Here’s a copy of my monthly “Media Uncovered” column:
The Pope meets “Muslim Rage”
|As news of “Muslim Rage” swept the Western press, the Pope was live on Hezbollah TV
Published October 2012 // Bold Magazine
By Habib Battah
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah had waited till after the Pope’s plane disappeared into the Beirut horizon before he took to the airwaves calling for a wave of protests against the infamous anti-Islam film. Heeding the Hezbollah leader’s call, hundreds of thousands filled the streets the following day in some of the biggest demonstrations against “The Innocence of Muslims” to date.
But few noticed that the Hezbollah supporters had marched peacefully as a vitriolic backlash consumed the Western press, culminating in the Newsweek cover story “Muslim Rage.” Based on a handful of violent events, the article’s author Ayaan Hirsi Ali argued that intolerance had become “a defining characteristic of Islam.”
Similarly, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former US Congressman and one of the most recognizable faces in American TV news, concluded based on discussions with “intelligence persons” that: “They (Muslims) hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture…”
He added: “Think about the sheer unrestrained savagery we’ve seen across the Muslim world this week.”
Obviously Scarborough’s “intelligence” experts failed miserably at statistical math if they thought the hundreds that participated in violent rallies last week served as an accurate sample size for the world’s one and a half billion Muslims. And for all the intolerance that both he and and Ali described as ‘sweeping the region,’ had either ‘expert’ been briefed on the latest news coming out of the Middle East? Had either even watched Arab TV recently?
In fact, it was Hezbollah TV and literally every Muslim-owned station in Lebanon that broadcast a seemingly endless series of Catholic masses during the Pope’s three day stay in Lebanon, which came just two days after the killing of a US ambassador in Libya.
|Muslim-owned channels like Al Jadeed competed to bring audiences Pope propaganda
Yes it was amid the most violent protests in Tripoli, Cairo and Sanaa that Muslims in Lebanon were watching church services on TV led by the frail 85-year-old pontiff. Of course Lebanese viewers had little choice to watch anything else. It was almost as if there was a competition between the Sunni and Shia owned channels over who could get more Pope action on screen, leaving Lebanon’s three Christian-owned TV channels struggling to keep up. Indeed there was enough Vatican propaganda on Lebanese airwaves last weekend to make even the most tolerant of protestants shudder.
The undisputed leader in Pope propagating was NBN TV, which during commercial breaks, aired a music video of crooning priest walking past stone arcades as a cluster of white doves fluttered before him. NBN, which also played church hymns in full (bells included) is known as the mouthpiece of parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a strong ally of Hezbollah.
|Christian music videos aired on Shia-owned NBN TV
And on Sunni-owned Future TV, as well as the others, the Pope’s visits to mountain monasteries throughout the country were carried for hours on end, all the way up to his departure from the airport.
|Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV was a leader in Vatican info graphics.
To liven up the often-insipid footage of official visits and their pleasantries, Muslim-owned stations hosted priests and Vatican experts in the studio for platitude heavy discussions on the essential role Christians must play in the country and its politics. Muslim hosts smiled and nodded, even as some guests made outlandish statements like “Christians only seek peace” and “Violence is banned in the Bible.” Of course all this belies a history of colonial injustice, including the disenfranchisement of Muslims in the formation of the Lebanese state, not to mention the savage massacres committed by Christian militias (and their Muslim counterparts of course) throughout the bloody Lebanese civil war.
Still hundreds of black-tinted Mercedes sedans filled with Lebanese politicians and spiritual leaders lined up at the presidential palace to have their picture taken with the Pope. This included delegations of Lebanon’s highest Sunni, Shia and Druze clerics with whom Benedict XVI exchanged long warm handshakes and extended smiles.
“This is Lebanon,” a guest said proudly on Hezbollah’s Al Manar, as the processions were projected on a big screen in the studio.
|The Pope met legions of Sunni, Shia and Druze clerics while in Lebanon
Yet if these images stood in sharp contrast to the impossibly ‘intolerant Muslim’ narrative so often paraded on US news and entertainment programming, there were few if any American cameras on hand to capture it.
Far from the unruly mob painted by Scarborough, Ali and others, Lebanese Muslim clerics and politicians, including Nasrallah, waited quietly and patiently to express opposition to the slandering of the Prophet Mohammed. Even as anger was seen in streets in nearby cities, downtown Beirut was transformed into a giant church to hold a mass for 300,000. All the while Lebanon’s Muslim leaders bent over backwards to make the Christian community feel comfortable and the three day visit went off without a hitch.
As more and more “experts” now bombard Western media with their frustrations over “Muslim Rage” one hopes that some viewers will look past the shoddy math and ask broader questions both about the expertise of so-called experts as well as the people and places they claim to know so much about.