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Criticism Of Clash Of Civilization Theory Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5426 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This study focuses on the pro-democratic protest and subsequent revolution that occurred across North Africa and the Middle East during 2011 labelled the "Arab Spring" among western media. This research focuses on reports starting in December 2010, when the Tunisian Uprising began till October, 2011, when the Libyan war ended, analysing how the media reported the demonstrations and subsequent result. By conducting a content analysis, this research explores how the reality was constructed in the media, focusing on three British newspapers; the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent. The research will also explore the types of language used when reporting on the Arab spring.

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Background and Motivation

It is certain that virtually nothing will be as it was before the political wave sweeping the Middle East and North Africa started. So many of the countries involved are still in the developing stage but so far, the movements and revolts have resulted in successful regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen (Freudenstein, 2011). On 17 December 2010, the self-immolation of Tunisian vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi sparked the Arab Spring. Within a few months, a wave of protest had swept away the despots of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (Rosiny, 2012). His action was a form of protest against the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Protest actions such as strikes, demonstrations and political unrest are some of the most visible manifestations of social conflict (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011).

"Most Arab regimes suffer from massive legitimacy deficits, and the citizens are demanding to finally be able to participate more fairly in political, economic and societal events. These make the Arab Spring a momentous and novel event that will have a lasting impact on the region" (Rosiny, 2012).

The causes, evolution and force of the protests have varied from country to country. The reactions of the regimes have also ranged from careful considerations to violent suppression (Rosiny, 2012). The coverage of such events and other expression of social conflict is one of the core tasks of journalists. How journalists choose to cover and report the story however differs depending on a multitude of factors, some of which will be explore in this study.

Aims and Objectives

This study is interested in the roles media reports play in uprisings and how the media constructs the reality in their report of such demonstrations. The western media's coverage of uprising and social conflict in Africa and the Middle East is explored to understand the image being reinforced by the media. This research focuses on the protests and following revolution that occurred across the middle-east after Bouazizi's suicide; commonly referred to as the Arab spring. The research centres on British newspaper reports starting in December 2010, when the Tunisian Uprising began till October, 2011. The objective is to study the words used to communicate the demonstrations and riots.

This research will also examine how the choice of words reflects or reinforces positive or negative images of the countries involved and the effect this might have on the consuming public as well as the countries undergoing massive social change. To carry out this project effectively, three popular daily British newspapers would be chosen as references and examined. The rationale for studying how these three newspapers reported on the Arab spring is to see if the newspaper's agenda and affiliation plays a part in determining the tone used when reporting about the uprising. There is a general criticism of the western media's portrayal of Africa and the Middle East, This study aims therefore, through an explanatory approach, to put this observation to test and learn more about how the mainstream media, or more precisely the British national newspapers, actually reported on the protest (Lifvergren, 2011).

Literature Review

Most of the literatures on the Arab spring are about the political changes still happening in the countries and reflect on the continuous changes that are going on in the countries. "The … uprising was wholly unexpected by journalists, policy makers and scholars… it is too early to write the history of that still-unfolding event…" (Snider & Faris, 2011). It is for this reason that this project will base most of its findings on the three daily newspapers chosen and focus on a limited timeline; between when the Tunisian protests started in December 2010, to October 2011.

This research will focus on three popular daily newspapers of the British media and their discourse of the 'Arab spring'. The Guardian, The Independent and Daily Telegraph are the three chosen as resources for this project; they are three of the most read newspapers in U.K with access to their archives online. Because the Arab Spring is a relatively recent event that is still unfolding, the research will pay close attention to literatures on the discourse of the Arab Spring and the roles the media played in the unfolding of the events. Many are still trying to understand the full scope of the events that occurred and it is expected that many more literature on this topic be available soon.

The project will also look at how the media covers any form of conflict or war, such as Wilhelm Kempf's work on Conflict Coverage (2002), which suggests that when the media report on conflicts and wars, they become active players in the situation. Journalists sometimes see themselves as judges of good or evil in the world and place moral pressure on the international community to take sides so they feel a need to paint a black and white image of the event going on and some go as far as fabricating images and stories to fit the image of the enemy. Painting images of war in black and white leaves no space for understanding the subtleties of the conflict but reduces it all to violence; which is more thrilling for the reader.

In selecting the events on which to report, journalists and editors of newspapers are being increasingly guided by the question of the general 'newsworthiness' of those events. Lippmann listed proximity, surprise, prominence and conflict amongst the influencing factors of determining the value of a news story (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011). Violence and destruction are clearly among the most influential characteristics affecting media coverage. 'If it bleeds, it leads' is a theory followed by many newspapers so stories about gruesome deaths naturally take prevalence over stories of peaceful protests (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011). This ideology also affects how the news is reported; the words and images chosen are specifically chosen to entice the reader and sensationalize the stories.

