The Roots of Iraqi Rage:
The Story American Corporate Media
Refuses to Tell
- by Khury Petersen-Smith
Early one January morning, on a road in Jordan, Tareq drove me and two other anti-war activists from the United States toward occupied Iraq. Tareq, an Iraqi, knew enough English for the two of us to have a conversation about his life, his work, and the horrors, indignities, and frustrations of life under the US occupation. At one point, he turned to me and said, "Iraqis will not take this much longer. Maybe four or five more months, and if no change, we will-"
He struggled to find the correct English words. Then, abandoning the search, he held out his hand, palm up.
"We are here," he said.
He raised his hand, slowly at first, then quickly, flipping his palm-side down.
"We will be here."
I didn't understand at first, but after Tareq repeated the gesture several times, it became clear.
"You will rise up."
"Yes." Tareq smiled. Iraqis will rise up. Intifada.
On April 1, photos of Iraqis celebrating the killing of four American security contractors, whose scorched and mutilated bodies hung in the background, splashed on the front pages of American newspapers. The headline in the New York Post read: "the Barbarians of Falluja." The New York Times, whose reporter wrote of an "enraged mob," which "jubilantly" dragged and hung the bodies of the men whom it had killed, was not as overtly contemptuous for the Iraqis of Falluja. Nonetheless, the conservative media and the liberal media were united in portraying Iraqis as backwards, savage fanatics. While the Post article was more overtly racist in its language, the Times was guilty primarily for what it left out, namely, failing to answer the obvious question: what circumstances would inspire such rage among the people of Falluja?
What struck me most about the images that mainstream American newspapers and news channels featured on April 1 was their contrast to the images that are consistently not shown in those media: those which show the humiliating and gruesome ways in which Iraqis have been killed-by the thousands-by the US invasion and occupation. When I was in Iraq, I met children whose father was killed in front of them, in their home, by US troops. I heard from several Iraqis about a gun battle in Al-Aadamiya, a stronghold of resistance in Baghdad, after which US soldiers stood with their boots on top of the bodies of the people they had killed. Such a gesture is offensive and degrading anywhere, but it is particularly outrageous and humiliating in Iraq, where showing one the bottom of your shoe is an insult. And of course, there are the thousands of Iraqis killed by US shells, cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, and other weapons in the Pentagon's arsenal of terror. Images of their burned and mutilated bodies never made it to corporate newspapers or news channels in the US.
The ways in which the occupation is covered by the American corporate media largely ignore the realities of life for Iraqis under the occupation. The fact that so many radio and television reports begin with the phrase, "It was another violent day in Iraq," as a preface to a story about attacks on occupation forces ignores, the fact that every day of occupation is a violent one for Iraqis. Alongside its article about the deaths of the contractors in Falluja, the Times ran an article entitled, "To Portray The Horror, News Media Agonize," which was about the dilemmas that news editors ponder while deciding whether or not to show sickening images of US casualties in Iraq. There is no mention in the article of Iraqi casualties. Mainstream news editors do not "agonize" over whether to include these images, they simply omit them altogether.
By cutting out the realities that Iraqis face of day-to-day life under a brutal occupation, the corporate media here-which support the occupation-suggest that the "spasm of brutality," (as the Times put it) in Falluja, and other attacks on occupation forces and, their assistants in the private sector, come from nowhere. Or rather, they come from people who are fanatical, primitive enemies of civilization, and they come from Ba'ath Party Loyalists. These two notions are the explanations for acts of resistance on the part of Iraqis provided by the corporate media, which conveniently parrot the logic promoted by the US government and its lackeys abroad. As Tony Blair said on April 11, in the London Observer, "We are locked in a historic struggle in Iraq...Were we to fail…The hope of freedom and religious tolerance in Iraq would be snuffed out. Dictators would rejoice; fanatics and terrorists would be triumphant."
There you have it. Iraqi resistance fighters are "fanatics and terrorists" who are enemies of "freedom." Then there is, of course, the notion that the people of Falluja and all of the other guerilla fighters in Iraq are simply loyal to the Hussein regime and still resentful of its overthrow. This logic was spelled out quite nicely in the Times on April 1.
[Falluja] is predominantly Sunni Muslim. Many families remain loyal to the captured dictator, Mr. Hussein, who is also a Sunni Muslim. Over the years, Mr. Hussein cultivated a network of patronage and privilege among the tribes and elders of Falluja. Many became top army officers. Some ran big companies. When Mr. Hussein was ousted last April, the people here lost their jobs, their businesses and their power. That set off a cycle of killing and responses, a bloody feud between a clannish society and occupiers from thousands of miles away.
This is a caricature of the "Sunni Triangle" and the resistance in general. It obscures the fact that only a small number of Iraqis benefited from the Hussein regime, failing to account for widespread and growing anger among Iraqis toward the US occupation. And it certainly fails to explain the anger of Shi'a Iraqis, which exploded just days after the incident in Falluja in anti-occupation uprisings across the country in Shi'a cities and neighborhoods.
The story that the mainstream media won't tell is that it is precisely the logic of occupation itself-with all of its brutality, repression, and terror-that breeds resistance to it. And a violent occupation leads to violent resistance. Falluja has entered the world stage as an epicenter of ferocious armed resistance. It did not start out that way. Last April, organized opposition to the US occupation began in Falluja with a demonstration outside of the local Ba'ath Party headquarters-which had been taken over by US forces as a base of operations. US forces fired into the crowd with live ammunition, killing sixteen people. Days later, there was another demonstration, and US troops killed and wounded more Iraqis. The Shi'a uprising currently sweeping occupied Iraq was provoked by the shutting down of an anti-occupation newspaper. The paper, Al-Hawza, which was printed by Shi'a leader Moqtada Al-Sadr, was another form of non-violent resistance. When US troops padlocked the doors to the Al-Hawza office, the Coalition Provisional Authority justified the anti-democratic move by claiming that the paper was printing lies about the occupation. Shortly thereafter, Sadr called for Shi'as to take up arms against the occupation.
The latest news from Baghdad suggests that Sunnis and Shi'as and other Iraqis are joining in remarkable unity-against the US occupation. Massive blood and food drives are being carried out by Shi'a mosques to aid the Sunnis of Falluja, and Sunni mosques are conducting relief operations for besieged Shi'a towns and neighborhoods. Sunni and Shi'a fighters are collaborating in resistance to the US occupation. Tareq's prediction of an Iraqi intifada was correct, and on schedule too. But one question remains: when will the offices to the New York Post, New York Times, Fox News, and all the others be padlocked for their lies about the occupation and loyalty to the Bush Regime?
Khuri Petersen-Smith recently visited Iraq; he attends Rochester Institute of Technology, is member of the Campus Anti-War Network, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org