Why Western media frames civilian areas as “Hezbollah strongholds”
By Sharmine Narwani | Al-Akhbar
Beirut was thrown into turmoil on Thursday evening as a terrorist attack against residents of Dahiyeh – a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital and a predominantly Shia neighborhood – threatened to draw the country into a region wide crisis. As conflicting news reports began to leak out in the immediate aftermath of the city’s deadliest car bombing in eight years, there was a disconcerting congruity in headlines beaming out from western capitals – and it had nothing to do with facts.In lock-step, western media was calling the scene of the crime a “Hezbollah stronghold”: Wall Street Journal: “Car Bomb Blasts Hezbollah Stronghold in Lebanon” BBC: “Deadly Lebanon Blast in Beirut Stronghold of Hezbollah” LA Times: “Massive Explosion in Beirut Rocks Hezbollah Stronghold“ Washington Post: “Bomb Explodes in Hezbollah Stronghold in Beirut, Injuring Dozens” Reuters: “Over 50 Hurt as Car Bomb Hits Hezbollah Beirut Stronghold“ Associated Press: “Car Bomb Rocks Hezbollah Stronghold in Lebanon” France24: “Car Bomb Rocks Hezbollah Stronghold in Beirut” A quick Twitter or Google search for “Hezbollah stronghold” is all you need to see how hard western media works to “frame” language and drive use of a phrase that makes Shia civilian life negligible. On Twitter Thursday night, “tweeps” questioned the validity of this phrase in describing a civilian neighborhood. Said one observer: “When you write “Hezbollah stronghold” instead of South Beirut it gives the impression military barracks were bombed and no innocents died. That view seemed to be confirmed by the reaction of an American tweep who wrote: “GREAT NEWS!!!!!” in response to the BBC headline “Deadly Lebanon blast in Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah.” Worse yet was this reprehensible tweet by Al Monitor’s Washington correspondent and senior fellow at the Atalantic Council Barbara Slavin, who declared on Twitter: “As I recall, Hezbollah invented the car bomb; what goes around, comes around.” Except, of course, the targets of Thursday’s terror attack – where 27 died and nearly 300 injured – were civilians, not Hezbollah. An army of tweeps quickly reminded Slavin that Hezbollah neither invented the car bomb nor targets civilians, and drew attention to the ironic fact that Israeli militant groups used them liberally in attacking British officials in Palestine last century – well before Hezbollah’s 1985 formation to combat Israel’s occupation of Lebanon. And herein lies the problem. By calling a residential neighborhood a “Hezbollah stronghold,” western media softens public opinion to accept these terror attacks as justifiable, and their targets, legitimate. Because the only reason for characterizing civilian Shia neighborhoods as “strongholds” of Hezbollah is to justify carnage against those populations most likely to support the Lebanese resistance group. Similar language – War on Terror, terrorism, militants, extremists, Al Qaeda – is also frequently employed to excuse western carnage in countries from Iraq to Afghanistan to Mali to Yemen to Pakistan. Droning and bombing targets are rarely characterized as “civilian,” even though data suggests that most victims of US attacks are not militants. The goal? To eradicate second thoughts about violence against innocent civilians – often bolstered by a complicit media that characterizes these deaths as “collateral damage.” While the term “stronghold” can simply refer to an area in which an organization, party or point of view holds sway, in the context of US foes in the Mideast, it is instead usually used to suggest a militant base absolutely controlled by that foe. As one twee pnoted, western media uses similar language against other American targets to scene-set for “excusable” carnage: “Hezbollah stronghold” for car bombs in Lebanon, “Assad stronghold” for car bombs in Damascus; “Assad heartland” for massacres in Latakia.” Dahiyeh – the scene of Thursday’s explosion – is also, for instance, home to significant Maronite Christian and Sunni communities. And even within the suburb’s Shia community, there are disparate political views and affiliations. It is by no means true that all Shia residents are supporters of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party that – in lieu of national political consensus – provides local social services and security for residents of all sects and backgrounds in these areas. A December Christian Science Monitor article entitled “In Hezbollah Stronghold, Lebanese Christians Find Respect, Stability,” (a piece which repeats the “stronghold” theme and other Hezbollah stereotypes ad nauseum) does however manage to highlight the positive experiences of Maronites living in Dahiyeh neighborhood, Haret Hreik: The face of the revered Shiite militant leader appears on posters, a calendar, and in several photographs nestled amid those of Christian homeowner Randa Gholam’s family members. Mr. Nasrallah is, Ms. Gholam asserts amid a string of superlatives, “a gift from God.” Lebanon’s sectarian divides are legendary, and the residents of the historically Christian neighborhood of Harat Hreik, now a Hezbollah stronghold, remember well the civil war that set Beirut on fire. They were literally caught in the middle of some of the most vicious fighting, with factions firing shots off at one another from either side of their apartment buildings. But in the intervening years, as Hezbollah cemented its control over the suburb of Dahiyeh, which includes Harat Hreik, the militant group has been an unexpected source of stability and even protection for the few remaining Christian families. Just a few blocks away from Nasrallah’s compound is St. Joseph’s Church, a vibrant church that Maronite Christians from across Beirut flock to every Sunday. “I feel honored to be here. They are honest. They are not extremists. It’s not like everyone describes,” Gholam says. “I can speak on behalf of all my Christian friends. They would say the same thing.” [ed notes:click link for whole post
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