About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

November 21, 2015

"The Islamic State bombed a neighborhood [in Beirut], not a 'Hezbollah stronghold.'"

My friend Annia Ciezadlo wrote this piece for the Washington Post. How come when innocent Parisians were killed by terrorists, everybody shed a tear? (as they should)

But when innocent Beirutis get killed by terrorists, they're described as living in an "Hezbollah stronghold."

If you're too lazy to click though, here's a chunk of it:
The Syrian refugee crisis has had a crushing impact here [in Beirut]. According to the official numbers, there is one Syrian refugee for every four Lebanese.... If the European Union took as many Syrian refugees as Lebanon has, proportionally, the number would be upwards of 300 million.

In Beirut you see the impact of this every day....Every night, Syrian women and children fill the streets, begging or selling Kleenex and flowers. Every winter, when the rain and snow come, a handful of Syrian children in flimsy tents freeze to death.
Does the world only care about Syrian refugees, or victims of the Islamic State, if they’re in Europe?

I don’t think so. As a writer, and a journalist, I think part of the explanation for this double standard is language.

In the Western press, Lebanon is a country perpetually at war. To Western readers, the pressures of a 25 percent population increase, a war next door, and another series of bombings don’t seem like an inconvenience, because most Americans think of war when they think of Beirut.

The beauties of everyday life — the smell of fresh bread from a bakery, the laughter of children on their way to school, lovers sitting in a cafe — don’t define Beirut’s image in the West the way they do for a city like Paris. And yet all those things happen here, too. They are the daily neighborhood life that the bombing here, like the one in Paris, was calculated to destroy.

But when there’s a bombing in Beirut, nobody mentions these things.

On Friday, my news feeds were full of articles describing Bourj al-Barajneh as a “Hezbollah stronghold.”
This language is ubiquitous: On Sunday, when French warplanes bombed the Syrian city of Raqqa, English-language newspapers described it as an “ISIS stronghold.” As an English-language reader, you could be forgiven for imagining the Middle East as a series of strongholds, linked together by stretches of desert and the occasional camel.

Why does this matter? Because it describes civilians in terms that make them sound, however subtly or unconsciously, like combatants. Like a bastion, or a battlement, the literal meaning of a stronghold is a location that people barricade themselves behind and launch attacks from. It’s not a neutral way to describe a civilian neighborhood that has just been bombed. It implies that the civilians who live there are part of the military campaigns of the people who are in charge.
In Raqqa, for example, plenty of civilians who are not Islamic State sympathizers aren’t able to leave. Describing it as a “stronghold” implies that they support the Islamic State when they are effectively being held hostage by it.
When a Western city is attacked, we see the city’s security measures as vindicated by the killings, not as subtle justifications for them. We do not cite them as evidence that the victims were living in a “stronghold” of militarism.

No comments: