Patrice Riemens on Tue, 23 Feb 1999 21:43:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> A view from India (fwd)

     [orig to [n5m3-debates]]

//Full-length version of my editorial, published in Web Vision magazine,
India; January 1999//

The Net and Online News in 1998: The Assault on Iraq Revisited

by Madanmohan Rao (
Bangalore; January 5, 1999

In an earlier editorial, we had argued how the Indian news media could have
leveraged the Web as a sounding board and gathering spot around the issue
of the Indian nuclear tests, which had serious ramifications on national,
regional and global politics. A similar need seems to be arising in the
wake of the U.S.-British air raids on Iraq last month. 

The attacks - condemned across the board by all Indians - continue to
remain an issue of great concern in the region, and were denounced
vociferously in the Indian media (and reproduced to some extent in their
online editions). 

While many Western media analysts have been focusing on the rise of the
Internet's power as a news medium during the Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr circus,
it may be more appropriate for us here to examine how the Net was used at
the time of the attack on Iraq, and how it could be harnessed by Indian
media and citizens concerned about the matter.

The International Media
Sites like, BBC (,, Iraq Action Coalition
 (, International Action Centre
( and Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee
( provided access to a wide range of news and views on the
issue. Comprehensive links to such resources were collected on other sites
like Online Journalism Review (

Most mainstream media and their online versions reported on the
U.S.-British rationale for the attacks; support for the attacks from
countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Spain and Norway; and
condemnation from others like Russia, France, China and some Middle Eastern

For instance, sites like CNN reported how Russian Foreign Minister Igor
Ivanov blasted the use of force as a violation of the United Nations
charter. "Nobody has the right to act on their own in the name of the
United Nations and even less to pretend to be the judge of the entire
world," Ivanov said. "There is absolutely no excuse or pretext to use force
against Iraq," said China's U.N. Ambassador Qin Huasen. 

Sites like BBC and CNN summarised reactions from news media in other
countries. "For Monica Lewinsky they hit Afghanistan and Sudan. And now,
for Monica's eyes, they hit Baghdad," said a commentator on Al-Jazeerah, a
satellite channel in Qatar. 

"We condemn this unjustifiable attack on Iraq and appeal for Arab countries
to convene an urgent call without delay for a halt to the
attacks," said Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, general secretary of the Palestinian

Some Web sites reproduced in full the text of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan's remarks, who called it "a sad day for the United Nations and for
the rest of the world." He said his thoughts were with the Iraqi people and
the 370 U.N. humanitarian workers still in Iraq. 

Several activist Web sites publicised the work and words of anti-war groups
such as the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace group: "The
U.S. has taken actions that could, by the Clinton administration's own
admission, result in the death of 10,000 Iraqi civilians. This is an
enormous price to pay in civilian deaths and will add to the hundreds of
thousands of civilians who have already died as a result of sanctions." 

Other organisations using the mainstream media and the Web to condemn the
attacks included the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee: "There is
no reason to believe that further bombings or sanctions will do anything to
bring about a change of government in Iraq." 

Several sites featured polls of opinions and quotes from citizens in the
U.S. 74% of respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said they approved
of the strikes, but there were a few dissenters. "This is just like "Wag
the Dog,"' said U.S. citizen Henry Heise, referring to the recent movie in
which a president invents a military conflict to distract the country from
a sex scandal. 

"After months of lies, the president has given millions of people around
the world reason to doubt that he has sent Americans into battle for the
right reasons,'' said Dick Armey, the Republican leader in the House.

The Iraqi reaction was also prominently featured in traditional and online
channels. "We will not compromise or kneel in the face of injustice. Long
live great Iraq, the great Arab nation and Palestine, and doomed are our
enemies," Iraqi president Saddam Hussein said in a taped address. 

U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler is "a chief pawn in the hands of the
United States, used whenever the United States wants (to) use (him)," said
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. 

"We have got nothing to lose this time. More sanctions, more bombs will
make no difference," echoed a cinema ticket seller in Baghdad. 

Prominent criticism from intellectuals based in the U.S. was also available

In his essay ( "Apocalypse Now,"
historian Edward Said says that despite the Iraqi president's behaviour,
the sanctions on Iraq are "vindictive, sadistic, and inhumane." He
criticises "the U.S. and its mostly brain-washed citizens" for their
"orgiastic delight" in bombing Iraq. Said lays the burden of blame for the
Iraqi crisis on Bill Clinton, the U.S. media, and countries that support
the U.S. 

Boston University historian Howard Zinn said Clinton's lies about Saddam
Hussein being a "clear and present danger" to the peace of the world could
only be told "to a U.S. population deprived of history." Countries like
Turkey, Israel, and Indonesia have used U.S. weapons against civilian
populations, and the U.S itself has left a trail of death and destruction
in Hiroshima, Panama and Vietnam. 

Despite the grimness of the situation, there were also some touches of
humour in the news coverage. The BBC site reported a motion in the Russian
Duma appealing to Monica Lewinsky to help halt the U.S. The "state Duma
appeals to Ms. Lewinsky to undertake corresponding measures to restrain the
emotions of Bill Clinton," said the motion by lawmaker Alexander Filatov. 

Anti-War Activism
The real power of the Net during such a crisis lies not just in its ability
to provide a widespread coverage of differing perspectives on an issue, but
to galvanise and mobilise activism around an issue via a combination of
email, Web publishing, and online collaboration.

