders of Rosemary Nelson, Billy Wright or Pat Finucane.
Certainty and clarity are scarce in the Middle East, yet certainty and clarity are essential in reporting the Middle East. The Balen report must be published. An honest debate on its findings are years overdue. If the BBC acted or act with partiality this must be acknowledged and appropriate controls applied to prevent repetition.
[article originally published by the Chartered Institute of Journalists magazine]