Sunday, July 30, 2006

FAIR: Down the Memory Hole

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media Advisory
Down the Memory Hole
Israeli contribution to conflict is forgotten by leading papers


In the wake of the most serious outbreak of Israeli/Arab violence in years, three leading U.S. papers—the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times—have each strongly editorialized that Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon were solely responsible for sparking violence, and that the Israeli military response was predictable and unavoidable. These editorials ignored recent events that indicate a much more complicated situation.

Beginning with the Israeli attack on Gaza, a New York Times editorial (6/29/06) headlined "Hamas Provokes a Fight" declared that "the responsibility for this latest escalation rests squarely with Hamas," and that "an Israeli military response was inevitable." The paper (7/15/06) was similarly sure in its assignment of blame after the fighting spread to Lebanon: "It is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation. Both questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah."

The Washington Post (7/14/06) agreed, writing that "Hezbollah and its backers have instigated the current fighting and should be held responsible for the consequences." The L.A. Times (7/14/06) likewise wrote that "in both cases Israel was provoked." Three days and scores of civilian deaths later, the Times (7/17/06) was even more direct: "Make no mistake about it: Responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side...and that is Hezbollah."

As FAIR noted in a recent Action Alert (7/19/06), the portrayal of Israel as the innocent victim in the Gaza conflict is hard to square with the death toll in the months leading up to the current crisis; between September 2005 and June 2006, 144 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli forces, according to a list compiled by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem; 29 of those killed were children. During the same period, no Israelis were killed as a result of violence from Gaza.

In a July 21 CounterPunch column, Alexander Cockburn highlighted some of the violent incidents that have dropped out of the media’s collective memory:
Let's go on a brief excursion into pre-history. I’m talking about June 20, 2006, when Israeli aircraft fired at least one missile at a car in an attempted extrajudicial assassination attempt on a road between Jabalya and Gaza City. The missile missed the car. Instead it killed three Palestinian children and wounded 15.

Back we go again to June 13, 2006. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a van in another attempted extrajudicial assassination. The successive barrages killed nine innocent Palestinians.

Now we're really in the dark ages, reaching far, far back to June 9, 2006, when Israel shelled a beach in Beit Lahiya killing eight civilians and injuring 32.

That's just a brief trip down Memory Lane, and we trip over the bodies of twenty dead and forty-seven wounded, all of them Palestinians, most of them women and children.
On July 24, the day before Hamas' cross-border raid, Israel made an incursion of its own, capturing two Palestinians that it said were members of Hamas (something Hamas denied—L.A. Times, 7/25/06). This incident received far less coverage in U.S. media than the subsequent seizure of the Israeli soldier; the few papers that covered it mostly dismissed it in a one-paragraph brief (e.g., Chicago Tribune, 7/25/06), while the Israeli taken prisoner got front-page headlines all over the world. It's likely that most Gazans don’t share U.S. news outlets' apparent sense that captured Israelis are far more interesting or important than captured Palestinians.

The situation in Lebanon is also more complicated than its portrayal in U.S. media, with the roots of the current crisis extending well before the July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. A major incident fueling the latest cycle of violence was a May 26, 2006 car bombing in Sidon, Lebanon, that killed a senior official of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group allied with Hezbollah. Lebanon later arrested a suspect, Mahmoud Rafeh, whom Lebanese authorities claimed had confessed to carrying out the assassination on behalf of Mossad (London Times, 6/17/06).

Israel denied involvement with the bombing, but even some Israelis are skeptical. "If it turns out this operation was effectively carried out by Mossad or another Israeli secret service," wrote Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top-selling daily (6/16/06; cited in AFP, 6/16/06), "an outsider from the intelligence world should be appointed to know whether it was worth it and whether it lays groups open to risk."

In Lebanon, Israel's culpability was taken as a given. "The Israelis, in hitting Islamic Jihad, knew they would get Hezbollah involved too," Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at Beirut’s Lebanese American University, told the New York Times (5/29/06). "The Israelis had to be aware that if they assassinated this guy they would get a response."

