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Journalist critiques coverage of terrorism, Mideast issues

By : Nicole Borawski

Rami Khouri, executive editor of the Beirut-based The Daily Star, speaks to an audience of about 100 on Nov. 15 in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall.
International journalist Rami Khouri attracted a crowd of attentive faculty, students and community members for his discussion, “Spreading Democracy or Chaos? A Critical Arab View of America and the Middle East,” Nov. 15 at the Anderson Center.

Khouri, executive editor of the Beirut, Lebanon-based The Daily Star, is also director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at American University of Beirut. He is known for his commentary on issues involving Middle Eastern culture, politics and religion.

Khouri said media coverage of terrorism and Arab/Israeli conflicts is “abysmal, highly distorted and politically driven.” The American media can do a good job with coverage when they want to, but often choose not to, he said.

“The portrayal fuels a mutual cycle of violence and fear, resulting in ignorance and inaccuracy,” Khouri said.

Khouri noted that Americans translated the trauma of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks into a long series of policies, even though the incident was not a long-shared suffering around the world.

“I am not trying to minimize what happened on Sept. 11,” Khouri said, “but terrorism is a terrible phenomenon that the rest of the world, especially the Middle East, has been dealing with for years.”

Islamist groups are the most important political movement in the Arab world now because they represent the determination of ordinary people expressing their sentiments and fears, Khouri said. “These movements show that the Arabs are no longer afraid of the American and Israeli military, and these groups are fighting for issues that respond to everyday needs and realities.”

Hezbollah is the most powerful of these Islamist groups, Khouri said.

“The media portrays them as solely terrorists but to take one aspect of someone’s entire issue and focus only on that is propaganda,” Khouri said. “They are not angels, but they represent the cutting-edge force who is not afraid to challenge United States and Israel.”

Khouri stated clearly that he was not speaking about Al-Quaeda because a vast majority of Arabs reject its policies.

Khouri believes that as the United States becomes more involved with promoting change in Iraq, it needs to address Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran.

“It’s a cruel irony,” Khouri said. “The United States government wants to promote freedom and democracy, but there is no Arab democrat or liberal that will touch the U.S. with a 10-foot pole because they set double standards.”

For example, he said, America denies Iran nuclear power, but then allows it in India and Iraq. The double standard continues the cycle of militarism, and as the process continues, the Islamic world is learning more about retaliating methods, he said.

Khouri asked those in the audience to be skeptical when interpreting news of the Middle East from American government and Israeli lobbyist groups.

“Israel and the U.S. have isolated themselves from the global trends and views of political policy because their portrayal is not the view of the other 5 billion people in the world,” Khouri said.

Khouri said an Arab-Israeli peace agreement would be the best first step in reversing Middle East violence. Man-made conflicts such as this one can be turned around, he said, just as happened in Northern Ireland.

“The majority of the Arab world admires the values and principles of the United States, but they can’t take the nation seriously because American policies alienate so many other regions of the world,” he said. “American rhetoric is for freedom but their policy is occupation.”

Khouri concluded his talk on an optimistic note, stating his belief that if Americans and Israelis mobilize for more consistent policies, a peaceful change in the world is possible.

Senior Sarah Abraham attended the talk.

“I found some of what he said to be controversial,” she said, “but it enlightened me with a new perspective of the troubles taking place.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08