Media Lens: Children Of Darkness – Killing ‘Them’ – Part 1

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

30 March, 2009

Al-Qaeda – Who Else?

On March 23, BBC online reported another bloody day in Iraq:

“It was the second bomb attack in Iraq on Monday, with an earlier explosion near the capital. Baghdad, killing at least eight people.

“The BBC’s Hugh Sykes, in Baghdad, says al-Qaeda have launched several attacks in Diyala since losing support in other parts of Iraq.”

The foe, naturally, was the global bad guy, “al-Qaeda”. Thirty years ago the BBC would have declared them “Communists” or “Marxists”. We wrote to the BBC’s “man in Baghdad” the same day:

Dear Hugh

Hope you’re well. A BBC online report today says:

“The BBC’s Hugh Sykes, in Baghdad, says al-Qaeda have launched several attacks in Diyala since losing support in other parts of Iraq.”

What is the evidence that al-Qaeda, rather than some other insurgent group, were behind the attacks, please?

Best wishes

David Edwards

Sykes replied the following day:

Hello David

No proof, but circumstantial evidence and reasonable presumption of AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] involvement – very much their modus operandum. Suicide attacks are their signature method, and this was a dramatic detonation suggesting a lot of explosive – again, very AQI.

And…who else would do this?

So, process of elimination, history of AQI attacks in Diyala etc.

And the logic of it Sunni Arab vs Iraqi Kurds. As a man in Jalawla told Reuters:

“Al-Qaida is targeting the Kurds because it believes that we are involved in the political process and collaborating with the Americans.”

Best wishes


This was a speedy and amicable reply from Sykes. But we hesitate to call it serious journalism. “As a man in Jalawla told Reuters”! How to describe this level of evidence in response to a serious question on a matter of such importance?

Sykes wrote: “No proof, but circumstantial evidence and reasonable presumption of AQI involvement.”

And yet when we asked why the BBC had failed to report the use of banned weapons by US forces in their November 2004 assault on Falljuah, the BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden, told us:

“We are committed to evidence-based journalism. We have not been able to establish that the US used banned chemical weapons and committed other atrocities against civilians in Falluja last November [2004]. Inquiries on the ground at the time and subsequently indicate that their use is unlikely to have occurred.” (Email forwarded by numerous Media Lens readers, July 13 onwards, 2005)

The BBC later accepted that such evidence did indeed exist.

Sykes also asked: “And…who else would do this?”

There is no proof, just circumstantial evidence, presumption… and we can’t think of anyone else, so: “al-Qaeda have launched several attacks”.

Sykes’s indifference to evidence is understandable. In a sense it is beside the point – enemies of the West are killing people, and enemies of the West are currently labelled “al-Qaeda”. It was ever thus. As Piero Gleijeses, professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, said of Guatemala in 1988:

“Just as the Indian was branded a savage beast to justify his exploitation, so those who sought social reform were branded communists to justify their persecution.” (Gleijeses, Politics and Culture in Guatemala, Michigan, 1988, p.392)

Sykes was simply stating a propaganda fact – the identity is defined by the action, not by the agent. Thirty second soundbites require Manichean propaganda: ‘We good, they bad.’

Venturing into the real world, we can speculate about, even investigate, the actual identities and motives of the suicide bombers.

On September 23, 2005, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington released a report that accused the US of “feeding the myth” of foreign fighters (i.e. al-Qaeda) in Iraq, who accounted for less than 10 per cent of a resistance then estimated at 30,000. (

In May 2007, the renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh told Democracy Now!:

“I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they [the Bush administration] made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command — this was a month ago — and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech…

“All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem. It’s not the Sunni and Shia insurgents or militias. And this policy just gets picked up [by the media], although there’s absolutely no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell you the foreign fighters are a couple percent, and then they’re sort of leaderless in the sense that there’s no overall direction of the various foreign fighters. You could call them al-Qaeda. You can also call them jihadists and Salafists that want to die fighting the Americans or the occupiers in Iraq and they come across the border… there’s no attempt to suggest there’s any significant coordination of these groups by bin Laden or anybody else, and the press just goes gaga… It’s just amazing to me, you guys.” (

Robert Pape, author of the book, Dying to Win: Why Suicide Terrorists Do It, wrote in 2006:

“Researching my book, which covered all 462 suicide bombings around the globe, I had colleagues scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and biographies of the Hizbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. We were shocked to find that only eight were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a female secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

“What these suicide attackers – and their heirs today – shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation.” (Pape, ‘What we still don’t understand about Hizbollah,’ The Observer, August 6, 2006;

And so the answer to Sykes’s question: “And…who else would do this?”? Any number of people committed to “resisting a foreign occupation” for any number of political and religious reasons. How ugly, how obviously convenient, to lump all opposition together under the name of the West’s great bete noire, “al-Qaeda.”

That’s What Makes Us Different To Them

As we have noted before, journalists are highly evolved intellectual herd animals. They possess sophisticated sense organs capable of detecting minute changes in the propaganda environment. Commentators are currently well aware, for example, that the United States has declared a willingness to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan – the standard last resort when the costs of violence become so high that rational solutions are deemed preferable. No surprise, then, that the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting is able to perceive a level of complexity in that ruined country that so rarely features in reporting from Iraq:

“To add to the confusion we don’t even know who is our enemy and who is our ally. Taliban is a crude catch-all term which is of little help in Afghanistan’s immensely complex, fragmented politics of tribe, clan and region. These groupings judge how best to secure their position and shift their allegiances accordingly.” (Bunting, ‘Leaders have not shown the courage to explain what the war really means,’ The Guardian, March 23, 2009;

Talking to the Taliban does not mean recognising their humanity, however. The BBC reported last month:

“The hospital at Camp Bastion, the UK’s main military base in Helmand, occasionally treats enemy forces that have been wounded.

“Ms Gibbons said treating them was no different to treating any other patient but added that medics needed to be more alert.

“‘At the end of the day he could have been a normal person,’ she said.

“‘The Geneva Convention requires us to give the same level of medical treatment as our forces.

“‘We probably wouldn’t get the same back but that’s what makes us different to them.’” (

The BBC saw fit to publish this classic propaganda view of the enemy (no inverted commas required – they are the enemy of the state +and+ the BBC). Who would guess that Auntie Beeb is not Big Brother, but is ostensibly independent of state control?

The racist contempt is as deeply embedded as the reporting. Former BBC (now Al-Jazeera) reporter, Rageh Omaar, describes the BBC as “a white man’s club”. But there is much more to it than that, as Omaar explained to the Guardian in 2007:

“It’s the mentality. I’m in some ways guilty of this – I went to public school, I went to Oxford. I speak at a lot of schools with Somali kids and they say, ‘How do I become a journalist? We may be from the same community, but I don’t have your accent.’ So it’s a class thing rather than about being white necessarily. It’s much more subtle.” (

Part 2 will follow shortly…

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A new Media Lens book, ‘Newspeak in the 21st Century,’ by David Edwards and David Cromwell will be published by Pluto Press in the autumn. John Pilger writes of the book:

“Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth.”

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Part Two

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