Monday, July 7, 2008

The Third Way gasps for oxygen

Via Media it ain't
Leaving St Gallicus' after a concert tonight, I picked up a copy of a magazine that I'd never seen before, called Third Way.

Much of it seemed to be a middle-class intellectualist meditation on the vagaries of life, and therefore relatively harmless.

However, I was concerned to see an interview with Khalid Mish'al, who is regarded as the most senior figure in Hamas, which won a landslide victory in the Palestinian Authority elections of Wednesday 25 January 2006.

I was initially interested in the article, and looked forward to reading a neutral view of the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But my expectations were shattered, not by one of Mish'al's answers, but by one of the questions:

"Nelson Mandela famously said, 'The struggle is my life', and for many people that sums up the heroism of the man. It occurs to me that if he had been speaking Arabic, he would have used the word jihad. Can you explain what jihad means to Hamas, and in particular to you?"

If Khalid Mish'al were to choose to compare himself to Nelson Mandela that would be one thing, happy?but it is in fact the interviewer, Huw Spanner, who suggests the comparison first. This allows Mish'al to continue the metaphor at a later point in the interview:

"the Palestinians, like Nelson Mandela, feel that their life is struggle and resistance. When you live every day under occupation, your natural behaviour - This is what people in the West should understand: every day, we suffer aggression, killing and siege, with houses destroyed and families homeless."

Spanner, does have form, however: on his website, he claims to have interviewed Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. This is, of course, a highly selective list, but the devil's in the detail.

I think his sympathies come through in asking whether he clarifies whether Mish'al classifies what al-Qa'ida does as jihad, to which the answer comes:

"I don't want to talk about others, but if anybody is in doubt about Hamas they need only answer the questions: Has Hamas ever fought outside Palestine? And has it ever resisted anyone other than the Israeli occupation? Any fair-minded person will see the difference."
While wondering what was the question that Mish'al thought he was answering, I can see a parallel between this outlook and that of the last two members on the above list, Messrs Adams and McGuinness. Their original organisation, the IRA, tended to act within the confines of the United Kingdom, but the operatives were no less terrorists for that.

During the 1980's, in the context of the IRA's bombing campaigns, Margaret Thatcher spoke of the necessity of starving terrorists of the oxygen of publicity, perhaps not fully realising the degree to which terrorism would become an anaerobic beast - it is the yeast that makes the circulation and viewing figures of certain media outlets rise.

So what's the answer to the problem of magazines like Third Way giving a sympathetic platform to terrorists wishing to present themselves as oppressed freedom-fighters? The answer, I think is twofold:

Firstly - it's obviously up to the magazine what they publish, but for the sake of a balanced viewpoint I would liked to have seen an opposing viewopoint in the same issue - from Anglican Friends of Israel, for instance.

Secondly, if it's impossible to starve terrorists of the oxygen of publicity - and this appeared to be the case even in the days before the internet - then, with due deference to Mrs Thatcher, let's blast them with the stuff. Make every published sermon and piece of propaganda by Islamic extremists available to every household in Great Britain, so that those who are interested can see the agenda for themselves, without having to peer round the edges of liberal-tinted glasses of pet reporters determined to present themselves and their country in surrender mode.

click to read Margaret Thatcher's 'oxygen of publicity' speech

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