As the Globe spins: Coverage of Lebanon’s demonstrations doesn’t tell whole story

The Globe and Mail‘s March 15 cover story on Lebanon’s anti-Syria demonstration is typical of how bias can colour a story that is essentially accurate in its specific details.

The points to note here are assumptions and suggestive juxtapositions that are allowed to colour the tone of the reporting, thus giving it a generally pro-U.S./pro-Israel slant. The first sentence tells us that we are supposed to adopt the U.S. propaganda line about democracy sweeping the Middle East.

“In what organizers dubbed the culmination of a Lebanon Spring, more than 800,000 anti-Syrian protesters from all over Lebanon flooded central Beirut yesterday…”

The image of “Lebanon Spring” begs allusion to the Prague Spring of Jan. 5 to Aug. 20, 1968, when Czechoslovakia enjoyed a brief period of liberalization before Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sent the tanks.

The reference is tendentious, since it casts the demonstration as a simplistic contest between “good” Lebanon and “bad” Syria. Leaving aside the question of whether Syria’s 14,000 troops should be in Lebanon, the Globe doesn’t let the reader decide for himself.

Contrast the upbeat tone of in the lead sentence of this story to the by-the-numbers tone of the March 9 story “Half a million demonstrators show support for Damascus.”

“At least half a million flag-waving supporters of the militant Hezbollah group occupied the centre of Beirut yesterday, expressing their support for Damascus in a rally that dwarfed all those held in recent weeks by Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition.”

Note that the March 15 story concerns a popular demonstration against Syria, but the March 9 story tells of a private demonstration for Syria by Hezbollah. Also, the habitual labelling of Hezbollah as “militant” immediately diminishes its legitimacy, despite the Globe‘s acknowledgement of its merits:

“The Iranian-backed Hezbollah is viewed in a heroic light by many Lebanese for its role in driving out the Israeli army in 2000. It has since refused to disarm, swearing to continue fighting Israel so long as the Jewish state occupies the Shebaa Farms border area. In recent years, Hezbollah has developed influential political and charitable wings.”

But why should Hezbollah disarm? Give the fact of continued zionist occupation of the Shebaa Farms, why would it? The second sentence is meant to imply that Hezbollah has fulfilled its role and is no longer needed, but that is clearly not the case. Take out the anti-Muslim bias, and the sentence should have read. “It has sworn to continue fighting Israel so long as the Jewish state occupies the Shebaa Farms border area.”

Mentioning Hezbollah’s “refusal” to disarm is clearly meant to enlist support for Israel. The idea that all Muslim military (not "militant") organizations should disband is one of the greatest forms of violence the world inflicts on the Middle East because without groups like Hezbollah or Hamas, Arab civilians would be utterly defenceless against zionist aggression. It’s only when the Arabs fight back that anyone pays attention to them.

It is grossly biased for the Globe to bring up the subject of Hezbollah’s disarmament without demanding that Israel vacate the Golan Heights and the Sheeba Farms.

Another major problem with the March 15 story concerns the uncritical acceptance of official Syrian involvement in the February bombing that killed popular former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 18 others.

There are allegations that Syria had Hariri killed because he supported UN Security Council Resolution 1559 demanding that Syria withdraw from Lebanon. That might be true, but Hariri was no longer in politics and Syria had nothing to gain from such an attack, since the finger would naturally be pointed at Damascus.

A more credible theory is that Hariri was killed because he opposed the construction of a U.S. air base in the north of Lebanon. Aljazeera reported that the bomb was a sophisticated explosion-by-wire bomb device similar to the one that rogue Syrian intelligence agents used in the 2002 car bombing of Lebanese Christian leader Elie Hobeika, who was prepared to testify against Sharon in a Brussels human rights court.

In the end, the real beneficiaries of the Hariri assassination are Israel and the U.S., because it gives them the perfect excuse to meddle in Syria’s affairs.

None of this, not even the idea of an alternative theory enters the Globe story. Instead we hear a highly suspect allegation from Marwan Hamade, an opposition MP who escaped assassination last fall.

“You want the truth on the assassination? It’s lying in the dark chambers of the [Syrian-Lebanese] intelligence services that are ruling us and that you are in the process of sweeping out. They killed [Hariri] because he was thwarting their plan to make Lebanon submit. They killed him because they are the enemies of democracy and Arabism.”

Instead of citing evidence concerning the specifics of Hariri’s assassination, the Globe reported this overheated propaganda from a source guaranteed to denigrate Syria.

Toward the end of the story we read that the demonstration might not have been all that it seemed: “Many Sunnis were responding to an appeal from Mr. Hariri’s Future Movement Party, and the rally was as much about commemorating the man as about pushing any political agenda.

So much for the “Lebanon Spring.”