فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ
فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ ۗ لِلَّهِ الْأَمْرُ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَمِنْ بَعْدُ ۚ وَيَوْمَئِذٍ يَفْرَحُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
بِنَصْرِ اللَّهِ ۚ يَنْصُرُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الرَّحِيمُ
1) Alif Lam Mim. (2) The Romans have been defeated (3) in the land nearby, but after their defeat they will themselves be victorious (4) in a few years’ time. The affair is Allah’s from beginning to end. On that day, the muminun will rejoice (5) in Allah’s help. He grants victory to whoever He wills. He is the Almighty, the Most Merciful. [Ar-Rum, 30:1-5]
By Waseem Aslam
As Muslims we are entrusted with acting as ambassadors for Islam and carrying the Islamic ideas to others. In order to achieve this it is necessary to understand the world in which we live. The first step towards doing this is being aware of the events and issues of the day via pursuing the news from around the world.
The Qur’an from the first moment it was revealed addressed the reality of the time. One such example is the war between the Romans and Persians which became a talking point in Makkah after the Mushrik Persians defeated the Christian Romans. Surah ar-Rum was revealed to address this and prophesised the Romans defeat as only temporary, after which they would be victorious once again in the future.
The Qur’an also addressed belief in one god and highlighted societal ills such as cheating in the market place and burying young girls alive. Although Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم addressed the needs of individuals he also highlighted the flaws and ills of the society of the time.
With the advent of 24-hour news channels, blogs, YouTube and smart phones following the news has come a long way from reading the daily newspaper. The ease by which anyone can write about a specific issue has meant that a single news story can produce polar opposite opinions. The news has long since moved on from being the passing of information about specific events to being used as a method by which to spread specific ideological ideas about issues. This can be true of local, national and global news stories, but is not true of all news.
As will be discussed later most news stories are weighted with ideological and political bias as well as being dictated by the current political context concerning a particular issue. If the overriding societal and political opinion about the price of commodities is one of them being too high it would take a very brave or stupid journalist to contradict this view. Despite all the talk of a free press most journalists simply tow the ideological line.
Removing journalistic opinion from the News
Anyone writing about some events will find that their opinion about issues comes out in their works. This is a natural consequence of having views and ideas about things in the world. In order to fully appreciate the news and to build our own Islamic opinions it is necessary to start viewing the news in the correct manner.
For example a story about a fire at a local factory and the response of the emergency services can be taken as information, as there is no opinion associated with that news. Even if the reporter feels that the response of the fire services could have been quicker, all this is irrelevant as the only information of note is that of the fire.
On the other hand a bombing in Lahore, Pakistan will lead news stories of varying views, most will in the current context blame ‘Islamic militants’ for the attacks. Furthermore it will be seen as an attack not only on the people of Pakistan but on the very concept of democracy and freedom. All this will be done without any real evidence on the ground. This is an example of the opinion outweighing the actual known facts, a classic method used by the press. With repetition of what could have ‘possibly’ happened it becomes an established truth that this is what ‘actually’ happened. Furthermore repetition over a long period of time will mean that the next time someone hears of an explosion in any Pakistani city the first thought is that of a terrorist attack even if it occurred due to leaking gas.
It is therefore important to remove the opinion from the news and take just the facts, otherwise understanding current events can be influenced by the source of news. This can lead to people simply carrying information about current events merely for the sake of an academic exercise.
The best recent example of opinion bias in news reporting are the Arab spring. As the events in Egypt unfolded in late January 2011 the initial reports from most news channels were of ‘Anti-Mubarak’ protests, this was the view pushed by the likes of Al-Jazeera, BBC and the New York Times.
However as the protests matured and the numbers of people coming to the streets increased there was a sudden and across the board shift of referring to the protests as ‘pro-democracy’. Almost overnight all news channels were referring to the call for Western styled democracy in the region. The point of note is not of some conspiracy by the media, they were simply reflecting the context created for them by Western politicians such as Barak Obama who by supporting the protests and calling for democratic reforms set the agenda for the media to follow.
There were no facts on the ground that showed people were anymore calling for democracy than when the demonstrations started a week or so earlier. If anything with more and more people coming to the streets and with hundreds of thousands praying in Tharir Square it was clear that the reference point for most protestors wasn’t liberalism but Islam. The constant propagation of pro-democracy demonstrations meant that when the uprisings came to Libya, Yemen and Syria the automatic assumption of most was that they too wanted democracy, an assumption based on pervious information and not reality.
During the height of the protests in Yemen many of the major news channels ran with pictures of Sheikh Zindani addressing massive crowds in Sana during Friday demonstrations. If you were to believe the narrative given by the newscasters then it was just another gathering of people calling for democracy and liberalism. However anyone understanding Arabic and actually listening to what Zindani was saying would realise he was calling for the implementation of Sharia and the Khilafah quoting the hadith of Prophet Mohammad صلى الله عليه وسلم regarding the return of the Khilafah.
Media sources as political tools
The vast majority of mainstream media organisations will have some kind of political affiliations, this may come via direct influence through donations to various political parties as is the case with Rupert Murdoch and his group of papers. Others are however lobbied by politicians and their advisors to carry certain stories and opinions, Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alistair Campbell was well known for harassing the media on fleet street until they wrote what he wanted.
