Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Shame on Jennifer Joan Lee

An article appeared recently in the Washington Times, titled Morocco and Algeria Fight over Western Sahara, by a Jennifer Joan Lee, that is typical of the shoddy journalism we have been seeing recently that is little more than an extension of Moroccan propaganda. The techniques of this variety of terroristic reporting are all too familiar, but are so reprehensible that they bear repeating:

Interview a lot of Moroccan officials and either ignore the Polisario totally or else give them a cameo appearance so the reader thinks it is a balanced article

Over two-thirds of the article is taken up with quotes from a barrage of Moroccan officials and lackeys: Taib Fassi Fihri, Morocco's minister delegate for foreign affairs and cooperation; Government spokesman Nabil Benabdallah; Hamid Chabar, the Moroccan representative of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara; Khalid Zerouali, director of migration and border surveillance in the Moroccan Interior Ministry; and Robert Holley, executive director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP), a Washington-based nonprofit organization created to enhance Morocco-U.S. relations.

In all fairness, Robert Holley is American, but a quick glance at MACP’s website clarifies his sympathies: “MACP is a registered agent for the Government of Morocco. All information on the MACP website … is posted on behalf of the Government of Morocco.” Jennifer Joan Lee could easily have informed us that MACP is no impartial non-governmental organization, but why let honesty get in the way of a good snow job.

And then the cameo. “The Polisario's representative at the United Nations in New York denies his organization is linked to Islamic terrorist groups. Ahmed Boukhari told United Press International that the Polisario is ‘a clean movement that does not support terrorism.’” That’s it for the Polisario, but Jennifer Joan, we do appreciate the equal time.

Quote liberally from the Moroccan sources so they have plenty of opportunity to cover the greatest hits of Moroccan propaganda

So we learn that Morocco is bending over backwards to resolve the conflict. “We are ready to go as far as we can to negotiate. When everybody agrees, we can grant autonomy in good faith."

We learn that the autonomy plan is a great deal for the Western Saharans that would allow “total devolution of authority on people over everyday affairs."

We learn about how evolved an Arab country Morocco is. “If the plan is accepted, Morocco will become the first country in the Arab world to give autonomy to one of its territories.”

We learn about Morocco originality. “The initiative sets a precedent for a diverse nation that has opposed separatism.”

We learn about Morocco’s courage. “For Morocco to say they're willing to accept autonomy is a politically courageous thing because of the risks attached."

We learn that Morocco is trying to do its part in the war against terrorism. “If a political solution is not found, the Sahel -- the belt of countries between North Africa and states south of the Sahara, where borders are less controlled, could become a breeding ground for terrorism.” In this “no man's land controlled by terrorists and mafia groups … the presence of the Polisario Front makes it even more dangerous.”

Don’t forget the Islamist threat. "There are a lot of young people in the Sahel who are leaning towards radical Islam.”

And Morocco is even sensitive. "We have offered something that helps Algeria save face."

Needless to say, the picture we get is one of Morocco doing everything possible to save the western world from terrorism and Islamism by offering a generous autonomy deal to the gangsters and terrorists in the Sahara.

Ignore and leave out anything that doesn’t support the Moroccan case
Thus we read nothing about international law, or non-self-governing territories, International Court of Justice rulings, or the right to self-determination. We read nothing about the Western Sahara’s membership in the African Union or the United Nation’s consistent support for a referendum on independence. We read nothing about the numerous NGO’s that habitually and vehemently criticize Morocco. We read nothing about the 50 plus countries that recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. This list could go on and on.

Don’t try to substantiate or verify anything

Basically what the Moroccan sources say is what we get. Why complicate the article with facts, truth, verification, or substantiation. Hearsay and innuendo work just fine. The Moroccan sources have impressive sounding titles so I guess we can take their word for everything. One tell tale sign of Moroccan propaganda is that it regularly gets carried away with its own lack of veracity. Thus in a much-quoted report we learned recently that Che Guevara formed the Polisario even though he had been dead for several years. Jennifer Joan gets carried away in her article with quotes about how the Polisario contributes to terrorism in the Sahel, so the area must be controlled by Morocco. This one for example, “"We need to put something on the table before something happens out there in the Sahel and blows up in our face," [a Western analyst] said. "The U.S. doesn't have the forces necessary to handle a conflict in the Sahel.” That the Western Sahara is well north of the Sahel is apparently of no concern here. The quote sounded good. Okay, I’ll give the Western analyst the benefit of the doubt. Maybe what he meant to say was that terrorists FROM the Sahel might try to infiltrate THROUGH the Sahara. Still, that the analyst would prefer to have city slickers from Casa and mountain men from the Atlas patrolling the desert frontier, rather than the indigenous Saharawi, seems slightly counterintuitive.

Before I read this article I had never heard of Jennifer Joan Lee. A quick search identifies her as a “freelance journalist based in Paris....who covers European affairs for print media around the world including the Washington Times in the US, the Globe & Mail in Canada, the International Herald Tribune in France and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong." What I find most disturbing about this kind of journalism is that she clearly made some effort to hunt down experts and officials to put together her article – but they are almost all supporters of the Moroccan thesis. There is no attempt to find or present views contrary to the Rabat line. And there is absolutely no indication that she tried to learn the most basic facts about the conflict. Even a half hour on the web would have alerted her to the silliness of much of what appears in her article. Shame on her.

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