And, indeed, on May 28, Lebanese militants in Hezbollah-controlled territory fired Katyusha rockets at a military vehicle and a military base inside Israel. Israel responded with airstrikes against Palestinian camps deep inside Lebanon, which in turn were met by Hezbollah rocket and mortar attacks on more Israeli military bases, which prompted further Israeli airstrikes and "a steady artillery barrage at suspected Hezbollah positions" (New York Times, 5/29/06). Gen. Udi Adam, the commander of Israel’s northern forces, boasted that "our response was the harshest and most severe since the withdrawal" of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 (Chicago Tribune, 5/29/06).

This intense fighting was the prelude to the all-out warfare that began on July 12, portrayed in U.S. media as beginning with an attack out of the blue by Hezbollah. While Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers may have reignited the smoldering conflict, the Israeli air campaign that followed was not a spontaneous reaction to aggression but a well-planned operation that was years in the making.

"Of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, told the San Francisco Chronicle (7/21/05). "By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board." The Chronicle reported that a "senior Israeli army officer" has been giving PowerPoint presentations for more than a year to "U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks" outlining the coming war with Lebanon, explaining that a combination of air and ground forces would target Hezbollah and "transportation and communication arteries."

Which raises a question: If journalists have been told by Israel for more than a year that a war was coming, why are they pretending that it all started on July 12? By truncating the cause-and-effect timelines of both the Gaza and Lebanon conflicts, editorial boards at major U.S. dailies gravely oversimplify the decidedly more complex nature of the facts on the ground.

Feel free to respond to FAIR ( We can't reply to everything, but we will look at each message. We especially appreciate documented examples of media bias or censorship. And please send copies of your correspondence with media outlets, including any responses, to

Monday, July 10, 2006

Brian Haw: The Polished Mirror

by Sean M. Madden
10 July 2006

Tony Blair is forced to drive past Brian Haw’s five-year-long peace vigil on the eastern edge of Parliament Square each time the prime minister travels from Downing Street to the House of Commons. Yes, Virginia, there is justice in this world after all. We needn’t wait for God nor history to judge the PM, as he suggests.

For nearly half a decade, Mr Haw has shone for all of us as a highly polished mirror, reflecting back our individual and collective conscience, to our delight or dread. To gain a better sense of Mr Haw’s commitment to his, our, cause, ask yourself, “Where was I on 2 June 2001, the day Mr Haw came to the Square?”. What have you accomplished over the course of these years? What has transpired in your life these past 1,864 days? Throughout, Mr Haw has lived, “24/7”, outside in the Square, through heat, rain, snow and freezing cold.

Despite the UK government’s varied attempts to rid Mr Haw as an irreverent and impervious gadfly to Mr Blair’s and certain MPs’ consciences, the former still resides in the Square. However, in the dark, wee hours of 23 May, Mr Haw’s 40 metres of demonstration was reduced by 78 police officers to three metres, the limit set by the conditions imposed upon Mr Haw after the 8 May ruling.

On 8 May, the government won its case at the Court of Appeal, which found, in contrast to the High Court ruling in July 2005, that Mr Haw is not exempt from Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) which requires police authorisation to hold a demonstration within the designated area within one kilometre of Parliament Square. The High Court had ruled that he and his displays could not be removed from the Square because his continuing protest was in place prior to SOCPA’s passage. Yet, now that the Court of Appeal has overruled the High Court in favour of the government, Mr Haw—who refuses to end his demonstration—was left to either apply for permission, in which case the Metropolitan Police were likely to impose conditions on his demonstration, or be removed by police from Parliament Square. In co-ordination with his solicitor, Mr Haw decided to apply for authorisation. As the two anticipated, the police imposed conditions which led to the 23 May nighttime police operation to remove his banners, placards and flags as well as other personal possessions. Many of the displays were given to Mr Haw in support of his protest.

