Western Media Opts for Israeli Handouts on Deadly Assault


Al Jazeera English Coverage Was the Best


By Siraj Wahab


Published in Arab News on Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The people of the Western world have been given a jaded perspective on Monday's unprovoked Israeli attack on an unarmed, six-ship relief flotilla on the high seas. The assault by marauding commandos has drawn condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union and NATO-member Turkey, but major US and British media outlets for the most part have opted to broadcast the Israeli government's official line, branding the foreign nationals as terrorists.

The Israeli naval forces disrupted maritime communication from the flotilla before the combined air-and-sea assault, and the less critical newsgathering organizations settled for handouts from the Israeli government. "They wanted to make a political statement," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement aired by American news media. "They wanted violence."

A good comparison is the coverage between the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English.

At the Monday noon bulletin BBC ran the story as its lead and continued to air Israeli version of the gruesome attack. Not just that, it gave precious airtime to the Israeli spokespersons with little interruption or questioning from the anchor. One missed Nik Gowing in the newsroom. The Israeli spokesperson and Israeli sympathizers waxed eloquent on how the organizers of the flotilla were responsible for bringing the tragedy upon themselves. There was little or no mention about the fact that the attack had taken place in international waters.

Al Jazeera English brought in everything. In its 1 p.m. bulletin, the anchor led the story by mentioning that 14 people had died in the Israeli attack on the lead ship called Mavi Marmara. It then showed dramatic footage right from the ship that was under attack. Al Jazeera's Jamal El-Shayyal was on board the main ship — a sharp contrast to Tia Goldenberg of The Associated Press filing her reports from the Israeli missile boat INS Kidon, which took part in the attack.

"Two people have been confirmed dead," El-Shayyal reported. "The organizers of the aid flotilla have now asked all passengers to go inside. Israeli commandoes have descended upon the ship. The ship is still in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Marmara has been surrounded on all sides by armed boats. We can still hear shots being fired — even after the white flag has been raised. There are all civilians on this ship. They include women, children and the elderly."

El-Shayyal's reports and the dramatic, shipboard footage explained it all. It was there in images. Al Jazeera then took the viewers to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon who was reading a statement.

"We were attacked by those on board the ship. We regret the loss of life but the responsibility for this tragedy lies with the organizers of the flotilla. We told them not to enter Gaza. We told them to deliver the aid through appropriate channels. The organizers of the aid flotilla are the supporters of Al-Qaeda and Hamas. They were armed and trying to lynch our soldiers, and that is why we acted in self defense," he said.

Al Jazeera then brought in Murat Mercan, chairman of the Turkish Parliament's Commission of Foreign Affairs. "Ayalon is a liar," he said. "The ships were cleared by the Turkish authorities. There were no arms on board. Only people. There were so many ways of stopping the ship. Obviously, Israel wasn't interested in merely stopping the ship. This will have consequences. No country has the right to attack any ship, armed or unarmed, in the international waters. This is a serious violation. In the coming days, you will see how Turkey will respond," he said.

Back in Palestine, Al Jazeera took the viewers to Ayman Mohyeldin in Umm Al-Fahm which is where Sheikh Raed Salah, a prominent theologian, came from. He was also on the ship and was shot in the head by the Israeli commandoes. Mohyeldin also gave a sense of the people's feeling saying, "All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation."

Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Istanbul, was out in the streets of Istanbul gathering people's reactions. Turkish protestors carrying Palestinian and Hamas flags were swelling up in the town square to register their protest. "The Turks had a constructive military alliance with Israel and for many years they saw the issue of domestic terrorism as one they had to share information about," she said. "But since the Gaza war relations have nose-dived and it would be absolutely fair to say that this attack is the lowest point."

The best part of Al Jazeera coverage were the soundbytes from the erudite Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath. Very methodically, he called the Israeli bluff. "This is a murderous attack," he said. "All this talk about there being arms on the ship is absolute nonsense. One is reminded of the American drugs police who sometimes plant drugs on somebody just so they can arrest him. Nobody is going to believe Israel. Such excessive use of force indicates their nefarious designs. They went in to kill, and they did."

So far, mainstream American and British news outlets seem content to take statements and press releases from the Israelis; the rest of the story remains unreported.

Shah Faesal Tops Indian Civil Service Exam


By Siraj Wahab


Published in Arab News on May 6, 2010


A Kashmiri Muslim has topped the prestigious civil services examinations in India this year sparking celebrations across the country. The Indian Muslim community, which has always found itself in the mainstream media for all the wrong reasons, is particularly delighted at the good news.


Physician Shah Faesal stood first among 875 candidates who qualified for the demanding Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations. The results were announced Thursday, May 5, 2010, in New Delhi. Faesal took Urdu and Public Administration as his main subjects and cleared the examination in his first attempt. Each candidate can appear three times for the key examination provided they meet the age criterion.


Faesal hails from Lawlab Valley in Kashmir near the Line of Control dividing India and Pakistan. The area is known as the birthplace of famous Islamic scholar Anwar Shah Kashmiri.


