A story I trust in a propaganda war

November 24, 2016 23:25

I've been putting the finishing touches to my latest BBC Radio 4 play, so I'm acutely aware of how a story can be told, retold and changed with the alteration of perspective. What facts to keep and what to disregard to get to a better and more gripping outcome.

It's the same with news stories. These are incredibly tangled times in which to know what to hold on to. When I was a teenager and becoming aware of the world and the politics around me, the source and framing of the news story was pretty much down to a handful of broadsheets and four TV channels.

To be young these days is to be bombarded constantly with bite-sized chunks of information loosely knitted together, coming from all angles, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The story that screams the loudest and is shouted by those with the largest Twitter/Facebook/Instagram following, is the one that is often upheld.

If I was a young person becoming politicised and looking for my shaman, my Story Giver, my Keeper of the Truth, chances are these days the comedian-come-revolutionary Russell Brand would be my source of "knowledge".

I am a grown woman and I am finding the climate confusing. What to believe? Who to trust? Had I not been to Israel and seen the work of Israeli and Palestinian doctors working side by side, saving the lives of Palestinian patients at Shaare Tzedek Hospital, maybe I too would believe what I was constantly told in my bite-sized chunks of Twitter news. That this was a lie and an impossibility. Many still refute the possibility that this can happen. Because it challenges the story they want to believe.

In this 24-hour news era it's tricky to know who to believe

I used to look at the calmly-spoken, intelligent, charismatic Asim Qureshi with some hope. I wanted to believe his organisation Cage really did stand for "an independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror." Qureshi states that he is striving for a world free from oppression and injustice. Why shouldn't I believe his story? He certainly had enough public charities and public figures rooting for him. So when Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty International Gender Unit was very publicly discredited and suspended for showing disquiet at Amnesty's strong ties to Cage and Cage's strong ties with Moazzam Begg (former detainee and alleged Taliban Supporter), I wondered if she had got it wrong. Who to believe, whose story to trust? I wanted to believe that Amnesty and Cage stood for good in the world.

Last week, Sahgal's story was taken out, dusted off and pretty much verified. Qureshi's was floundering in the mud. Having taken to a news conference, with tears in his eyes, he described Mohammed Emwazi, the British-born Jihadi murderer, beheading and torturing victims for IS, as a "beautiful, humble, young man" who had been alienated and radicalised in part by the British Security Services. He further discredited himself on the BBC's This Week programme. When asked to condemn the statements of his religious mentor who believes in female genital mutilation, in stoning female adulterers, that Jews are descended from pigs and that homosexuality is evil, Qureshi stopped sounding so plausible and mild-mannered. Stumbling in the face of the repeated question, he repeated the same innocuous response: " I am not a theologian". What?! Mr Qureshi! This is not who you told us you were.

To Give Twitter its due #ImNotATheologian became an hilarious word banter for a good few hours, nearly as funny as the ribald #AskGalloway questions that the pompous politician had opened himself up for a few nights earlier.

Qureshi's story is not too plausible right now. His backers are dropping like flies. The Rowntree Charity has distanced itself and others are following suit.

But I met someone whose narrative I did believe in this week. Maajid Nawaz, the co-founder and chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank focusing on Islam. As a youth, he was part of a global Islamist group and spent four years in an Egyptian jail because of it. He is now "a leading critic of his former Islamist ideological dogma, while remaining a Muslim."

Maajid Nawaz is the real deal in my opinion. He has walked the walk and been part of a world that the baying crowds and Twitter "news" reporters only read about. They are tourists to his reality. He has a nuanced view of the Middle East and that includes Israel. He has travelled widely in the region, knows its politics well, is encouraging dialogue and openness between communities and political factions. His story is fascinating and one that I want to understand more. Because it has substance.

November 24, 2016 23:25

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive