Articulating the Unprintable: Ramzy Baroud Discusses Media Response to His Book
Ramzy Baroud interviewed by June Rugh
Ramzy Baroud, veteran Palestinian-American journalist and Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle, recently completed a speaking tour of the
’ East Coast to promote his second book, The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, 2006). The Second Palestinian Intifada is a far-reaching account of key events of the past five years that transformed the political landscape not only of United States Palestine and Israel, but of the entire Middle East. With a critical eye, Baroud takes the most controversial issues head-on: the alarming escalation in suicide bombings, the construction of the Separation Wall, the devastating hunger and unemployment in the , the brutality of the Israeli army, the political surprise of the Palestinian elections. On November 12, 2007, Baroud was interviewed by June Rugh, a freelance writer, in Occupied Territories . Seattle, Washington
June Rugh: Good afternoon, Mr. Baroud. Your book, The Second Palestinian Intifada, has been widely praised by eminent scholars and intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, and Norman Finkelstein. Coupled with the national media awareness of the momentum building towards the US-based Palestinian-Israeli peace conference, did your book tour receive considerable attention from the press?
Ramzy Baroud: On the contrary, the silence has been deafening. Let me clarify: The Second Palestinian Intifada has received wide coverage in the progressive, alternative, Asian, African, and Arab media, and has been reviewed many academic journals, in print and online. But not one corporate newspaper—that I know of—has touched it so far.
JR: Not one? Are you surprised?
RB: Actually, I’m not surprised at all. In Western corporate media, it is the most predictable and consistent practice: if the narrative doesn’t fit the dominant “liberal” ideology, it is simply omitted. And it’s not just the media boycott of the book. Sometimes the local newspapers refused to cover the events of my tour. Rather than straight reportage, certain newspapers opted to publish defamatory articles and letters to the editor that chastised the academic institutions for inviting me to speak and deliberately misinterpreted my comments.
JR: In other words, they literally replaced your words with other content—a kind of journalistic ventriloquism. Can you give an example?
RB: The most disturbing case occurred around my talk at
JR: What happened when you spoke at the college?
RB: A local rabbi and his supporters came and heckled me with questions and outrageous claims. One said that in 1880 there were more Jews than Christians and Muslims in
JR: This brings to mind an observation by Steven Salaita: that the discourse of mainstream
RB: Yes, I’d say that applies here. The Rabbi’s supporters followed me to a second event at a local theatre, and when I refused to modify my statements, he began a campaign of letter-writing and calling the college and local papers, describing my message as “poisonous.”
JR: So as far as mainstream media goes, you—and your book—are either ignored or vilified. What is it that strikes a nerve? Is it the topic of
RB: The subject of
JR: So, as a Palestinian, you find yourself doubly effaced: first, by the Israeli government, and then again, by the Western press.
RB: Yes, you could say that.
JR: One of the objectives of your tour was to promote The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle. What is your primary goal in getting people to read this book?
RB: To present an alternative reading of Palestinian history. To help people realize, among other things, that Palestinians should be praised for their courage in taking on the risks of democracy; that they should not be forced to suffer, and a civil war provoked, because their elections resulted in a government that is not a regime compliant to the
JR: So, in a sense, you are raising awareness that an alternative narrative of Palestinian history even exists.
RB: Exactly. And this issue goes beyond me and my particular book. As you know, well-known figures such as Jimmy Carter, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt—even the usually untouchable Desmond Tutu—have recently been victims of smear campaigns, accused of anti-Semitism and so on, simply because they were presenting the Palestinian perspective and, implicitly or explicitly, criticizing US and Israeli government policy.
JR: And that’s in the public forum. It’s striking that even in academia—traditionally, the last bastion of open debate—there is now also a systematic silencing of alternative readings of Palestinian history. Norman Finkelstein was essentially forced to resign position at
RB: Even the area of publishing is no longer safe. Pluto Press, the publisher of my latest book, is currently fighting for the right to distribute Joel Kovel’s book, Overcoming Zionism, in the
JR: In other words, what we’re seeing is not just a chilling effect, but a deep freeze that appears to be settling over all alternative sources of information. Do you have suggestions for people who want to counteract this, who want to keep these lines of communication open?
RB: Yes. It’s important to actively support progressive publishing companies such Pluto Press, and to be aware of the attempts to shut down distribution of their books. I’d urge everyone to go to their website and see the books they offer. It is vital to keep information sources flowing to counteract the deceptively complete discourse presented in the corporate media. And be aware of other news sources: progressive websites such as Counterpunch, and other resources such as the Palestine Chronicle, Zmag.org, etc.
JR: It strikes me that by referring to your book and the progressive press as “alternative narratives,” we are implicitly affirming the primacy of mainstream media. Yet the fact is that your book, which deals with on-the-ground realities of the second intifada, is not “alternative,” but central, and vital to any real understanding of the Palestinian struggle.
RB: Quite right. In fact, if you want a true alternative reality, I’d suggest a front-row ticket to the upcoming peace conference in
JR: One challenging issue you address in The Second Palestinian Intifada is the increasing violence used by Palestinians against the Israeli military and Israeli civilians. You write that it is important to “contextualize this phenomenon, not to justify it, but to present the Palestinian response as a tragic yet predictable human reaction to decades of subjugation.” Do you think it’s possible for the American audience to get beyond the image of a suicide bomber and see the larger phenomenon behind it?
RB: Yes, I do. I assume intelligent readers, and thoughtful readers will ultimately be able to put themselves in the position of the Palestinians described in the book. To eliminate violence, one must be brave enough to examine the root causes. That requires a mixture of humility and imagination—a mental exercise rarely required by the corporate media.
JR: Finally, in practical terms, how can one buy a copy of The Second Palestinian Intifada?
RB: You can order the book directly by sending a check of $23 USD, which includes shipping charges, to Ramzy Baroud,
For more information on Ramzy Baroud, please visit his website at http://www.ramzybaroud.net.