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My Definition of Peace Journalism
Years ago I went on an ill fated and misguided trip back to the little island where I grew up called the Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus, where my dad has lived since I was a kid and where he has taught as a professor at the Eastern Mediterranean University since the mid 90s. My mom somewhat elegantly packed me off to live with him from Pennsylvania where, in my late teens, I had reached a stumbling block of indecision and reckless behavior.
The island of Cyprus is split between two opposing cultures: the Greek Cypriot two thirds that is well developed and has the European Union stamp of approval, and the Turkish occupied one third that is unrecognized as a sovereign state except, unsurprisingly, by Turkey. This was following an ugly conflict in the 70s that resulted from an attempted coup by the Greek Orthodox that forced the Turkish Military to invade and subsequently occupy a portion of Cyprus. To this day the Greek side is recognized as the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish side is occupied territory.
Instead of encouraging me to follow my dream of becoming a famous rapper, my dad offered to pay for me to go to the university, where I chose journalism as my major. Somehow I also ended up as editor of the newly established and not yet functioning English school paper, which I’m proud to say I left exactly the way I found it. I sell myself short; I delivered one or two issues that weren’t all bad, but then I got bored, and after a few months I quietly and stoically stepped down from the position, by which I mean I was fired.
I don’t remember a whole bunch about my time there, it’s kind of like one of those fever dreams that is loosely based on a true story. But what stuck out then and has stuck with me lo’ these many years is the time I went to the Peace Journalism conference being held in Nicosia. I think. I was brought there by my teacher to cover the story for the aforementioned school newspaper. While I spent most of the time sipping a pint of some awful whiskey, I found myself having one of those teachable moments like in the movies where a problem child finally gets the grasp of something and Robin Williams is proud of him. It was an exceptional moment. There were journalists and I think a few politicians from either side of various conflicts: Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Greek and Turkish Cyprus among others.
They were there to talk about Peace Journalism, and most hilariously, how to define it. There was a whole conference about a topic and nobody knew what it was. I say “hilariously” not with a contemptuous tone or cynical sneer, but with awe. People cared enough about the vague feeling that something was so wrong with the news media to warrant a trip to a dusty, under-air conditioned townhall type powwow on the third of an unrecognized island to discuss just the idea that there might be some way to begin to change it. I hated most things in my life at that point, but I was proud of those people, even the one whose name I won’t mention that was only there because they finally scraped enough money together to pay him.
I recently found scribbles in my old notepad for possible headlines:
“How to Peace Journalist?”
“I can haz Peace Journalism?”
“F*** it’s hot and I’m sobering up.”
Why can’t Israel and Palestine, Greek and Turkish Cyprus, Ireland and Ireland come to an understanding? The years have passed and many of the atrocities, the original dead relatives and bombed out homes and relocated villages to cramped camps, have faded. Many people grow up relatively happy, but are still indoctrinated with the fear and anger that their forebears instill in them.
Let’s look at how I described the Cyprus Conflict: “This was following an ugly conflict in the 70s that resulted from an attempted coup by the Greek Orthodox that forced the Turkish Military to invade and subsequently occupy a portion of Cyprus. To this day the Greek side is recognized as the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish side is occupied territory.”
Can you tell where I learned about the conflict from? The Turkish Cypriot school system I attended, the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot newspapers, and the Turkish Cypriot population that informed me of how the Turkish military saved the day by coming to their rescue, praise be unto Ataturk and Allah, apparently in that order.
But Peace Journalism, as I came to understand it that day, was not about picking a side, choosing a hero and a villain, or answering questions of blame and fault by following a path from point A to point B, beginning at the headline and ending at the end of a pointed finger. Greek Cypriots didn’t wake up one day feeling like attempting a coup instead of going down to one of the beautiful beaches and taking a swim. The island had been under Ottoman rule for centuries, in fact right up until the Ottomans made the ill fated choice to side with the Central Powers during World War One, when Britain rescinded their recognition of the Ottomans and took control of Cyprus themselves. Greeks had lived on the island since around 1000 years before the common era of Christ, had been through subjugation from numerous empires, including Egyptian, Persian, Roman and Byzantine which are arguably the same thing, before settling in with the Ottomans.
Does this excuse violence? Are the subsequent mass graves dug and filled by the invasion of the Turkish military excused by the violence of the Greek coup? Does violence need an excuse? Or do reasons for violence need to be understood, dissected, and learned from? Do issues need an objective eye to explain the motivations from all participants?
