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How to Spin the Somali Famine

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How do you spin the famine in Somalia to promote peace toward Muslim Americans? A survey of news titles released August 2nd by three major news sources yielded surprising results.

The way to spin the story for war is a no-brainer: emphasize the plight of the Somali people at the hands of the Al Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab, which is stopping its own people from escaping the famine. That way, the public directs hate against the terrorist minority and not the suffering majority. What’s more, it makes the public want to save the Somali people from the terrorists. As Washington redirects its war machine to Al Qaeda threats in Somalia and Yemen, it’s a perfect way to prepare the American public for a possible all-out assault.  Articles from The New York Times, Washington Post, and BBC News followed this pattern pretty much across the board.Somali mother and children

But how do you spin the famine to promote peace and prevent backlash against Muslim Americans? That’s where a certain Gallup poll comes in, entitled “Muslims say they’re loyal Americans, poll finds.” Of the three newspapers just cited, only The New York Times seems to have picked up the poll. It found that Muslim Americans self reported equally loyal to their country and their religion. The interesting part was that other religious groups reported more loyalty to country than to religion, so it would have been possible to spin the article as “Muslims less patriotic than Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.” But they didn’t.

This is a case of spin helping, rather than hindering, peace. At a moment when the Shabab threatens to taint perceptions of Somali Americans, and by extension, all Muslims in America, irrational violence could break out just as it did after 9/11. This news title reminds the public to think before acting. Indeed, we must think carefully and critically about our news sources and their spin, whether for war or peace.

Because it could mean life or death for your neighbor, or even yourself.

photo credit: Oxfam East Africa

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About B. T. Newberg

  • John Lake

    Article seems a little bitter. I don’t see where the post-9/11 violence may come from.

  • >Article seems a little bitter. I don’t see where the post-9/11 violence may come from.

    If Somalia becomes the next Iraq/Afghanistan, then they become the “enemy.” Minneapolis, where I live, has the highest concentration of Somalis in the country and I fear what would happen to any group whose home country is labeled “enemy” in the eyes of the general populace.

    Bitter? Maybe it seems that way. But there’s a message of hope too – there’s a way to spin it for peace.

  • Cannonshop

    Reminder: Somalia’s been starving for a while, and the last time we tried big-scale interventions…the late 1980’s/early 1990’s was a disastrous mess, though it did spawn events that made good cinema (see: “Blackhawk Down”) at the cost of the lives of U.S. servicemen.

    The lesson is that you can’t impose peace on an african civil war. The sides have to wear themselves out. They’re not done doing that yet.

  • Thanks for the comment, Cannonshop. First off, I agree that peace can’t be imposed. I don’t think peace should ever be *imposed*, period. Instead, the root of the problem must be addressed through mediation.

    Why do you say *African* civil wars have to wear themselves out? Yes, there have been horrible civil wars running on for decades now, not just in Somalia, but also in the Congo and other areas. But aren’t there other factors why there hasn’t been more foreign involvement? For example, if the wars in the Congo or Somalia happened in Europe, would the reaction of outside powers be different?