Mr Haw began his one-man demonstration on 2 June 2001 in protest of the, then, nearly eleven-year-long sanctions against Iraq which UNICEF reported in 1999 were responsible for the deaths of half a million children, under five years of age, during the eight years between 1991 and 1998. His protest on behalf of the Iraqi people continued when the economic sanctions turned to armed warfare and, then, occupation.

When I interviewed Mr Haw on 2 April at the “Naming the [Iraqi civilian] Dead” demonstration—another unauthorised and, thus, criminalised peaceful protest—in Parliament Square, he said the following:
I came as one individual to begin with, with Mom and Dad—Mr and Mrs God—holding my hands. There’s somebody upstairs who loves and cares, you better believe it. I came here, as I was told to, on June 2nd 2001 because somebody cares. Since I’ve been here, who hasn’t joined me? The real world has joined me—glorious people from every country in the world. The best of America. The best of Greece. The best of the world!
His choice of named countries is striking: two of history’s greatest democracies whose democratic principles, if not their actions, continue to inspire many throughout the world. Britain, too, along with France, was such an exemplar, producing some of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers and writers whose aspirations live on. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must say that Mr Haw’s choice of named countries likely had more to do with the fact that he was speaking to an American—me—and to a woman, a poet-songwriter, from Greece whom Mr Haw introduced to me and who joined our conversation, and recited poetry and sang, thereafter.

The eyesore which Mr Blair and at least some of his colluding ministers and parliamentarians see as they pass by Mr Haw on their way to the Commons is a horrifying reflection of themselves and their illegal war which they must shudder to see. For some of us, however, Mr Haw shines as a true beacon of democracy, in sharp contrast to the simulacra which waver and flicker like candle flames as seen from storm-tossed ships at sea.

On Sunday, 14 May, democrats of all stripes gathered in Parliament Square in support of all that Mr Haw has done for us to raise the voice of humanity in Britain in contravention to the wishes of the British government, to stand resolved in the face of power, to speak truth to it, and to insist that the democratic freedoms which the British government professes to export to places like Iraq and Afghanistan apply to us at home.

This is to put it blandly.

Let us, rather, listen to the brass ringing of Brian Haw’s own words, as he described to me, on 2 April, the significance of the government’s appeal to the High Court ruling which was scheduled to begin the following day. In response to my suggesting, then, that tomorrow was an important day for him, he replied:
It’s an important day for our country, an important day for humanity, isn’t it? Because the story is, can one single person be outside the Parliament of genocidal Britain to speak his piece without having to get permission from the police? How about that? And to have permission to protest—does that sound right? There’s genocidal Britain and the United States of Assassins bringing freedom and democracy to the world, and now it comes down, finally, after nearly five years, if you please, five years.
When Mr Haw speaks of Britain and the United States in this way, he refers not to the people of these countries—the majority of whom, like Mr Haw, are against the ongoing war and occupation in Iraq—but to the governments of these two nations and their foreign policies, and the domestic policies which follow.

Finally, let us listen to, and weigh, the following words from Mr Haw, which also stem from our 2 April interview and speak not only to the policies of the United States, but to those of the United Kingdom as well:
Can you imagine if they [America] gave instead of took from the world? Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the 1.3 trillion [dollars] squandered on weapons and arms when a mere 80 billion [dollars] is enough to provide for all the needs to food, health, clothing, education—all the needs of all the world’s poor? 80 billion. Can you imagine?

Come on, let’s have compassion! Let’s have bread instead of bombs!
Brian Haw is due to appear at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court on Monday, 24 July at 10 a.m. for not complying with conditions placed by police on his demonstration, which now falls under SOCPA oversight. According to the Parliament Square Peace Campaign, Mr Haw’s supporters will join him at the Court.

Sean M. Madden is an American writer-journalist living in East Sussex, England. He may be reached via, or via his weblog at

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Book Review of Milan Rai's "7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War"

In Search of Truth at Home and Abroad

by Sean M. Madden
July 6, 2006

Book Reviewed:
7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War
by Milan Rai (Pluto Press, 2006; ISBN: 0-7453-2563-7; 196 pp.)

