Wednesday, April 18, 2012
False reporting on sectarianism in Iraq
The media should report with balance and without bias. False reporting can be damaging not just to the reader’s perception, but also in viewing a particular event. And it can often be expedient to stoke the fires just for a hot subject.
The burning cauldron that is Iraqi sectarianism needs no further stoking in this regard, especially given the journalistic duty aforementioned. Iraq is a bubbling pot of tensions between various factions, a pot that has been heating not-so-gently since the US invasion in 2005 and has continued in spewing violence after the withdrawal five years later.
With this in mind, an AP article (interestingly now removed by the Washington Post from its site) recently stated that the tensions between Sunnis and Shias in a post-US Iraq are close to ‘an effective break-up of the country’. But as Hayder al-Khoei countered in his post on the Guardian, ‘sensationalist mudslinging’ by Western media does our understanding of the situation no good.
Al-Khoei points to several elements within the AP article that should be read with caution. The AP article states that the US withdrawal has left a security vacuum resulting in ‘Iraq's ruling Shiites [...] moving quickly to keep the two Muslim sects separate – and unequal’. However, al-Khoei notes that the sectarian make-up of the country is ‘remnant of the civil war [...] and has nothing to do with the current government's domestic policy’ or a direct consequence of the withdrawal. He goes on to say that the ethno-sectarian quotas within the government are a better reflection of Iraqi society. In reality the Shiite domination is perhaps a misnomer; it is also possible to find Sunni-dominated areas where once they were ethnically mixed, such as Gazaliyah, Doura, and Ameriya, as it is to find Shiite dominated ones. Furthermore, the de-Baathification policy as stated in the AP article, al-Khoei objects, simply addresses the targeting of Sunni Baathists whereas the policy has also been used against Shiite Baathists.
But perhaps the most damaging and potentially riling argument in the AP article is the purported views of Grand Ayatollah Sistani: ‘you [fellow Shiites] are the majority and your enemies are trying to reduce your numbers’, a quote attributed to an anonymous source. As al-Khoei rightly counters, Ayatollah Sistani has done much for sectarian harmony in Iraq and were it not for his work and his words, the situation could be much bloodier.
Perhaps it is telling that the article page can no longer be found. The sectarian situation is more complicated than the article would suggest, and much care must be taken by respected media outlets such as the AP before unhelpfully contributing to the melting pot in Iraq.