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How to lose friends and alienate people

By David Chibo - posted Friday, 6 March 2009

The tragic events of 9-11, some analysts say, have been a trigger that allowed the neo-conservatives within the US government to overtly establish US military bases in the heart of the world’s strategic energy producing region; the Middle East.

While this invasion and occupation were taking place the cultural battle waged using the world’s media against the Middle Easterners and Islam has been unparalleled. This battle - long supported by the Australian media in particular - seeks to denigrate all Middle Easterners and Muslims in order to silence any local opposition and legitimise the colonial conquest of their homeland.

This cultural battle is fought within a pre-defined framework that was described by Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism. At its essence, Orientalism purposely diminishes Middle Eastern cultural heritage and customs by polarising the world between the progressive, democratic, enlightened “West”, and its “Other”, the regressive, autocratic, undeveloped “East”.


Within this framework, overt racism - as seen at the Cronulla riots - has flourished. Professor Noam Chomsky aptly describes how such racism has “long been extreme, the last ‘legitimate’ form of racism in that one doesn’t even have to pretend to conceal it”.

Australian Middle Easterners have long been aware of this biased framework, expressing their exasperation at what they consider to be one-sided media coverage of news events. The main Australian media outlet is none other than Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, one of the main corporate interests in the former Australia United States FTA Business Group (AUSTA) that actively lobbied for the Australia-United States FTA, signed on May 18, 2004. One of the few dissenting members of the US Congress who opposed the agreement was Marcy Kaptur, from Ohio, who appropriately asked, “[W]ould we have this agreement before us if Australia did not have troops in Iraq?”

The Australian Middle Eastern and Islamic community has never been able to aptly express or manifest this alleged bias, leaving the majority of readers outside their community to rely on the supposedly non-biased Australian media.

The only way to clearly show just how the Orientalism framework functions is to compare two very similar Australian newspaper articles reporting on the two very dissimilar Australian groups. The first article was published in The Australian on October 26, 2006 and is titled “Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks”. The second article was published in the Brisbane Times on February 10, 2009 and is titled “Abortion to blame for fires: Pastor”.

At their core both articles discuss the opinions of two religious figures, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali and Pastor Danny Nalliah, and their opinions of women. While a quick skim through both articles gives an impression of impartiality and balance in reporting a detailed examination of the articles reveals some startling statistics.

A keyword count of the first article reveals that the word Muslim appears 12 times - including the title - and the word Islam/Islamic appears three times. This is in stark contrast to the second article, where the word Christian/Christianity does not appear at all.


The clear association of one religious figure with an entire religion and the obscuring of the other religious figure’s association with any established religion comfortably fits into the Oriental framework in which all 1 billion Muslims worldwide are responsible for the opinion of one Mufti, whereas the opinion of a Christian Pastor is implied and never explicitly stated, dissociating him from millions of Christians worldwide.

Further analysis shows that in order to further alienate, and reinforce the Western concept of The Other, the author of the first article deliberately leaves foreign words - mercy (rahma), adultery (zina) and enticement (igraa) - in the article, even though they have already been translated, emphasising the cultural and linguistic divide. The second article on the other hand has no foreign words in it at all portraying the Western world’s cultural affinity with the Pastor and his religion.

Staying within the Orientalism framework, the Muslim Mufti and all Muslims are portrayed as being naturally sexist in following an ancient religion that restricts women and their rights. Follow-up media articles, interviews and chat rooms asked Muslims worldwide to apologise for the opinion of their Mufti, whereas Australian Christians have never been asked to apologise for the opinion of their Pastor. Furthermore the Christian Pastor is portrayed as being pro-life. Not one word of the article mentions the Pastor’s desire to revert the hard fought-for reproductive rights of all Victorian women by abolishing abortion.

Glossing over the article, as most readers would do when casually reading the newspaper, one does not immediately pay attention to the clear and present partiality displayed in such articles, but when analysed side-by-side with similar articles it becomes apparent just how one-sided the reporting is when it comes to portraying Middle Easterners and Islam in Australia.

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About the Author

David Chibo is an Australian-born Iraqi from the Assyrian-Christian community. He spent six months prior to the Iraq invasion working in northern Iraq with local aid groups delivering humanitarian relief as well as providing technical training to the local population. He is also a Melbourne-based freelance journalist for the online Assyrian magazine Zinda and a frequent writer on Orientalism. He is currently working on a thesis - due to be published in an archaeological athletics journal called Nikephorus - titled Gilgamesh Games (See that seeks to trace back the origins of the ancient Greek Olympic Games back to their precursors in ancient Iraq.

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