Another factor that affects the quality and authenticity of the information being passed along by the media is the country in which the protest takes place; if the country has a close relationship with the international media reporting, the words and images chosen will be considerably different from that of a country regarded as an enemy country. Western Governments had some sort of relationship with most of the dictators in the Middle East and North Africa due to fear of power getting in the hands of Islamic extremists. "Saudi Arabia …plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. As long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, and they're just fine." (Chomsky, 2001) When the protest started, it was in the best interest of Western governments to make sure that when these dictators were deposed of, they were replaced with a government that favoured the values of the west i.e. a democratic government. Therefore many of the "… discourse has been defined by open criticism of the remaining autocracies" (Rosiny, 2012) and the calling for a democratic government free of religious influences. "Western governments and observers defining the 'Arab Spring' on their own terms, especially in naming responsibility for the social uprisings in one way or another that comes back to the West " (Dixon, 2011).

Sustaining the 'strongmen' of the Middle East was a way to see that the interest of the west was at least partially served.

"The real threat, as always, was that the region might take control of its own destiny, including its own resources. And that can't be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia … to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil …flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on" (Chomsky, 2001).

"This notion was sometimes based on a culturalist assumption, implying that culture and tradition in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region were not suited to building democratic societies and states based on the rule of law" (Freudenstein, 2011). This image was also explored by many newspapers during the Arab spring. The idea that any form of government devoid of religious and military affinity would not work in that part of the world was constantly being debated in the news and that ideology shaped the language used in the discourse of the Arab Spring. Even after the governments of Tunisia and Egypt had been successfully overthrown, the western media continued to debate the future of the countries, fearing that extremist would get into power.

Style of coverage is not always an option for journalists as media economics has made clear, the financial and human outlay to obtain information and write the report also plays an important role in how news is reported. Daily newspapers are under mounting pressure to be able to report in the most cost-effective, rapid manner and are therefore relying increasingly on externally produced press packs that might frame it in a way best suited to that person or might not include the news in full context (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011). Many problems of coverage happen in the newsgathering process; for example, language barriers can make journalists dependent on translators and other liaisons that might have their own agenda or do not fully grasp the nature of the conflict. Most western correspondents do not speak local languages of the various African countries or any of other cultures. Some rely on the local media as their main source, these media are sometimes unreliable or completely absent. Consequentially, the journalists become too reliant on government or other official sources for information. These information tends to be inclined towards the government or official agenda; the 'official spin'.

Women in Arab societies suffered from a wide range of inequalities and general relegation creating an economy where few women participated in the work force. The reports of the Middle East and North Africa are also notable for exclusion of women in politics. This marginalization of woman has led to a society with lower levels of productivity. During the Arab spring however, women protested alongside the men but discourse continues to depict women in the region as oppressed, backward and in need of a saving grace. Language used to describe women in these regions shows them as subservient and completely compliant to will of the men. Very few newspapers focused on what the Arab spring meant to the Arab women but upheld the paternalistic ideology of the Arab nations. "Inadequate access to mainstream media and exclusion of women's voices on the issues of importance to them is on-going, though increasingly mitigated by the social media tools that can be accessed by users directly" (Jadallah, 2011).

Theoretical and Empirical views


Newsworthiness affects what story is being reported and how it is reported. Harcup & O'Neill (2001) expanded on Galtung and Ruge's 12 factors to determine if a story makes it as news, some of these factors will be explored in relation to the media's report of the Arab Spring. Factors such as Consonance, Meaningfulness, continuity and reference to negative event are factors that come into play in deciding what and how to report about the Arab Spring. According to Harcup and O'Neill, the media is more likely to report on a story or event in a way that aligns with the image already being promoted by such media; therefore it is difficult to find a news story contradictory to the imaged perpetuated already by the popular media.

Meaningfulness plays a part in if and how a story will be reported because readers connect more with a news story that is culturally similar, "Thus, the involvement of UK citizens will make an event in a remote country more meaningful to the UK media… than is news from countries that are less culturally familiar" (Harcup & O'Neill, 2001). A negative story is also more likely to be a headline than a positive one therefore the more scintillating and gory a picture can be painted, the better the chances of it being a headline, a story also has to have continuity for it to be considered newsworthy. Once a story becomes headlines, it remains in the news because it is familiar and to validate the choice as a news story.