“A word of truth uttered in the presence of an
unjust ruler is a meritorious form of jihad.”
~ The Prophet Muhammad

So reads the closing statement, inconspicuously tucked away behind the final chapter, the endnotes, the glossary and the index, of Milan Rai’s new book. It is an apt close, for this is just what Mr. Rai himself does—he utters truth in the presence of the unjust Blair’s conspicuous disregard for it.

I am an American residing in Britain, where Mr. Rai also lives and where the four separate but coordinated attacks on July 7, 2005 were perpetrated. Although I was safely tucked away atop a mountain in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time—enrolled in a master’s program in classical Eastern philosophy, theology and literature, at St. John’s College—my British wife and our daughter were living in the South East of England, an hour’s train journey from London, and where we now live together. So, the London bombings which took the lives of 52 people, plus the bombers, resonated.

Rewind nearly four years.

On the morning of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the three of us were living in Northampton, Massachusetts, again tucked away from harm’s way, this time on the Smith College campus, where my wife had just begun the final term of her undergraduate studies in history and Russian civilization. It should go without saying that the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings which took the lives of approximately three thousand people also resonated. Reverberated may be closer to the mark.

I draw a parallel between the 7/7 and the 9/11 attacks with good reason.

In both cases, the public was, and remains, far from satisfied that their respective governments are telling we the people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. On May 22, a Zogby International survey—sponsored by, a “coalition of researchers, journalists and victim family members working to expose and answer the hundreds of still unresolved questions concerning 9/11”—found that 42% of Americans believe that “the US government and its 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks, saying there has been a cover-up”. An additional 10% are not sure.

In the days following 9/11, one question was denied us. It was precluded by a prefab official narrative which whiplashed the American public from sheer horror to settled fact without thought. The question: “Why?”

This is the great-great-granddaddy of all questions, the one which has made philosophers marked prey down through the ages, because it is the question which leads us towards understanding. The Bush government—aided and abetted by a complicit corporate media—robbed us of our natural right to know, to understand, to put two and two together to make four. We, the American public, still demand truth, an explanation. The childish narrative of the freedom-hating terrorists holds no water.

Similarly, the British public demands an explanation. The crux of Mr. Rai’s book is a search for that explanation, the truth behind whether British foreign policy, generally, and the Iraq war, specifically, were connected to the decisions made by four young British men to murder, en masse, their fellow citizens, while taking their own lives in the process. This is the very connection which Blair and those closest to him have contorted all logic to try, in vain, to preclude the public from making.

The author says this best, on the opening page of his introduction, entitled “We Need Explanation, Not Narration”:
In the immediate aftermath of the bombings on 7 July 2005, one explanation for the tragedy was firmly ruled out by the British government. Tony Blair denied any connection between the July attacks on the one hand, and the ongoing war in Iraq, or British foreign policy in general, on the other. The Prime Minister failed to acknowledge the contents of secret documents leaked to British newspapers over the next few weeks, documents which demonstrated that his own government accepted exactly this connection, as we shall soon discover.

