Friday, January 18, 2008

Richard Landes gave a presentation in Israel on the Al Durah controversy last week and writes about it here: "So What if Al Durah was Staged?": Meditations on the Colonization of the Israeli Mind. Infuriating:

I recently gave a talk at a conference on Media and Ethics in Jerusalem, where I presented the case against Enderlin’s version of the Muhammad al Durah story. Apparently, the presentation was relatively convincing since one of the first criticisms I immediately received from a prominent Israeli professor of communications was: "So what? According to reliable statistics, the Israeli army has killed over 800 Palestinian children since the second Intifada. So what difference does it make if this case is staged or not?" His intervention was followed by a round of applause from about a third of the 200-some person audience...

A predictable attitude. Before I give you a few snips of Landes's and you go off to read the rest, here are a couple of why's: Because it was a lie. Because people who lie always have a reason for doing so, in this case to incite more murder and perpetuate a blood libel. Speaking as the average American, most people can understand when innocents are killed in the course of war, but the scene staged by the Al Durah myth was unforgivable if true. No collateral damage this. We had (supposedly) a father and son in the cross hairs in plain site fired on with small arms (and missiles so the fairy tale goes) for 45 minutes with no armed enemy in site. This was murder on film. These were not casualties of war, these were murder victims as plain as day -- even to the most cold-hearted purveyor of the collateral damage concept. That changes everything.


...These conceptual remarks shed a fierce light on the significance of al Durah since this icon was a spectacular and unprecedented event in the history of TV: not only the first "live TV-recorded" death of a child in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but perhaps any conflict, and it was presented to the world as a murder. It thus carried an emotional impact equivalent to a nuclear blast, and became a symbolic matrix that defined the second Intifada and redefined Zionism. The "martyr" Muhammad al Durah became not only the "icon" for the Arab and Muslim world, he became the touchstone of Western perception about the nature of the conflict and the nature of Israel...

The "icon" was used as a recruiting source. How many of those 800 (assuming the number is correct) were killed because of this staged scene that was (and continues to be) the fire in the belly for bloody years of conflict? This image has been used repeatedly on Palestinian TV to encourage children to suicide.

...This defenseless 12-year old murdered by Israelis became the symbol of all Palestinian "children" killed in the Intifada, whether they were 18 years old and fighting Israel, or 10 years old carrying a bomb pack, whether, even when killed by Israelis, it was unintentional or not. Muhammad "explained" the terror against Israelis – "What do you expect when you kill their children in cold blood?" – and rendered every Israeli victim guilty. So symbolically speaking, this "one case" not only stands out from all others, but redefines the meaning of the others.

The media – purveyors of this pivotal tale – subsequently remained loyal to the framework they had helped shape, reporting virtually every and any Palestinian claim of Israeli brutality, piling up statistics of Palestinian civilians, children, and non-combatants casualties that made Israeli soldiers look like ruthless mass-murderers, despite the fact that there are no documented cases of the IDF deliberately murdering innocent children. When the real mass-murderers of children, the suicide bombers and struck Israeli domestic sites, the media found few problems empathizing both with the victim and the terrorist. Moral equivalence and the politics of pity had obliterated the difference between firemen and arsonists; indeed for many it had inverted the moral universe: the arsonists were rebel heroes and the firemen hegemonic oppressors.

But his symbolic potency went well beyond even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For Muslims around the world the al Durah story became a wake-up call: his image became perhaps this single most recognizable global Muslim icon until (and even after) 9-11. Within months, Osama bin Laden had given his tale a central place in his recruiting video for global Jihad...


...The big losers in this process were the forces of moderation on all sides: many Palestinians eagerly threw themselves into as total a war with Israel as they could muster; moderates could not brake their momentum; they could not even talk with their Israeli partners in dialogue without appearing to betray their people...

Indeed! This scene made moderation impossible on BOTH sides. One side's already weak moderates were completely disarmed, the other (Israeli) side's were completely powerless in the face of a lie. When did you stop beating your wife? When will you stop murdering children in cold blood? Yet you never started! How do you respond except with arms to defend yourself from the horrendous attacks the lie has sparked?

This is the classic tactic of the terrorist. Instigate an outrage -- perpetuate it yourself if you have to -- and destroy prospects of a negotiated settlement. The media and the left, the Israeli, left play right along with it. In fact, they are essential for its success.

...In the history of information warfare, al Durah – the blood libel – was a nuclear blast, strengthening the war-mongering demonizers and paralyzing those working for a consensual peace. And if, as it looks, the MSM, starting with Enderlin, played a key role in detonating the blast rather than playing their proper role of filtering out false news and war-mongering propaganda, then we may have an important insight into the systemic weaknesses of societies committed to freedom in this era of growing authoritarianism and violence. One of the news media’s main tasks is to keep poisons out of the information system like a dialysis machine; with al Durah it pumped – and continues to pump – toxic poisons...

I understand that Richard Landes was able to confront Charles Enderlin at an appearance at Harvard yesterday. Hopefully I'll have some material on that shortly. Imagine, Enderlin is in town promoting his new book, The Lost Years: Radical Islam, Intifada, and Wars in the Middle East, 2001-2006. The man who helped make those years even more bloody is now running around profiting from his handiwork. Blood money.

1 Comment

How many of those 800 (assuming the number is correct) were killed...

As Landes says, that number includes numerous 16- and 17-year-old combatants. Just yesterday a minor in a rocket crew was killed.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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