Developmental "Porn"

Sympathy for others is deemed to be one of the characteristics of a modern, feeling individual which was part of a general cultural change that gave rise to humanitarianism - compassion and a reluctance to inflict pain were marked as civilized values with cruelty deemed barbaric and savage. The importance of sympathy became emphasized from that time on in literature and society. The idea of development porn plays on this humanistic characteristic to sell a product to media consumers. "Disaster porn refers to media putting "horrific or tragic images on a 24-hour loop, constantly driving them into your head, and then referring to the events portrayed as an unspeakable tragedy". It is exploitative and voyeuristic, rather than contextualised" (Mullins, 2011).

Development porn, also known as poverty porn or even war porn, is any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor's condition for the sole purpose of generating sympathy for necessary selling newspapers . These media are also used for creating sympathy needed for the support for a given cause and increasing charitable donations (Collin, 2009).

'Development pornography', 'Poverty porn', 'Disaster porn', 'Ruin porn', 'War porn', 'Famine porn', 'Stereotype porn' is used so frequently in relation to so many different situations because of its prevalence in creating an image of Africa in the western media. It is so common and widespread because it introduces and promotes a popular stereotype that has always existed in Western media about Middle East and the African continent as a whole; an image that is often of a degrading nature, of a whole continent needing to be saved by the superior western world. James Agee, in The Nation in 1945 wrote that "Pornography is invariably degrading to anyone who looks at or reads it"; it creates "incurable distance" and betrays those with whom we are trying to identify. Images of war atrocities were thus "pornographic" (Dean, 2003).

In The Holocaust in American Film (1987), Judith Doneson explained that development pornography is said to take images and literature out of context, showing suffering in a dehumanizing way that objectifies the subjects in order to invoke sympathetic feelings from readers and viewers. In particular, it describes the process where victims are victimized again, and the way in which the medium of representation brings along with it a related degradation of death and dying (Dean, 2003). These sorts of media also provoke inadequate feelings due to their "…violation of dignity, cultural degradation, taking things out of context, exploitation, objectification, putting misery and horror on display, the encouragement of voyeurism, moral and political perversion" (Campbell, 2011).

Critique of the "pornography" label

"The term "pornography" is used to describe the "marketing" of the reduction of human beings to commodities, the exposure of vulnerable people at the moment of their most profound suffering, and thus their victimization all over again" (Dean, 2003). The term is used figuratively to link visual cognition with human degradation and destruction.

David Campbell argues that the frequent and random use of the word 'porn' to describe the phenomenon that supposedly is responsible for our alleged exhaustion of empathy lacks any real basis as evidence for the arguments. He states that 'Porn' has become part of a myth that states that we do not recognise our ethical obligations towards others, and have become comfortable to suffering because so many images and literature on poverty and disaster which have now become threats to our empathic connection (Campbell, 2011).

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With development reducing and improving the day-to-day experience of suffering and poverty, people are motivated to help others through aid and services. They are even more motivated when there are representations that make us feel close to the victims. From the beginning, long before the technology of photography, there were social concerns about apparent barriers to empathy, such as images and narratives that produced inadequate compassion or insincere sympathy from the viewers and readers.

Scholars have conceded that there are issues with the representations of atrocities and disaster in the media but they also argue that the word 'Pornography' should be done away with as a term related to visual representations of suffering. They argue that it prevents people for really addressing the cause of inadequate sympathy since the term merely covers the topic under a word that people are familiar with and frequently assume they understand; a sort of conventional wisdom. "Many of the problems 'porn' attached itself to must be dealt with in relation to specific images in specific contexts, aggregating those concerns under one banner prevents us from engaging the problems properly" (Campbell, 2011).

Using the word pornography, keeps people from exploring the problem deeper and asking the right questions about our lack and/or loss of empathy. "We need to ask some hard questions about what and where the main threats to empathy are" (Campbell, 2011). After the world has experienced two world wars, the holocaust and a century of genocide and destruction, it has become painfully clear that we have very little impact on elevating the suffering of others said Campbell and this realization may be one of the factors affecting our response to visual representations of wars and disasters. We now have a greater awareness of atrocities that happened in other parts of the world, far removed from our immediate borders because of advancements in media technologies, along with a human rights culture that assigns us accountability with regards to those outside of our immediate environment. These are all factors we have to consider when attributing the erosion of empathy to disaster/war pornography. "'Pornography' and 'compassion fatigue' are alibis, slogans that substitute for answers to this gap between heightened awareness and limited response, which is limited at least in relation to the scale of the challenges" (Campbell, 2011).

