Sensationalizing Orientalism: The Media’s Hummus and Kebab Analysts

By Ikhras Friend Roqayah Chamseddine.  This article first appeared on Roqayah’s blog The Cynical Arab where you can find more of her articles and follow all the writings of this radical Lebanese-American journalist, and powerful Anti-Imperialist voice.*

 

“It is quiet common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar.”

— Edward W. Said

The word ‘analyst’, routinely fatigued by the mainstream media (MSM), has become comparable to the sound of nails against a chalk-board.

When the media finally caught on to the explosive uprisings in the Middle East they seemingly had  ’experts’ on Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc. waiting in queue; in this context the term “expert”  being any individual who has convienently waltzed through the most westernized boroughs or whose ventures are pock-marked with xenophobic back-wash outlining categorical divisions between “The West” and “The Arab World”. Evidently, any correspondent who has spent a number of days in Cairo, Beirut et al. on a network tab while downing a falafel sandwich and a bottle of Pepsi was being described as a qualified professional – being able to spit out a number of Arabic words, in the harshest accent mind you, solidified said ‘experts’ proficiency on the subject.

The mainstream media enjoys its vast selection of polished orientalist’s who’ve had an elitist ‘kebab and hummus’ experience, thus have supreme authority over Arab culture in its entirety.

Benevolent Imperialism and American Exceptionalism

“We must bear in mind that imperialism is a world system, the last stage of capitalism — and it must be defeated in a world confrontation. The strategic end of this struggle should be the destruction of imperialism. Our share, the responsibility of the exploited and underdeveloped of the world is to eliminate the foundations of imperialism: our oppressed nations, from where they extract capitals, raw materials, technicians and cheap labor, and to which they export new capitals — instruments of domination — arms and all kinds of articles; thus submerging us in an absolute dependance”
– Che GuevaraMessage to the Tricontinental, 1967

The opportunistic and reactionary nature of the US media in terms of its coverage of foreign affairs is blatant and unashamed – in the programming of broadcasts and in the layout of foreign correspondence, even in the rhetoric used to describe the cultural differences present in each group outside the realm of their own. As of late, there is a noticeable air of American-exceptionalism behind almost every coverage in respect to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) uprisings, especially towards Egypt.

The US media took advantage of the uprising in Egypt and so did the US Government. How else can you explain a seemingly abrupt shift in their alliance? From stern opposition to independent nationalist movements and being in bed with dictators to a sudden ‘we were with you all along‘ type relationship with empowered Egyptians.

The alluring nature of the Arab world as portrayed by the mainstream media includes characters reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence, poster boy of British Imperialism; Anderson Cooper being a crowd favorite.

Islamists, Islamism and Sectarian Uprisings

Irshad Manji, self-proclaimed “Muslim refusenik”, was another in the long queue of ‘experts’ who made a plethora of appearances during the uprising in Egypt. Manji is one of many touting of an “Islamist” threat that according to Irshad may or may not exist:

“I do believe things will get worse in the Mideast before it gets better. I’m not saying for a minute that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces will take over– they might.”
– Interview with Parker Spitzer Staff. CNN, January 28, 2011

Irshad endorses the unprincipled position of adamant self-criticism of the Middle East – especially when it comes to foreign affairs. Yet Manji’s hushed slant towards US hegemony is bold – laid bare for much of the world to see. “Islamist”, a word stemming from term “Islamism” which was first used by the French in the 1700′s to refer to Islam, then migrating to the English language in the 1980′s, is a go-to word for many ‘experts’ of the Arab/Muslim stock. This word is bigotry gold and during the uprisings in the MENA region it was used more often than not.

Yet there is not a single religious element. Not a single “Islamist” threat from the Muslim Brotherhood or otherwise. The uprisings are secular in nature and presentation.

In conclusion, as Robert Fisk notes, it is “…better perhaps to ignore all the analysts and the “think tanks” whose silly “experts” dominate the satellite channels.”

*Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American journalist and international humanitarian activist; she was a member of the first Gaza Freedom March which took place in December of 2009 in Cairo, Egypt.  Recently during the winter of 2010-2011 she spent one month documenting the lives of men, women and children living in the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Lebanon including the camps of Sabra and Shatila and Burj el Barajneh.  She is an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science/Pre-Law and Journalism with an emphasis in International Criminal Law.  She will be seeking an MA in Journalism during the coming fall.  Her work has been featured in foreign and domestic news agencies such as: Al ManarMondoweissAll VoicesIkhrasGlobal Voices and a plethora of independent news sources where she is featured as a guest writer or frequent contributing author.  She can be reached via: thecynicalarab [at] gmail.com