By Lizzy Naameh
Last week, the Daily Bruin published an advertisement submitted and paid for by an organization called FLAME (Facts & Logic About the Middle East) about the 65th anniversary of the state of Israel – and it really bothered me. Before I go any further, I should clarify that it was not this simple celebration of nationhood that bothered me. Everyone has the right to celebrate their heritage and their country. What upset me was that the advertisement claimed as “factual” some very offensive and arguably racist claims about the historical evolution of the Israeli state, while simultaneously slandering Arab communities.
As a Middle Eastern woman, I was outraged by blanket statements that called Arabs “implacable enemies” who are “singlemindedly fixated on (Israel’s) annihilation.” Statements like these singularly pathologize Middle Eastern people as hyper-militarized Muslim monsters and produce negative stereotypes with broad and deleterious effects on the community. The advertisement goes on to say that one of the most pressing issues currently facing Israel is “(t)he disparity between the Jewish majority and the one million Arab citizens who are not yet entirely accepting of their country.”
I could not handle the hypocrisy. Really? What about the country that is not even close to accepting its Arab citizens? What about the state-sanctioned violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people living both under Israeli occupation and within Israel’s borders? And what of the continued expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements that the U.N. earlier this year described as a “creeping annexation” of territory that clearly violates international law?
So, while this FLAME organization claims to publish “facts regarding developments in the Middle East” and to expose “false propaganda that might harm the interests of the U.S. and its allies,” it is actually producing propaganda itself through inconsistent, biased and prejudiced rhetoric. This is not only harmful to the Arab communities referenced in the article, but also detrimental to campus conversation on important political issues.
In “Culture and Imperialism,” Edward Said once claimed that “the struggle over geography … is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.” The rhetoric, symbols and categories constructed in epistemic space are also used in the subjugation and control of the material bodies and lands of colonized peoples, reinscribing violence and discrimination in concrete ways. These types of essentializing, othering narratives, such as those produced in the FLAME advertisement, have real political implications and often are the basis of actual policy- and decision-making among governments. They are the surface justifications for wars on terror, wars on drugs and other endless and senseless wars of ideology. They are the reason why my mom pleaded with me to wear my Catholic cross in the years following 9/11 so that I would not be harassed and called “terrorist” at school, and why so many of my Middle Eastern and South Asian friends were attacked anyway.
With this in mind, we must remain critical about our own role, as students and scholars, in perpetuating false information and incomplete narratives, especially when these “pseudo-knowledges” target particular communities and become normalized and legitimated in our collective imagination. We have to be critical of the way we are implicated in the political agendas of others when we unquestioningly advertise and publish on behalf of lobby organizations that have the resources to access and infiltrate our most credible institutions of knowledge with defamatory racist stereotypes. And we have to be critical of our silence in the face of these occurrences. Because when we buy into these narratives, it impacts the way we think, the way we behave, the policies we enact, and ultimately, the way people are treated on the ground.
The more immediate message here is that the Daily Bruin is recognized as a legitimate producer and circulator of knowledge – it is one of the country’s leading college newspapers, after all. But with this privilege comes responsibility. While advertising remains essential to the funding model of print newspapers, sacrificing the integrity of the Daily Bruin in order to secure cash from bigoted advertisers is in no way acceptable. There are larger ethical questions to consider.
I don’t know if the Daily Bruin has procedures to ensure ethical and moral advertising, but it should take a closer look at the content it publishes. It should be concerned with the sociopolitical implications of granting racist discourses a venue for expression within its pages.
Naameh is a fourth-year international development studies student and the Undergraduate Students Association Council general representative 3.