al Jazeera and the Neocon Boogeyman

by Steven R. Corman

During my usual media grazing I ran across an article published yesterday in Aljazeera Magazine by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, in the “reviews” section. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be reviewing, but on the surface it has something to do with language and the word “islamofascism,” and I am on record as having serious concerns about use of that word.

At the same time I have heard complaints in the past about shoddy reporting and half-truths in al Jazeera. I roll on the floor laughing whenever I hear one of its hosts, Faysal al-Qassem, insisting on Syrian TV that the U.S. controls the Internet from one of its aircraft carriers and can disconnect any country instantly with the push of a button. So all and all, this article seemed like a good candidate for some fact checking.

Sepahpour-Ulrich begins by claiming that the neocons are engaged in a war-against-Islam:

Dominance and ownership of language enabled the neoconservatives to coin the term ‘Islamofascism’ in order to wage war against Iraq. Iran is their next target, while shamelessly and brutally the people of Palestine and Lebanon are being eradicated in the name of ‘democracy’.

There’s no denying that bad things are happening to people in Palestine and Lebanon, but eradication is not one of them. The Palestinian population of Israel is growing at such a rate that some are questioning whether the country will see it’s 100th birthday. And while the Israelis have killed plenty of Lebanese, the toll doesn’t come anywhere near the number killed by other Lebanese in that country’s civil war. Despite all this death it had a population growth rate of 1.19%, According to the CIA . This is eradication?

Next she says neoconservatism is “a Jewish phenomenon,” quoting Jacob Heilbrunn as a source. While there are undoubtedly Jewish neocons, that is hardly the whole story. A review of his book in Publisher’s Weekly says he lacks a grasp of the neoconservatives’ right-wing Christian elements and concludes that

Heilbrunn’s analysis lacks rigor concerning foreign policy assumptions and ideological and economic motives, thus unintentionally leaving his subjects more historically isolated than they really are.

Sepahpour-Ulrich goes on to detail how the Jewish think tanks have infiltrated virtually every aspect of the Free World, committing a multitude of sins. They have been responsible for the Bush war policy, for example.

Washington think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) became home to many influential neoconservatives such as Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and Richard Perle who came to join the AEI from the Jerusalem-based think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS). A 2003 study by the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRMEP) indicates a correlation between the Bush war policy and the funding of these think tanks.

I was unable to find any 2003 report on IRMEP’s web site that talked about a correlation between Bush war policy and think tank funding. I was also unable to find out anything on the site about who or what is behind IMREP. One blogger claims that this “institute” is one guy named Grant Smith with a web site, a cell phone, a P.O. box, an ax, and a grinder.

The Jewish think tanks have also conspired with Rupert Murdoch, according to Sepahpour-Ulrich, to dominate the media. While there are some media outlets with a well known conservative bias, there are also media outlets with a well known liberal bias. It’s not possible to straightforwardly tie the biggest media monopolies–such as AOL/Time-Warner, Viacomm, and Bertelsmann–to neocon ideologies. Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2005, Brian Montopoli questions all claims about certan ideologies (left or right) dominating the media:

That’s an untenable idea on several counts, not least of which is the fallacy of treating what has been erroneously dubbed “the mainstream media” as a monolithic entity with a single agenda instead of a diverse collection of organizations with their own interests. Then there’s the fact that in any rational accounting of the shortcomings of our currently beleaguered media, ideological bias falls pretty far down on the list. As we’ve noted before, if there’s an overriding bias that controls and corrupts news outlets, it’s a bias toward sensationalism and conflict at the expense of actual newsgathering–a bias that’s driven by pressures for profits and ratings, and one that rides roughshod over any given reporter’s personal ideology.

What have the neocons done with their media dominance? Covered up the “truth” about 9/11:

In that a new UN Human Rights Council assigned to monitor Israel is calling for an official commission to study the role neoconservatives may have played in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is indicative that this group’s role is believed to be influencing U.S. policies, if not determining it (New York Sun).

Well, not exactly. It’s not a UN Human rights council who is making this call, but one of its members, Richard Falk. He is seems to have beliefs similar to those of the 9/11 Truth Movement, which claims the U.S. government (no doubt at the behest of the Jewish neocon think tanks) brought down the WTC towers with explosives. The same Sun article quoted by Sepahpour-Ulrich notes that Mr. Falk wrote a February 16, 1979 op-ed in the New York Times praising the Ayatollah Khomeini. He said “the depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false,” just months before Khomeini’s followers invaded the American Embassy in Teheran.

She goes on

In line with the neoconservative’s agenda, the mainstream media in the U.S. framed September 11 within the context of “Islamic terrorists.” …As religious extremism was emphasized as the motive for the terrorist plot, all other inquiries were terminated.

Only the mainstream media did not emphasize religious extremism as the cause at all, at least in the early going. A study I co-authored (published in this book) looked at the top words framing coverage of 9/11 in the 66 days following the attacks. The words Islam, Islamic, and Muslim are not part of that list. It is bin Laden and al Qaeda who are portrayed as being responsible for that attacks. They emphasized religious extremism as the motive for the terrorist plot. If this theme has since appeared in the media, then they, not the Jewish neocon think tanks, deserve the blame for it.

My review of Sepahpour-Ulrich’s essay leads me to three observations. First, the things it says are half true. There are neocons who see a war against Islam, believe that it is an inherently violent and evil religion, and have the word “isloamofascism” as their language-marker. They tend to be either conservative Jews or right-wing Christians and are staunch backers of the interests of Israel. Neoconservativeism does drive some prominent media sources (Fox News, for example), and it has heavily influenced the Bush administration, particularly its decision to go to war against Iraq, a Muslim country.

But second, the facts presented in this article are only half true. And it takes someone with an agenda to take such half truths and convert them into a conspiracy theory that says Jewish think tanks have seized the levers of U.S. power in order to pursue their evil plan to destroy the Muslim community. This argument would be amusing it if were not reproducing a key narrative of al Qaeda and related extremist groups. Why would someone like Sepahpour-Ulrich, who is described as

an Iranian-American studying at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She is a member of World Association of International Studies society, Stanford

distort facts the way she has done here in order to support an extremist narrative? It is also pathetic that an outlet that aspires to be a serious media source would publish such a shoddy piece of journalism, apparently without simple fact checking.

Third, the half-true parts point to the strategic communication value of deeds and actions. While it takes someone with an extremist agenda to distort facts, some extreme facts are very helpful in giving the distortions the ring of truth. Those in the United States who support invading Muslim countries and who spout-off about “islamofascists” are also complicit in the production of distortions like the ones in this article.