The recent acknowledgement by New York Times correspondent Isabel Kershner that she (and presumably her paper) is rather reluctant to report about the anti-Israel incitement and open antisemitism that are so prevalent in the Middle East illustrated a point that I’ve frequently made: when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the mainstream media are systematically filtering their news in a way that leaves their audience quite ignorant about realities of which Israelis are only all too aware.
With the Middle East now turning openly Islamist, there is already a clear tendency to make sure that mainstream media coverage will reflect Western eagerness to avoid a “clash of civilizations.” This means first and foremost a largely uncritical coverage of the enormous popularity of Islamism: anything so “mainstream” must also be somehow “moderate” and “pragmatic”— something like the Middle Eastern version of Christian democratic parties in Europe and elsewhere.
To be sure, this “political correctness” has dominated Western media coverage already since 9/11. But while the West (and Israel) has indeed no interest in fanning the flames of a “clash of civilizations,” suppressing politically “incorrect” facts for the sake of some supposedly “higher” purpose will arguably only contribute to a further polarization of a political discourse that is divorced from reality as long as it is “progressive” to cheer Islamists and “reactionary” or even “racist” to cheer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
However, a media bias in favor of “political correctness” is not just a relatively recent phenomenon. In an excellent essay on “Radical Islam’s Fellow-Travellers”, Nick Cohen reminded his readers:
Susan Sontag, a former president of American PEN […] scandalised leftish New Yorkers when she addressed a town hall meeting as the Soviet empire was starting to crumble under pressure from Poland’s Solidarity trade union. Imagine, she told the assembled fellow-travellers [of Communism] as she tried to dissolve their illusions, “the preposterous case of somebody who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and somebody else who read only the Nation between 1950 and 1970. Who would be getting more truth about the nature of communism? There’s no doubt it would have been the Reader’s Digest reader.”
Getting more truth about the nature of Islamism is arguably more important than ever, because in much of the Middle East, Islamists are emerging as the most popular political force. “News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood” will therefore become a regular feature of this blog.