Drones, Media and the Middle East

Passionate lectures were strewn throughout the UO campus in February, and they weren’t solely from professors in classrooms. Panels and workshops were held at the Social Justice, Real Justice Conference, with speakers discussing everything from the history of racism in Eugene to activism in changing foreign policy (see story last week). Emotions were flying particularly high in the Alumni Center and the law building — as high as the drones being discussed hover over distant lands.

Reporters Reese Erlich and Norman Solomon spoke about media distortion in the Middle East during the first of two of the panels EW attended, while Solomon, writer and broadcaster David Barsamian and peace activist Leah Bolger stayed in the same region in voicing their opinions about drone warfare implemented within the Middle East as well as President Obama’s related policies.

Erlich, who has done much of his journalistic work in Libya and Syria, focused on the redefinition of “terrorism” by the media in regards to what is considered a threat to the U.S.

“Every time the U.S. comes under attack by someone in a group who is Muslim it is automatically terrorism,” he said. “Some guy who is white flies an airplane into a building in Texas complaining about the tax system and kills people in the building; that’s not terrorism. There’s a contradiction there. Anybody we don’t like who takes up arms, they are probably Muslim. That’s the new definition of terrorism.”

Solomon put emphasis on activism, advocating action towards putting an end to drone warfare.

“I think it is helpful for us to look at the discussion of drones and cruise missiles that are also being used — Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan — in the context of what is our foreign policy and what is our country,” Solomon said. “We want to understand all of this, but we also want to do something about it. We don’t want to watch a horror show go down.”

Barsamian and Bulger passionately echoed Solomon’s views, as they were also critical of the handing of Middle East intervention. The conference was spread over four days with 18 panels, 34 workshops, three keynote speeches and three caucus sessions.