Arab News

October 16, 2009 Friday

Spinwatch exposing neocon propaganda

LENGTH: 861 words

Shabana Syed | Arab News

LONDON: It is a subject that has been much talked and written about after 9/11, but Islamophobia as we know it today is the unspoken yet legitimate form of racism that has taken root in Western societies.

A few months ago a young pregnant Muslim mother died after being stabbed 18 times in a German court in front of her three-year-old son by a xenophobic German who she had brought to the court for insulting her for wearing a hijab. To make matters worse, the police shot her husband while he tried to stop the man. The shocking crime received little coverage in the mainstream media.

Civil liberties appear to be getting worse in Europe; in France there has been fresh demands to ban the burqa, while Belgium has banned the head scarf.

Communal tensions have been escalating in Britain with violence unleashed on the streets by the English Defence League (EDL), which along with the British National Party believes "Muslim extremism" is at the root of all problems. The new phenomenon that accompanies this form of racism is the unquestioning acceptance that this racism is justified as "Islam is violent and breeds terrorism." The hatred spewed by the EDL is the same rhetoric that is repeated in the mainstream media, though more subtly.

The climate is such that no one blinks an eye when Muslims are dragged out of airline queues and train stations to be questioned and searched. Police stop-and-search tactics are mainly focused on the Muslim youth or anyone who looks Middle Eastern.

The idea to investigate whether the barrage of information on Muslims in the media is true or just spin was one of the reasons professor David Miller of Strathclyde University cofounded 'Spinwatch' in 2004.

Islamophobia is not just a result of the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7 as recent revelations by Spinwatch have highlighted, but rather a systematic campaign instigated by right-wing neocons linked to interest groups.

According to Miller and fellow Spinwatch researcher Tom Mills, there are individuals who have set themselves up with no prior experience as "terror experts," and fed fabricated stories to the media, creating fear and hatred of Islam. One such group operated under the name of Vigil and had links to the far right and networks of neoconservatives in the US and the UK.

According to Miller and Mills one of the fabricators, Glen Jenvey, admitted publicly that he did supply false stories of Muslim terror threats to the media. Jenvey's former colleague at Vigil also worked closely with the neoconservative think tank, the Centre for Social Cohesion. After 9/11 there has been an emergence of a new phenomenon called "The Terror Experts" who, according to Miller, appear in the media to comment on "Islamic terrorism", often with little background or expertise.

He cites one terror expert, Evan Kohlman, who has been an expert witness in many prosecutions in the US, the UK and Australia. "With no expertise beyond an undergraduate law degree and an internship at a dubious think tank he has become a consultant to the US Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the UK's Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard's SO-15 Counter Terrorism Command." Miller, who is compiling a Spinwatch database of "terrorologists," argues that "many of these expert witnesses" have been associated with rightwing or pro-Zionist organizations, something that questions their objectivity.

In an article titled "The Propaganda Which We Pass off as News Around the World," Miller argues that a succession of scandals in the US revealed widespread government funding of PR agencies to produce "fake news". He points out that the same practice has been adopted in Iraq, where newspapers have been paid to insert copy.

He argues that if we think that such practices in Britain are not the norm then we should examine the workings of a government launched television propaganda service in 2002.

He points out that the British Satellite News website says it is "a free television news and features service." It looks like an ordinary news website, though its lack of copyright protection might raise some questions among alert journalists. Broadcasters can put BSN material "directly into daily news programs." World Television produces the fake news, but its efforts are entirely funded by the Foreign Office, which spent 340 million pounds on propaganda activities in the UK alone in 2001.

According to World Television, by November 2003 BSN news was being "used regularly by 14 of the 17 Middle East countries." "In a world of lap dog journalism where the prime minister lied about the weapons of mass destruction and took a whole nation to war, leading to the innocent deaths of both the British and the Iraqis it has become important to decipher the truth from the spin."

Spinwatch investigations have ruffled feathers among neocon and Islamophobic interests and it is plain that their work is getting under the skin of some of their targets. Miller says that the most important thing about the work of Spinwatch is to produce quality research that exposes the truth about the secretive interests trying to foment hatred against Muslims in the UK.