Selective freedom of press, speech calls for further scrutiny

The last time Samer al-Issawi ate food was Wednesday, Aug. 1. He had been surviving on non-food supplements and water for much of his strike period.

Six months and 20 days after, the Palestinian al-Issawi is undergoing “the battle of empty stomachs,” as Arab news media refer to the task he and several other prisoners – who recently joined him – have undertaken.

Al-Issawi started his open strike in protest of his illegal administrative detention – without charges and fair trial – by Israeli forces on June 7, 2012, only six months after he had been released in a prisoner-exchange deal.

An emergency court hearing was scheduled Tuesday, where al-Issawi was denied bail. His next court appearance is not due until mid-March, a date he may not survive to attend.

However, and despite the significance of the event – it being the longest hunger strike in history – American news media like CNN and Fox News remain determined not to break their silence on the matter.

For three years now, my communications professors have made it their priority to make me and my classmates appreciate the American democratic system and its freedom of speech stemming from the First Amendment – a privilege they said not many countries guarantee.

And while a sense of appreciation for the amendment has indeed been cultivated in me, so was a sense of inquisitiveness that flares up around the time an international news story surfaces, but gets immediately drowned.

However, my professors also recognize the system is not perfect., yet not everyone does.

My education and the public’s perception are ever influenced by the notion of free speech, but never of how much of it is out there. What good is the First Amendment to a speech that is never delivered?

The reason major media outlets did not include the issue in their news report is probably because of the same reason they have failed to mention many other past news-worthy events in the Middle East – because the “hero” of the story is not only a Palestinian who realized he had to go to drastic measures to have his voice heard, but  one who has also chosen to do so nonviolently, an act unfitting to the profile the media had established for the residents of the region.

My frustration with the U.S. media escalates when they choose to publish all the violence in the region, yet refrain from mentioning the nonviolence.

The feigned compassion and the lack of action regarding Middle Eastern politics exhausts me and many other Arabs. I am tired of the people’s constant flaunting of their perceived freedom of speech, completely ignoring its selectiveness.

If the protagonist in this hunger strike had been anyone else but a Palestinian, the media would have been more than willing to broadcast his plea.

Unsurprisingly, his voice fell on the deaf ears of the West, where I think he is perceived as nothing more than a second-class human.

Perhaps it’s time we start questioning what’s not in the news, rather than how much of it is out there.

Samer al-Issawi deserves at least this much from us and much, much more.



[email protected]