From the news desk

Muslim media, through my lens

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OPINION by Andriques Che Petersen

For the past week or so I have been researching nuances in Judaism, Islam and the Abrahamic faiths to counter an article written by Pakistani-Canadian writer Ali A. Rizvi on the dangers of associating with being pro-Israeli or pro-Palestine. I was geared up and ready to take apart every single argument he presented against the simple view that what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong, it is, and that Palestinians are victims, they are, but I read through it again. I had to, after all my research I read through this piece of writing that six days ago I called “a mechanism of distraction” on social media.

But this time I read through it without the attachments of a subjective stance of being an anti-Zionist Jew working at a community radio station whose primary audience is Capetonian Muslims. I started reading this as a journalist and I realized that as a commentator I was moving in the right direction, but as a reporter, or journalist, pick your poison; I’d been swayed over to the side of allowing my feelings to affect my reporting.

Let me explain; to me reporting is a sacred…and ancient profession. In the earliest of human civilizations, messengers were expected to travel great distances to convey reports from one area to another; and the most important aspect of all this was the fact that from the get-go, the messenger’s own personal ideas could not cloud, mar or influence the message. After all: wars have been started based on just a few misinterpreted syllables or words.

And here I am, centuries, millennia later, doing the same. But my marathon is through electronic means, my letterhead is my voice and these pixilated letters you see before you. And it is my duty to ensure that whatever report I find is represented and conveyed without influence by my own beliefs and/or that of whoever has tasked me to do so.

Of course this is The Voice of the Cape, and as part of the VOC, I find myself in a unique position. I’m now part of a marginal sphere of the media world that responds to and caters to a specific demographic, one that believes it is misrepresented in the mainstream. I agree, but with the reasons, much of the time, I do not agree with.

And just there I assume that whoever has read this far, their interest just piqued. Let’s have a look at Palestine over the last month. Let us look at how I myself have reported on the Israeli-Gaza conflict, and I have already written about the use of language when reporting and the dangers thereof. I’ve stumbled upon a few revelations.

Recently, I was reprimanded for the use of the word “militant” when referring to Hamas, who is currently engaging in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. I explained, and contextualized my use of the word within the space of grammar and proper use of language, but bent to the sensitivities of the Muslim community I serve. And as a journalist, this is what you do. It is what you are supposed to do: your publication’s rules are law.

But, you see, as much as non-Zionist Jews carry a self shame on the topic of Israel, its actions and Zionism itself [with many self professed Zionists within and without Israel even now reacting towards Israel with something to the effect of ‘woah, there, slow your roll!’] I’ve observed a complete lack of us, the Muslim media treating entities such as ISIS and others the way we treat the Zionist movements and Israel itself.

This is where anyone who believes I am ignorant to the faith of Islam may challenge me; but this relates to my disagreement with the reasons for this community being sidelined in mainstream media. I am going to include myself here, not as a Muslim, but as someone that has paid attention to the nuances and flow of the Muslim media.

On the topic of Palestine and Israel, this weekend, according to most optimistic estimates more than 100 000 pro-Palestinian supporters came out to urge our South African government to do more. Fine, that’s a huge amount of people, but let us compare this with other marches, and let us bear in mind that traditionally the most vocal opponents of the Israeli occupation have always been Muslims [and once again, and this will be the last time I make a disclaimer, I am completely against the state of Israel and its very existence stands against my own religious beliefs].

As Rizvi says in his article, over the last two years Syrian president has killed nearly 200 000 people, civilians and mostly Muslims during his ongoing crackdown on rebel forces. Through this conflict a new player has come to the fore, the Islamic State, who is right now terrorizing Iraqi Muslim, Christian and Kurdish populations in its endeavour to establish a Muslim homeland. Of course this group, reportedly led by Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi as its supposed Caliph, is not representative of the beliefs of most Muslims across the world. But as someone asked me on Wednesday morning, “hoekom is julle dan so still oor die mense?”

Last year, the Muslim Judicial Council held a march in Cape Town in solidarity with the Syrians suffering under Bashar Al Assad’s regime. I counted 150 heads. The MJC also held a rally for Egypt during the ousting of rightful president Mohammed Morsi and I too was underwhelmed by the amount of participants.

Why is the Muslim media in South Africa, supposedly hailed across the world as champions of marginal views untouched by political or economic influence, so wary of acknowledging these areas of conflict? After all, is it not Muslims dying, or can we only focus on one conflict at a time? Or is it difficult to admit these groups who openly defy international laws and flagrantly disregard human lives in much the same manner as Israel does?

This is not me reprimanding anyone other than myself. This whole piece is an internal monologue I have been having for the last two days. Why are we, the Muslim media, afraid of assigning the role of antagonist on humans who perpetrate horrid crimes and who happen to be Muslim? Because, when we admit that, the ones who champion the idea of the marginalized Islamic world must become even further marginalized. Just as I struggle each day with being associated by religion with Zionists, so will others who must point out those wrongs.

Nothing I said above is an attempt to distract you, the reader, from caring for whatever cause you choose to; and it does not mean I believe what Israel is doing is not wrong. What I insist we do is, at least as the media representing a certain demographic, to not shy away from the ugly truths and sugar coat them with distracting words but we must also always be sensitive. I came into this game of journalism to show people the world, not continue painting them a picture of what they think the world looks like. VOC

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