The term 'Pornography' as a metaphor for the causes and effects of our numbness and as an obstacle to empathic identification in a wide variety of literature does not encourage discussion. Unlike the term "trauma," though seemingly more weighty, accomplishes a comparable analytic purpose in the same contexts, pornography freezes discussion, and this function is perhaps the most substantial achievement of the term 'war porn' (Dean, 2003). David Campbell does however admits that literature of suffering and war can be a threat to empathy but states that we need to know a lot more about how people actually respond to images and literature of suffering in the media before we can offer definitive conclusions. "What if, rather than being emotionally exhausted, any lack of empathy comes from people deciding they just don't want to know about atrocity …but one thing is clear - labelling everything 'porn' is not helping" (Campbell, 2011).

Moreover, it has to be acknowledged that media coverage of poverty, pain, wars and disasters does contribute very much to the solidarity and unity that is of the essence to assisting communities deal with such catastrophic situations. Disaster or war porn, according to some does more good than harm because "it promotes the need for assistance, specifies the priorities, and puts the public in touch with appeal collection points" (Mullins, 2011). As long as images and narratives of disaster and poverty get the required message across and summon people to action, some believe that the positive aspects outweigh the negative and therefore are a needed part of our media.

Compassion fatigue

"The first time a reader sees the advertisement he is arrested by guilt. He may come close to actually sending money to the organization. The second time the reader sees the ad he may linger over the photograph, read the short paragraphs of copy and only then turn the page. The third time the reader sees the ad he typically turns the page without hesitation. The fourth time the reader sees the ad he may pause again over the photo and text, not to wallow in guilt, but to acknowledge with cynicism how the advertisement is crafted to manipulate readers like him--even if it is in a "good" cause" (Moeller, 1999).

The eighteenth Century, when sympathy was first believed to be a key factor of the enlightened, free-thinking, liberal individual, and the new social order, marked the beginning of discourses about the many obstructions to empathic feeling. "The concept of … sympathy was instrumental in shaping the eighteenth century literature of sensibility…that proved an important medium for popularizing the basic tenets of sentimental ethics" (Halttunen, 1995). Compassion fatigue is the claim that we are numb to the suffering of others due to our exposure to 'development porn'. It states that people have become indifferent to the pain of others, that exposure to narratives and images of suffering has generated new and dramatic forms of emotional distance due to poverty or war porn. This theory links the increase of such images and literature and the lack of control over their content to the dulling of our moral senses and ability to be compassionate to the tragedies happening around us (Campbell, 2011). Many explanations of the compassion fatigue ideology claim that literature of suffering shown to millions simply increases the lack of empathy about atrocities happening elsewhere; meaning the overexposure to literature on suffering numbs us. It also means that the "overuse of icons of atrocity" (Dean, 2003) in mass media, redefines our relationship to human suffering.

It has been argued that narratives and images of war and suffering being constantly shoved upon media consumers have an immense impact; it normalises the atrocities and turns the reports of such disasters into a form of cruelty on its own. Constant mediated messages of war and atrocities have not informed the public about such disasters but have had the contradictory effect of disengagement on the consumers. Some have gone further to see compassion fatigue as a sort of coping mechanism to protect the spectators from the trauma they could experience from being attacked with such messages. "Some scholars have defined …"empathy fatigue" or "compassion fatigue," in which numbness is explicitly conceived as a form of self-protective disassociation" (Dean, 2003).

"To fend off readers' compassion fatigue, sensationalism, formulaic coverage and references to American cultural icons often predominate over thoughtful, less reflexive reporting" (Moeller, 1999). Accounts on war and disasters have been too commercialized that the message is losing its effectiveness. The belief that we are now insensitive and hardened towards the suffering of others is common.

Criticism of Compassion fatigue

Some have explained the need for such narrative in the media as being part of efforts to inspire moral action on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. This explanation believes that arousing human compassion requires some symbolic representation of the suffered to deliver the message to the viewer. These messages, however, could also arouse the "wrong" sort of compassion, or insincere forms of sympathy because they are often displayed out if context. Distance has also been used to explain the need of 'disaster porn' "Geographical, ethnic, and social distance may preclude or distort compassion" (Dean, 2003) where too much distance leads to insufficient or disingenuous sympathy.

Another critique of the compassion fatigue theory does not fully take on the idea that people no longer feel sympathy for others due to disaster porn but believes that the messages illicit forms of false sympathy and inappropriate emotions from the audience. "Beginning in the interwar period in Western Europe … display of human suffering no longer necessarily generated empathic identification, but instead invited an often eroticized objectification of pain" (Dean, 2003) an inappropriate response to the suffering and humiliation of people.

