October 14, 2006
MEMRI Mendacity, brief thoughts
Following up on my Lounsbury comment about a fine illustration of MEMRI's mendacity with respect to its pretensions of providing a window on Arabic/Islamic discourse, as identified via this post at Dean's World, I thought I would blither on a bit about this and other nasty spin.
There is certainly an emerging and quite nasty strain of bigotted or at least xenophobic reactionary commentary in the West with respect to Islam generally - and let me insert here for the sub-literate that in noting this I am not intending to excuse the Islamic world of its own version of this nor deny there is a sad and often disgusting strain of violence-mongering as our own bint ash-shaitan illustrated in her note on Saudi mosque nonsense - and it strikes me that MEMRI is an agitprop operation that is specifically trying to feed that now.
I have long considered MEMRI a suspect source, from when I first encountered it - back in the days when I sometimes posted on a message board called The Straight Dope (which I was introduced to by someone who knew me from my prior incarnation working in business related to genetic engineering, and wanted to get my response to some human genetics issues, a hobby of mine then as I found my business with plants to be not as inspiring). It was oft cited, and back then (99-00 as I recall) I found its supposed presentation of the Arabic media slanted in terms of selection and the translations consisently biased to the worst possible presentation of the underlying article's language. It smelled of agitprop, and the claim at the time on the website that the translation was done by volunteers just was not credible given the volume I was seeing. I knew how long it takes to translate, and I could not credit they had enough students and others who just happened to have so much time to be banging away at such things.
In short, as a private businessman in the region, the thing stuck out like a sore thumb as probably an Israeli intel op.
I was unsurprised to learn via other sources, news arties and the like that its founders have Israeli intel backgrounds and one has to suspect current, ongoing connexions.
It strikes me that such issues as the skewed Wafa Sultan interview clip, this utterly mendacious spin over the Apple Cube (not that there are not surely neo-Salafi professional offenderati who would not manufacture offendedness if they thought it useful) rather confirms my sense.
I, however, confess that I do not closely follow MEMRI - I have no need to one the Arabic media side, and frankly far better things to do (like this fund closing).
That being said, MEMRI is dangerous as it is creating spin that is fundamentally dangerous, spin that tends to push for "Clash of Civilizations" and the mutual alienation of Western and MENA communities, mutual alienation that will only serve the interests of the Pimps of Conflict and Pimps of Terror.
It also serves to pimp the strangely distorted vision of a MENA full of terror and conflict - there is indeed both - and barbarism - there is that too - that Americans have to a highly exaggerated extent. What I read online among Americans and to an extent Europeans about MENA often causes me to shake my head for having spent around a decade in region in various countries over time, I simply do not recognise the image. Local problems are generalised, and relatively limited issues that while serious are not to be overdone are blown up into generalisations. It reminds me of images rural people cite regarding big cities such as NY or London, regarding crime and violence. Images certainly based on truth, but grossly exaggerated and over-generalised, as the rural hick, the provincial is unable to differentiate between bad districts and where, in general, "most people live."
I cite this to provide context. Certainly problems like domestic violence and in the East, honour killings, are serious ones. But the image I often get from online whanking is that the writers genuinely believe they are
"common" - that one sees women being beaten in the streets etc. etc. Or rather like I used to hear when I lived in NY long ago in the bad days, provincials fearing getting robbed in broad daylight on 5th avenue, absurd exaggerations and false generalisations.
In short, I find the image that seems to obtain in the blogosphere of MENA to be a fun house mirror image that tends to exagerate real problems almost beyond recognition and render the inhabitants of the region - who largely in real contact would seem to Americans to be actually very boring and ordinary people - monstrous.
Hopefully new efforts like Qahwa Sada and Aqoul can help correct that. In the meantime, it strikes me this latest offence from MEMRI needs to be publicised and emphasised as I fail to see how one can treat it as a credible source (although Dean's placing it with human rights' organisations strikes me as queer at best, for all that I am not a huge fan of activist organisations, it strikes me MEMRI is far worse for it is a state deziinformatisa op).
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It seems we are both preoccupied by similar issues.
Posted by: eerie at October 14, 2006 06:15 PM
Writing as an American-Jew and dove on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I've come across my share of rightist pro-Israel propagandists in my 40 yrs of dedication to this issue. IN terms of propaganda "journalism," MEMRI & CAMERA are right up there.
In my blog, I've had my share of dreck (that's s(*t for those of you who don't know any Yiddish) dropped on my comments threads by Little Green Footballs types. But I really chuckle every time one of them leaves a link to one of these sites & swears that they represent high journalistic standards & the unvarnished truth.
Whose truth, one might add.
Doubly unfortunate in that I gather there is enough genuine crapola out there that MEMRI could expose without creative translating. If it included that along with a more balanced, reality-based selection of material, it would have wider credibility than just among the Jewish offenderati and Islamophobes. As it is, they suffer a bit from 'boy who cried wolf' syndrome, no?
Posted by: An at October 16, 2006 06:43 AM
Well, MEMRI strikes me as having a better rep generally than it deserves.
Many perfectly reasonable people seem to rely on it, as its world-facing image looks good. Only specialists or people in region (in business, such as myself, but able to understand the Arabic media) will have the ability to equitably judge its offering.
It also seems to be getting more slanted - or maybe I'm just having more stuff brought to my attention.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 16, 2006 09:02 AM
Wafa Sultan is front and center.
Posted by: eerie at October 16, 2006 08:21 PM
Agitprop at its best.
I saw the comment at Davis, it needs a response when I get a moment as the commentator by email is a lying or stupid git of a moron.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 16, 2006 08:27 PM
The piece of MEMRI mendacity you point out has disappeared from MEMRI's website. How odd.
Posted by: Simon at October 17, 2006 06:16 PM
Posted by: eerie at October 17, 2006 06:55 PM
While the MEMRI website provides a handy tool for those looking to spin the Arab media to global readers, the organization is very smart at what they do. MEMRI has a mailing list of every Congressman and congressional staffer to whom it e-mails its latest "analysis". Consequently, MEMRI plays a very serious role in shaping the view of the Middle East upon which Congress acts.
Several years ago, I was with a group of Arabs--primarily Saudis and Palestinians/Palestinian-Americans, who were discussing that it would take about $500K/yr to mount an equal-but-opposite effort. Monitoring the hard-core Israeli right and their media would make for amusing (?!) reading and certainly should be translated for the edification of Congress.
Pity that nobody cares to fund such an effort...
Posted by: John at October 23, 2006 11:03 AM
The late Israel Shahak did exactly that for a long time with his Notes From the Hebrew Press (or similar title).
He too had an axe to grind, and some of it got pretty weird. (His last(?) book Jewish History, Jewish Religion was like MEMRI-on-Muslims, only about Judaism; a few pages on sociology of urban v. peasant societies were gems, else dreck).
Posted by: matthew hogan at October 23, 2006 11:47 AM