Speaking to Arab News from Srinagar, columnist and political analyst Zahid G. Muhammad said Faesal’s success sparked celebrations in the state. “Faesal is in Delhi, and his relatives are being interviewed on various television channels. This is one happy moment in the life of Kashmiris. I am very happy for him,” he said. “Without a doubt his success will inspire others to follow in his footsteps.”


According to Zahid Muhammad, Faesal was among one of very few Kashmiris who make it to the Indian civil services. “There may have been hardly three or four Kashmiris to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in the last couple of decades. The last Kashmiri success in the civil services examinations was in 1984-1985. Faesal’s success is coming after a gap of almost 25 years,” he noted.


One major reason for the lack of Kashmiris in the civil services was the ban imposed on young and educated Kashmiris by militants who see any association with anything Indian as “a betrayal of the Kashmiri cause.”


Faesal was coached by Saiyid Hamid, a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and former vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Hamid now is secretary of the New Delhi-based Hamdard Education Society, which runs the Hamdard Study Circle. It was there that Faesal received his coaching.


Hamid was absolutely thrilled by his student’s success.


“The Hamdard Study Circle has been in operation since 1991, and we have had many successes in the past. More than 220 students have qualified from our institute. The best result was when one of our students secured fourth place at the All-India level,” he said. “However, nothing matches Faesal’s success. This is great news for us all,” he told Arab News from his home in New Delhi.


Indians in the Gulf were also excited.


“It is a great moment for all of us. Faesal’s phenomenal success and of other Indian Muslims will sow the seeds of inspiration in our community,” said Zishan Ali Khan, the Dubai-based regional manager for a UK-based oil and gas company. “This will go a long way fighting negative stereotypes of our community.”


A total of 875 candidates — 680 men and 195 women — were recommended for appointment to Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service and other central services. Besides Faesal, there are 20 Muslims on the list of 875 successful candidates. Among them are Mohammed Y. Safeerullah, Mohammed Shahid Alam, Rayees Mohammed Bhat, Muhammad Siddique Alam, Abid Khan, Abu Imran, Ashiquzzaman, Tamanna Alam, Mohammed Yusuf Qureshi, Mir Umair Nabi, Danish Ashraf, K. Asif Hafeez and Rizwan Ahmed.


A total of 409,110 students applied to take the test in 2009. Of those 193,091 appeared for the preliminary examination. Only 12,026 of them qualified for the written test, and then only 2,432 of them were short-listed for the all-important personality test, which was conducted in March and April this year.


Prakash Rajpurohit, a bachelor of technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, came second while Iva Sahay, a masters in geography from Jawaharlal Nehru University, secured the third rank.

A Picture Worth More Than a Thousand Words


By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Monday, May 3, 2010

The old saying goes “one picture is worth a thousand words.” Most of Saudi Arabia’s Arabic newspapers carried a photograph on Friday’s front-page that has become a talking point on blogs, Internet forums, shisha places, newsrooms and the corridors of power.

The photo shows Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan proudly standing among more than 35 Saudi women from across the nation who voiced their views during the April 8-10 National Dialogue Forum in Najran.

Many of the women literally are beaming with pride over the honor of being asked to stand with the Kingdom’s rulers. Many people are saying the photo has a symbolic message for the nation that the time has come for women to be recognized.

The women participants of the forum’s session in Najran traveled to the Royal Court in Riyadh on April 25, 2010, to meet the king and the crown prince to brief them about the discussions. At the end of the meeting, a group picture was taken by the royal photographer. That was that.

Two days ago, all the women in the picture got a pleasant surprise when they received a copy of what has now become a famous picture. It was then that the newspapers printed it and highlighted the reactions of the women.

For women at large, there was no great deal about the photograph. “It was not surprising at all,” said Saudi poet Nimah Nawwab. “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah made women part of the civil society delegation to India during his 2006 visit to that country. Pictures of that delegation were also prominently displayed in our media.”

Manal Faisal Alsharief, who heads the women’s section at the Jeddah-based Okaz newspaper, which also published the photo on its front-page, said the publication of this and other such photographs indicate that women are being recognized as partners in progress of this great nation. “Slowly and surely, their contributions are being recognized. And so naturally, we are happy.”

Economic researcher and writer Abdullah Al-Alami was among those who were extremely delighted with the way newspapers treated the photograph. “I saw it in Okaz first ... I wrote to some of the women in the picture congratulating them. They were obviously very excited about it,” he said. “I was happy for them as Saudi women have been oppressed and humiliated enough in the past, and it is about time to recognize their achievements.”

About the significance of the photo at a time when there is so much talk about gender mixing in the local press, Al-Alami said: “We are going through a critical phase of transformation. Saudi women are becoming more involved in public affairs. The message here is to tell the Saudi woman that you are not helpless and that you are not alone.”

He said this was not the first time such a photograph has been published. “No, there were many other events in the past where King Abdullah’s picture greeting women were published. In fact, I presented a study of King Abdullah’s efforts in the development of Saudi women in my lectures at the Jeddah chamber and in Bahrain a few years ago where I showed the significant relationship between the king and his aim to promote Saudi women.”

The king has always stressed the importance of building a consensus on all issues through the National Dialogue. If the blogs, Internet forums, shisha places and newsrooms are any indication, perhaps the nation already has gotten the message.