There is a central question: how young men born and bred in Britain, with all the rights and freedoms a British citizen enjoys, could decide to blow themselves up on London’s public transport system, killing fellow citizens. The British government has ruled out holding an inquiry into this critical question, despite calls from 7/7 survivors, from relatives of those who died, and from prominent Muslims. We have been promised instead a ‘narrative’ of the attacks. What the British people want—both Muslim and non-Muslim—is not ‘narration’ but ‘explanation’. This book is an attempt to supply a first draft of that explanation, an investigation into precisely the areas that the Blair government wishes to obscure and conceal.
The promised “narrative” has since been published by the Home Office, on May 11. On the same day, a separate report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was presented to Parliament. Although at face value the latter report would seem to have been written by a group which is impartial to the PM, the following statement from the ISC’s website would seem to belie that naïve notion:
It [the ISC] operates within the ‘ring of secrecy’ and has wide access to the range of Agency activities and to highly classified information. Its cross–party membership of nine from both Houses is appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. The Committee is required to report annually to the Prime Minister on its work. These reports, after any deletions of sensitive material, are placed before Parliament by the Prime Minister.
Regardless, neither of the two government reports has satisfied inquiring minds amongst the British public, including those of survivors and the families of victims who were not so fortunate, who remain frustrated that the seemingly obvious connection between British foreign policy—and the Iraq war in particular—and the 7/7 bombings has not been clearly established. Yet, the Blair government continues to deny the public a full-scale inquiry. Crispin Black, a “former intelligence official in No. 10 [Downing St., referring to Blair’s government]” is quoted in 7/7, the book, as saying “[t]he only people who do want an inquiry are the public—the targets of the attacks”. Indeed.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 7/7 was published before the release of the two reports. However, as the public has yet to get their full-scale inquiry, Mr. Rai’s book remains perhaps the next best thing. In it, he pursues answers—in an “attempt to supply a first draft” of an explanation—in the great British empiricist tradition. He bases his quest for truth not on axioms, or assumptions, but on an inductive process whereby he identifies particulars—facts and Baconian “negative instances”—and attempts to identify patterns amongst them. He starts with questions. Preeminent, again, is: “Why?”

He carefully, sensitively, guides the reader through modern Islam and how it is playing out amongst various generations of Muslims in Britain. He walks us through the lives of the four suicide bombers, all the while seeking out what may have triggered their resolve to kill civilians and themselves. And in doing so, he keeps their humanity intact, while in no way excusing their actions. He, likewise, provides brief biographical sketches of each of the 52 individuals who died in the attacks, and does so in such a way as to lift each one beyond victimization to a realization of their individual humanity.

The epigraph of 7/7 is a quote from Rachel North, a survivor of that day’s deadly attacks. Her below statement exudes wisdom and leads us to ask why the four young bombers embodied such despair:
As a vicar’s daughter and former theology student, I am asked about evil. I think the bombers were not born evil: it is because they fell into a trap of hate and despair and alienation. I believe that any of us could fall into the same black hole, but there is a way out of the darkness.

My way is to admit I am afraid, and to ask for help, to draw strength from my fellow humans instead of fearing them and drawing away from them.
Both Britons and Americans show a determination beyond their respective governments’ wishes to explore unanswered questions by way of substantive, independent inquiries which are grounded in facts, not political rhetoric. Inquiries into truth, that is, which can help to make us all more secure, by helping us to root out the seeds of violence rather than to breed yet more of the ignorance which perpetuates both non-state and state violence—terrorism—which the wide world of humanity witnesses daily.


Milan Rai’s previous works include Regime Unchanged: Why the War on Iraq Changed Nothing (Pluto Press, 2003); War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against War on Iraq (Verso, 2002); and, Chomsky’s Politics (Verso, 1995). Mr. Rai is also an active organizer and campaigner for peace. On April 12—the day of his official book launch for 7/7—he became the first person to be convicted of organizing an unauthorized protest (held October 25, 2005) in the designated area within one kilometer of Parliament in London. He was convicted under Section 132 of the highly controversial Serious Organised Crime and Prevention Act 2005, known as SOCPA. According to Justice Not Vengeance, co-founded by Mr. Rai, “Bailiffs are currently trying to seize his property to pay his fine. He is expecting to go to prison for his part later on in the year.”


Related Web Links:

Justice Not Vengeance (co-founded by Milan Rai):

Intelligence and Security Committee:

Intelligence and Security Committee report on 7/7 bombings (.pdf format):

Home Office report on 7/7 bombings (.pdf format):

Zogby International survey for


Sean M. Madden is an American writer-journalist living in East Sussex, England. He may be reached via, or via his weblog at

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lamppost Movement Manifesto

Draft version now available here.

Please provide feedback.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lamppost Campaign - Manifesto Suggestions

As most bloggers have put up their lamppost I suggest that we move on to the next phase of suggesting what should be included in the Manifesto. Leave your comments here.

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  • Always add label in title
  • Always precede post with Category:Subject:Source descriptor
  • Always link to post on your blog at the end