As March rolled in, I introduced Blood Brothers for The Red Couch Book Club at SheLoves Magazine. You can read my post and the discussion post by Annie Rim at SheLoves Magazine. In my own commitment to writing about the intersection of faith and media, faith and communication, I also wanted to offer some further thoughts on the book.
Currently, I am a graduate student, pursuing a master’s degree in communication and media studies. My goal is to help people understand how the media impacts their every day life and helps shape their worldview. Blood Brothers spoke directly to that point. Most poignant for me was when Elias Chacour challenges what we know and what we believe about what’s happening in the Middle East. He challenges the very words used by journalists, pundits, and governments and he then provides insight from both sides of the conflict, a true gift of grace for his readers and all the people of Israel.
“The protests of 1936-38 were renamed ‘The Arab Rebellion.’ Palestinians, who in any other country being overtaken by a foreign force would have been called freedom fighters, were ‘terrorists’ and ‘guerillas.’ Hence, the widely used term ‘Palestinian terrorist’ was ingrained in the Western mind” (Blood Brothers, p. 127). Chacour is pointing out what is easy to miss: the frame.
In writing a story, for the news or otherwise, the writer must choose how they are going to present the facts, what words they will use, what they will include and what they will leave out. According to scholar Robert M. Entman (1993), “To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating context, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (p. 52). In other words, writers frame a story to explain how or why, to assign the issue a moral judgment, to inform, persuade, or promote a particular viewpoint. Just like all news stories, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, and has been, framed for us by the Western media in a particular way.
I am an American, so I know that my country is on one side of the conflict. I know that because of the way the issue has been framed both outright in declarations by political officials and also in newspapers, TV newscasts, and radio reports. As I began reading Blood Brothers, I started paying closer attention and listening more intently, and it didn’t take long for me to see how this story is being presented to us in the United States. The word “terrorists” was used to refer to Palestinians in the very first newscast I heard after I started reading the book.
“Unfortunately, we were to learn that Palestinians, indeed, had been branded as ignorant, hostile and violent. And now, with no flag, no honor and no voice to shout our defense to the opinion-fashioned world press, the reputation of our ancient people had degenerated to that status of nonpersons. We were the outcasts” (Blood Brothers, p. 111).
So as Christians, does this matter to our faith? And, if so, how?
Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Christian living in Israel, working with those on all sides of the conflict for peace. He was witness to the destruction of villages, the exile of his people, and the violence of bombings and hatred. What he asks of us in his book is to see beyond the sides we’re asked to take by our governments and media, to see the people on both sides of the conflicts as people. Because we must be wary of a writer’s framing when it takes entire groups of people and recasts them as terrorists. We must be wary when a news report strips people down of their dignity and humanity, and positions them as enemies of peace and justice. They are neighbors and families and children and, yes, sinners who make mistakes, but they too deserve peace and justice, dignity and humanity. Every person carries the image of God, and there is no justice when that image is replaced by a label.
“It occurred to me then that even bombs could never fully destroy such reverence for God and life and the land as we had felt there” (Blood Brothers, p. 141).
The reality is that all stories are framed. While we can claim to be unbiased or make it our goal to stay objective, we all have a particular worldview, a particular background, a particular agenda. It’s not always wrong or purposefully misleading. It’s the way we make sense of the world. The difficulty is that one’s viewpoint is just that: one viewpoint, part of the larger story and context. Framing may be unavoidable for the writer, but that’s why it’s important for us to analyze what we read and what we hear, and understand where it comes from and how it’s presented to us. Diplomatically, our country may take the side of one people group in a conflict, but we cannot allow the politics to cloud the reality that there is blood shed on both sides, and both sides are full of people worthy of grace and love.
Reference: Entman, M. R. (1993). Framing: Toward a clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51-58.