For instance, an online petition at the International Action Centre
( site enlisted support electronically to back a call to
stop the bombing. Activists holding rallies in other countries were urged
to send in information and link to the IAC site.

The site provided a comprehensive and well organised list of anti-war
demonstrations and rallies held in countries across the world, sorted by
date and country in places like Iceland, Bangladesh, Egypt and Jordan, 

"Stop the Monica Missiles," "We're the thugs of the world," "Smart Bombs,
Stupid Leaders," said some placards at a protest in Los Angeles. 

According to an online analysis by Brian Becker of the IAC, "jingoism, war
mongering, demonisation and outright racism are the unified face of the
nation as President Clinton prepares to order the military destruction of
Iraqi factories that produce medicine, food, and other essential industrial
facilities in Iraq."

"The United States government wants to overthrow Saddam for exactly the
same reason that the CIA in 1954 overthrew the democratically-elected
government of Arbenz in Guatemala. It is the same motive that led the
United States to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Mohamad
Mossadegh in Iran in 1953," Becker  observed. Both leaders tried to
nationalise their countries' resources and pursue independent political and
economic agendas. 

Indian Media
Front page stories in Indian newspapers, also reproduced online, reported
the Indian government's call for an immediate halt to the U.S.-Britain
strikes against Iraq.  Declaring that India had "close historical ties and
strong affinities with the countries and peoples of the region," Prime
Minister A.B. Vajpayee said India had been deeply concerned about the
sufferings of the people of Iraq and had called for the lifting of sanctions. 

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said the government would initiate
a process of consultation among the West Asian countries through diplomatic
channels. India would take "necessary action" to bring the air-strikes to
an halt. Indian politicians across the board flayed the U.S. for its
"unilateral and unprovoked" action against the helpless people of Iraq.
Such reactions were reported in print and online in newspapers like the
Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and Deccan Herald.

The Rajya Sabha urged the government to arrange for adequate relief
materials, phamaceuticals, medicine and medical equipment to treat the
affected civilians. They felt the US action against Iraq was born out of
its eagerness to police the rest of the world.

This should strike a note of caution among nations like India to be
prepared to deal with a possible Iraq-like attack on it in the future, the
Rajya Sabha members told the Central government. 

Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav said the attack on Iraq symbolised an
attack on India and Asia. Other leaders condemned the bombings as "genocide
on Iraq," "naked aggression," and "misadventure."  

Indian print media also carried stories condemning Blair as "Clinton's
poodle," reports on protests in Malaysia (with placards such as "Gulf War
is not your sexual ambition" and "U.S. is ruled by lust and lies"), and
anguished pleas from Iraqis ("Saddam can be replaced if killed, but who
will replace our children?"). 

Indian newspapers like the Times of India and Deccan Herald carried
photographs of Palestinians waving Iraqi flags in the face of police tear
gas, Russians holding placards with messages like "Clinton = Hitler" and
"USA = Fascism," and effigies of Clinton and Blair being burnt in New Delhi.

"I cannot understand how  the Americans do not think of impeaching their
President for what he is doing to Iraq today. What is happening now is
worse than the lawlessness of the Wild West days," wrote a resident of
Delhi in The Hindu (December 23).

There were reports of solidarity with Iraqis expressed by Indian citizens
("The victims are suffering for no fault of theirs," "If our actions could
stop the war, we would leave our work"). 

Indian newspaper and magazine editorials were also vociferously against the
bombing of Iraq. But many of these - unfortunately - did not appear online,
thus depriving these opinions of more extensive readership in the country
and abroad.

Former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit (author of "My South Block Years")
condemned  the strikes as "arrogant and ominous," and said there is "no
justification for the sufferings of the Iraqi people by such strikes"
(Indian Express; December 24, 1998). 

"Iraq has been a friend of India and stood by us on issues of concern to
us. We must do what we can do to mobilise world opinion and the UN to come
to Iraq's succour," Dixit concluded.

Clinton and Blair "speak the language of 19th century colonialists," argued
a column in the New Indian Express (January 2). "Innocent citizens have
become pawns on the chessboard of Western diplomacy. Countries like Iraq
continue to face reprisals because they dare assert their independence,"
according to writer Mushirul Hasan. "We need determined individuals and
committed individuals to rally around beleagured nations like Iraq," he wrote.

The Free Press Journal (December 23, 1998) also expressed outrage that the
Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean was being used as a base by the
U.S. in its continued aggression against Iraq. India needs "to make the
Indian Ocean a zone of peace," the editorial urged.

While some Indian news sites did feature quick "snap" online polls, they
could once again have done more to galvanise public opinion on the issue,
contextualise Indian relations with Iraq and other West Asian nations, help
organise relief efforts, reinforce sentiments expressed in their print
editions, and play a more pro-active role in peace initiatives in the region.

There has certainly been some notable activism on the Indian Internet, such
as for fund-raising during the Andhra Pradesh cyclones, environmental
movements from Bangalore to Goa, and issues of free speech for BBSs and the

In the last year of the millenium, it is time such online activism also
extended itself to other regional issues of a global import. Indian news
organisations and concerned citizens need to once again examine how to help
overcome some of the shortcomings of traditional print and broadcast media
by leveraging the Net's capacity for interactivity, depth, archiving,
search and global reach.
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