Friday, September 10, 2010

(Mis)Reporting Events

"Hundreds of Somalis may have been killed for being Christian since the Shabab arose in 2005." What a shocker! Until, of course, you notice the modal auxiliary and the present perfect: 'may have been'. It may not have been, too. Yellow journalism? No: the line is part of an Economist report on Christians in Somalia (24th October 2009).

Surely there must be some evidence offered? Yes, but it is not the Economist's own (foreign journalists could hardly get into Somalia). The report adduces second-hand evidence: "According to Somali sources and Christian groups monitoring Somalia from abroad, at least 13 members of underground churches have been killed in the past few months".

I have always been intrigued by the accuracy of reports on unreachable, obscure places. A real gem was an Independent report on honour killing by Robert Fisk.

"A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for "honor"...."

Yet the article does not cite a single case of a man being killed for honour: all the victims are women. This makes the attentive reader immediately suspicious. But there's worse to come.

"Many women's groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations' latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year."

"But lest these acts - and the names of the victims, when we are able to discover them - be forgotten, here are the sufferings of a mere handful of women over the past decade, selected at random, country by country, crime after crime."

"British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of "honor" in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone - 350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions". Well, she might believe that, but why should the reader? What's her evidence? What are her sources? After all, almost by definition, these crimes are well-concealed.

"In Jordan, women's organizations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more "honor" killings than Muslims - often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims. Their stories are wearily and sickeningly familiar."

Since the Christians are 'loath' to discuss their honour crimes, and the Muslims presumably very happy to do so, we get not a single report on Christian honour killings - a curious omission, since Jordanian women's organisations make a very accurate claim.

"According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women - 20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25 - were killed in "honor" crimes and feuds. " Feuds? Where did that come from? Feuds are a totally different matter from honour crimes. In feuds, men are as often killed, surely? And feuds are a sign of tribal society, not male oppression.

But this line takes the biscuit:

"But the contagion of "honor" crimes has spread across the globe...."

First, it's a contagion -presumably from Muslim countries to erstwhile innocent Christians and Hindus (two Hindu cases are mentioned). Second, it has 'spread' - presumably from those nasty Middle Eastern societies.

Third, it has even spread to Bangladesh (a Muslim country). And are parents and brothers in Bangladesh killing their daughters and sisters for having strange phone numbers in their cell phones? No, it's taken a different turn:

"But the contagion of "honor" crimes has spread across the globe, including acid attacks on women in Bangladesh for refusing marriages."

The (western) reader would tend to think that the acid attack is made by parents and brothers when a girl refuses to marry the man of their choice.

Robert Fisk clearly knows almost nothing about Bangladesh. Acid attacks in Bangladesh are not authored by the family, but by criminal youths (they were almost unknown before our democratic transition of 1990). And the reason is only sometimes frustrated romance - land disputes have played a significant part, and men are also victims.

The subject surely deserved to be treated with respect, considering its seriousness.

On a less serious note, a report in the same issue of the Economist recounts how Arab men have been divorcing their wives for falling in love with a Turkish television personality:

"Yet the marital bliss portrayed in “Noor” is said to have prompted a rash of divorces in the Arab world, as female viewers compare their own husbands to the hero, Muhannad, who washes up the dishes. In Jordan a man is said to have dumped his wife after he caught her with Muhannad’s picture on her mobile phone. In Syria another did the same when his wife apparently said, “I want to sleep with Muhannad for just one night and then die.”"

It seems that Western journalists are said to have high standards of reportage. But don't believe everything you hear - or read.

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