Another discourse claims that the recent history of genocide and wars simply go beyond notions like sympathy and empathy because it creates insincere empathy, due to the media representations of suffering as entertainment. It blots out the experience of victims by presenting images and literature out of context and by also encouraging a false likeness between the victims and the viewers. It is also argued that in popular culture representations of war and disasters, emphasis is placed in making sure that the readers and viewers can identify with the victim. It comes from a belief that people can only empathize with those we can imagine as ourselves. That any difference that is visible between the victim and the viewer will somehow hinder the feelings and responsiveness of the viewer to such tragedy. All these are believed to provoke ingenious responses from readers.


"The buzzards of the European Union, United Kingdom and United States are circling, and many have landed, to establish an understanding of just what has been happening in the country of such geostrategic importance and historical 'stability'" (Bush, 2011).

Geopolitics is a theory that explores the impact of geography on political decisions and local or international policies being taken. It studies the connection between politics and geography on both local and international scale. It includes the practice of studying, censuring and predicting the use of political power over a given territory. It is a method used to analyse, comprehend and calculate international political behaviour using geographical variable as a way to understand foreign policies. Geopolitics takes into consideration the resources available in a region, its geographical location, size, climate and demography of the country or region being analysed. It analyses the strategies employed by different countries by linking their political power to their geographic location. "Some important parameters for foreign policy and military strategy are clearly composed of geographical conditions. Space, topography, position, and climate interact with population, communications, industry, and technology" (Østerud, 1988).

Geopolitics has evolve to include the tools that states can use to project power, it takes into account important measurements of state power such as the demographics, ethnic make-up, the degree of social peace and cohesion within a state. Access to energy and other natural resources are also examined as part of the economic influence of such region; geopolitics also pays close attention to the military prowess of the countries being evaluated and how it deals with national security issues and environmental issues. The political and economic situations within the country are of great importance in geopolitics as this affects the influence the state has on an international and diplomatic level. The strengths and weaknesses of the countries in these aspects are examined to understand the political policies of such countries and predict future tendencies. Therefore geographical location can be of benefit or be a hindrance to the international relations of a country and how this might affect its policies. It shows how these policies display differences in the realm of the political ideas, workings, and cultures.

Clash of civilizations

Geopolitics also leads to the idea of clash of civilizations which was developed by Samuel Phillips Huntington who claimed that the world will remain in a state characterised by cultural conflict not because of economic or ideological reasons but with people everywhere divided along cultural and religious lines (Huntington, 1993).

Huntington proposed that the conflicts were bound to happen because of differences that exist within the various geographies and civilizations. He explained that differences among civilizations such as history, language, culture, tradition, and religion are too fundamental and will not go away anytime soon. According to his theory, the world is also becoming a global village with increasing interactions between civilizations while will undoubtedly increase people's awareness and knowledge of their commonality and/or differences. He also asserted that due to such consciousness, other civilizations, which have begun to revert to a de-westernized culture, become more aware of the role of the western society, who is at the peak of power. This will without a doubt create a rift between the western civilization and the others looking to shape the world in non-western ways (Huntington, 1993). He also claimed that these cultural characteristics and differences often shaped by geographical location are less changeable than political and economic issues. These, he argued, make it harder to find a middle ground, he also emphasised the role of religion in the clash of civilization, saying that religion shapes identity which transcends national boundaries (Huntington, 1993).

In Huntington's view, conflict may occur as a result of several causes such as for influence and power, prevent against discrimination or human rights offences or difference in values and beliefs, particularly when one civilization attempts to impose its beliefs on people of a different civilization. These conflicts can manifest internally; along fault lines, when the civilization is home to people with different beliefs and values or on an international level where major civilizations are involved.

Criticism of Clash of civilization theory

"… if you're an intellectual …You have to create deep theories that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we're supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense" (Chomsky, 2001).

Huntington has fallen under the heavy criticism from various academic writers, who have either empirically, historically, logically or ideologically challenged his claims such as the one put forward by Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism. Berman suggests that separate cultural boundaries do not exist in the world anymore; the division along the civilizations that Huntington referred to as the "Islamic civilization" or the "western civilization" no longer exist due to globalization. He claims that Huntington's evidence for a civilization clash is not convincing, especially considering that many 'western civilizations' have relationships with so called 'Islamic civilizations'. He believes that conflicts arise as a res


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