For a media charter that shuns sectarian incitement

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The flag used by ISIS. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Pierre Abisaab

Published Monday, September 1, 2014

The Lebanese justice minister suddenly found out about a group of young people who burned the flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He seemed unaware that the spontaneous act, which jolted him out of bed, took place weeks ago and not "yesterday." The incident happened as the Lebanese who still had some respect for their state and belief in its institutions were reacting to the shameful tragedy of Ersal. However, Ashraf Rifi's relationship with time is neither linear nor chronological. It is philosophical and metaphysical. Like all these so called noblemen who do not retire, he is a man of principles.

As his excellency is not busy these days, he decided to have some fun and entertain his fellow citizens or incite them, to be more precise. "Arrest those vandals and desecrators and take them to court," one might imagine him screaming, like any devout patriot, whose faith and sentiments were wounded.

Like his confusion over the date and aim of the protest in Sassine Square, General Tartuffe also forgot that God's words are in the heart and mind, in our intentions and conscience, and in words and deeds, not on a piece of cloth representing a terrorist organization threatening to swallow the Levant. That is, unless there is an effort and will to eradicate it like the plague. The general's “blunder,” however, is a strategic detail, only understood by the neighborhood commanders [in reference to the militants in Tripoli].

The important thing was that he initiated a debate in metaphysics: is the burning of a rag a crime in Rifi's law, just because it contained words referring to religion and faith? This is pagan logic and not faith. But what is more important is that the protest took place in Achrafieh, meaning that these young people were “Nazarene.” What a travesty, “Nazarenes” burning Islamic symbols.

This is how a man of the state stirred the sectarian cesspool, just like his comrade in the enlightened futuristic moderate movement did on Sunday. "You are closer to me than Wilayat al-Faqih [in reference to the Shia custodianship]," the distinguished Arab liberal Fouad Siniora told the audience of a conference a few steps from Sassine Square. For those who are unaware of the new intellectual standards of the ISIS era, this is called political moderation.

Before General Rifi indulges in an another obscure case, this time related to burning crosses (even sectarian incitement is based on parity), he should be thanked for unsettling the stagnant intellectual atmosphere. Child prodigy Nadim Gemayel denounced the burning, which does not befit "the character of the people of Achrafieh." The champion of freedom Ibrahim Kanaan decided to put on the cloak of Danton announcing: I will defend the "heroes" of Sassine Square.

In short, the political bazaar functions at the expense of national unity and civil peace, with a malicious attempt to link terrorists with a certain section of the Lebanese people. The Lebanese are helpless, aren't they? The murderers of the Wahhabi era were not late in entering the game and turning the question of the hostages into a confessional issue. Why not, as long as the idiotic political life in Lebanon allows it? Didn't you listen to the spokesperson of the "new Lebanon" Monsieur Mustafa Houjairy announcing that releasing "the Christian hostages was delayed" because of the burnt flag in Sassine. Did you see? Either the visionary general was right or it was completely coordinated between brothers in arms.

The thorny question remains, where was the Lebanese media in all of this? How could it do its work in a minefield, without becoming an organ for a cheap agitator or a mailbox for a criminal organization? On August 3, when Al-Jadeed television channel interrupted the broadcast of a press conference by three MPs promoting sedition, we clapped with all our strength. We said the media should – and is obliged to – choose what it wants to present and how it wants to present it. Hopefully, this courageous and responsible position will become the rule in all thoughtful and serious media in Lebanon at this difficult time. Isn't it possible to choose the events that should be broadcast and the form in which they are presented, in a critical manner, and from a distance when necessary?

Unfortunately, the major role of the media today is playing the game of alarmism, whether out of professional integrity or for reasons of politics and populist incitement. It exaggerates incidents, positions, and statements, promoting fear, terror, isolation, and intolerance. Against its will – if we exclude platforms whose sole purpose seems to be promoting sedition, violence, intolerance, and degeneration, it is transformed into an objective ally of the black locusts menacing our region.

There are violent images and videos we do not want to see. Not broadcasting them will not change anything in the citizens’ awareness and right to know and access information. Promotional or seditious messages by terrorists should be thrown in the trash or given minimum attention, without fanfare, elaboration, or leading with them, with the necessary antibiotics. Talk shows are full of political favoritism, collusion with politicians, and suspicious behaviour, instead of debate, which brings disgrace to all journalists. There are also field investigations we could do without, since they contribute to the sectarian atmosphere, tensions, fear, and ISIS propaganda.

The farce of Abu Ibrahim was a small obstacle whose lessons should be solemnly learnt. This time, we are facing a new type of existential threat. It will determine our existence and freedoms for generations to come. It is time – instead of the folkloric united broadcasts – to commit ourselves and each other with a minimum of standards, which could protect stability and everyone in this country. It is time to establish an ethical and professionally binding charter, rejecting all types of sectarian incitement and indicating how to deal with terrorism and terrorists. Those who do not abide by it should be treated as an extension of the degenerate project working to drown us in a long and lasting night.

Pierre Abi Saab is the vice-editor of Al-Akhbar, follow Pierre on Twitter: @PierreABISAAB

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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