In the Muslim world the media is no different with Presidents and leaders regularly meeting with the editors of major newspapers and spreading fear to stop any promotion of anti-government news items. This was something Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan undertook especially after the giving his ‘unstinted’ support to NATO strikes on Afghanistan. When Musharraf’s tactics of meeting journalists failed to deliver the results he went he simply banned Geo TV broadcasting within Pakistan.
The killing of the Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad in June 2011 was blamed on his reporting on extremism, he was painted out as a victim of the extremists he was exposing. However in reality his killing was politically motivated and a signal to all Pakistani journalists that dare question or expose the government. Those journalists showing support or sympathy for views which fall outside the acceptable norm are routinely targeted by the security services across the Muslim world.
The recent arrest, torture and imprisonment of Tajik journalist Urunboy Usmonov for his reporting on the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir shows the levels of harassment that journalists have to suffer for simply reporting what is happening in the society around them. In the West the apparent home of free media journalists and wined and dined to gain favourable views, in the rest of the world they are simply harassed and tortured to keep them quiet.
In addition to this influence some media organisations are used as tools to spread a particular governments political agenda. The Western world has traditionally used the likes of the BBC and CNN to spread their own political and ideological views to the world. Where the presence of McDonalds symbolises the existence of free market policies, the existence of CNN in a country means Western values such as liberalism can be easily spread and propagated. Muslim lands. This may seem innocuous to some and a sign of progress to others but the media helps shape the political, social, economic and intellectual futures of whole nations.
The ease by which new satellite channels can be established has meant that many different countries are able to get their views across to massive audiences across the world. The likes of Press TV (Iranian), Al-Jazeera, Russia Today (RT) and various Chinese channels have now gone global. The manner in which these channels discuss and debate particular issues directly correlates to the foreign policy of the nations which they represent.
The Iranian news channel Press TV has been the only news channel not to cover the Syrian uprisings in the way it covered the various other protests. In fact it has gone further in running stories directly supporting the Assad regime. This is line with Iran’s foreign policy of supporting Syria due to their Shiite links.
Similarly RT has pushed an anti-American agenda throughout the Libyan operations by NATO and has again and again highlighted the use of American made tear gas in the recent protests in Egypt. This anti-American stance has been also been propagated by the Chinese News channel (CCTV). Russia and China are amongst America’s only rivals politically and economically in the world. It is therefore natural for their news channels to affectively undermine American policy in the world.
This kind of political bias is not only shown by the lesser known channels but also the likes of BBC and Al-Jazeera which is an extension of the old BBC Arabic in Qatar. During the Egyptian uprisings Mohamed ElBaradei the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was touted by the BBC and Al-jazeera as the saviour of Egypt. His arrival to a handful of supporters in Tahrir Square was hailed as a political watershed for Egypt. ElBaradei being heavily influenced by the Europeans and British was for the BBC and Al-Jazeera a natural ally.
For the Americans however he was seen as a trouble causer due to his differing views on Iran’s nuclear policy during his time as head of the IAEA. Thus CNN spent most of its coverage of his arrival to Egypt questioning the validity of his candidacy. At the same time as Al-Jazeera was promoting the validity of ElBaradei CNN was using experts to cast doubt on the ElBaradei’s ability to govern.
Formulating an Islamic opinion on the News
Understanding the news and formulating an opinion on what is happening in the world around us is something which can be easily done, once the ideological opinion, political bias and current context is appreciated. All these actions are a mere pre-cursor to the real objective of pursuing the news which is to build an Islamic opinion on the world in which we live.
Just as Islam was revealed to Prophet Mohammad صلى الله عليه وسلم to address his reality so therefore Islam can address the world that we live in today. Understanding and creating an Islamic opinion about the issues of the day is a fundamental part of propagating Islamic ideas to the world.
An example is that of western interference in the Muslim world and the reactions of the rulers. By purely examining the facts it is obvious that the NATO strike on the Pakistani border post is nothing less than an act of war. There is no other political term that could be used to describe this action. The media would have you believe that the actions of closing the Shamsi air base and blocking the NATO supply lines are indeed great acts of defiance against American hegemony. However removing the political bias of the media and understanding and applying the Islamic views on the matter it is clear that Islam obliges the ruler to sever all ties with the Americans. This includes all the CIA agents and diplomats being expelled immediately, all economic and military ties and co-operation ending.
This opinion can only be reached by seeing through the media spin and applying the Islamic understanding on the current events. This not only the case on political issues but also societal issues. Recently the Pakistani TV Channel Dawn (same as the newspaper) ran a piece on sex workers in Karachi and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, their solution to the issue was contraception and a better education of the sex workers regarding sexually transmitted disease. A solution driven by the western ideology and not coming from Islam.
Viewing the news in the correct manner means that we understand that the problem of prostitution in Pakistan is a consequence of an un-Islamic system being implemented and not because this is what people want. The solution is not better education but a complete banning of the trade as it is Haram, together with the elimination of poverty which leads women to sell themselves together with punishment for the one who commits such acts.
Islam is unique in its ability to address all issues at all times this ability can only be truly shown to the people around us in society if we understand the contemporary issues of the day.