Like the Cypriot speaker said, sweat pouring from his chubby face and dripping onto the copy of Peace Journalism by Jake Lynch, and I’m heavily, devastatingly paraphrasing: maybe Peace Journalism is reporting by journalists with their political, financial and emotional baggage checked at the gate...prior to boarding the airplane on a one way flight to the truth. (fix this before you submit!)
Which brings me to my beloved country, USA. I love this place. Growing up on that desert island (the majority of water came from the mountains on the Greek side and the TRNC was cut off from receiving it) was jarring for a nine year old American me. I of course now appreciate that separation from globalism and franchises that were denied an unrecognized country in the 90s. They opened up their own quaint versions of popular fast food. CFC (Cyprus Fried Chicken) and Pizza Hat were my favorites. I appreciate all of that now as an adult: the fresh lamb raised free, grazing on wild sage and oregano (like, really, how bad is your survival instinct when you eat what makes you delicious), the fresh, thick pungent yogurt and supermarkets with huge stacks of eggs still covered in quaint bird shit and the odd feather. The beaches were unspoilt and the clubs were fun and Euro trashy (and let twelve year old me in for some reason). I roamed around the ancient castles, poking at snakes and eating sour grass that my brother told me grew from dog piss and made me projectile vomit. I stood in the ruins of ancient coliseums and went down to Saint Barnabas’ tomb (he was never there in person, always on tour in some museum around Europe like a celebrity too good for his hometown) and ate Firin Kebab, which is potatoes and lamb stewed in brick ovens for days until the meat falls off the bone. I drank Turkish coffee by the beach at the panhandle of the island, with the sea salt dried on my brow from swimming, the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven, my skin golden brown and hair bleached by the sun.
And I literally dreamed of Taco Bell.
Call me a cliched snotty American, I don’t mind. I love this place, I love how big it is. It’s like how other people love Europe, I love The States. Every one of them like its own country with traditions and language and weird accents cultivated from stewing in a melting pot for a couple centuries until it falls off the bone. While I’ve had ups and down along with the country, I always have and I always will call this place my home.
And we are in a civil war. It’s not Israel and Palestine, it’s not Turkish and Greek, not Southern and Northern Ireland, there are no mass graves or tangible borders as of yet, but it is not bloodless, either. The media are to blame. The insipid talk shows, news channels, slanted politics in the one place it should not exist, talking heads grinning disbelievingly at opposing viewpoints, hysteria building up into a crescendo of finger pointing and accusations, always yelling and blaming and NOBODY reporting. And I know your question, the one you’re trying to figure out before you decide to agree or disagree with me: what side is he on? Is he an abortion loving commie, honorary member of the PC police, transexual liberal? Or is he a nazi, woman hating, xenophobic, homophobic, conservative moron?
It doesn’t matter, because it’s irrelevant, as insane as that may sound. The way that the media have corralled us into defensive positions against each other, indoctrinated us with vile propaganda and brainwashed us to believe we’re in some Stephen King novel where it’s a fight between good and evil, like the United States is half good and half bad, is madness. We’re being taught to hate each other, and if you look at the other situations in which this has happened, you’ll see that it doesn’t result in an amicable conclusion. They begin by laying a foundation of facts that the other side is evil, that they are stupid, dehumanizing them and turning them into boogeymen to fear and loathe. Is that how you feel about Trump? Is that how you feel about Biden? Is the president an evil monster hiding in your closet? Do you think he’ll fight against removal from office if he loses, do you think Biden will turn the nation into a communist state? Ask yourself this: should the Palestinians and Israelis keep murdering each other? Should Greeks attempt another coup to take back their heritage? Take a step back and see if any of this applies to you. And ask yourself where these assumptions come from. The internet you experience is tailored to reinforce what you want to believe, the news channels you choose tell you what you want to believe, the entertainment you choose tells the story you want to hear. And the further you delve into it, the more instilled that hatred becomes, the harder it is to admit when you’re being played.
Greek coffee and Turkish coffee are the same thing. Their cultures are insanely similar. Cypriots live on a tiny island, go to beaches, work, visit churches of their beliefs, love their kids, and they listen. They listen to the stories they are told and they believe them. And so do we.
We need to change the media.
I didn’t come away that day with an answer to what is Peace Journalism. The guy who demanded extra money to be there offered this up as a possible definition, and I’m not joking: Peace Journalism is good journalism...with something else. That’s what they paid him for. The best they got. It’s like when my brother’s friend paid KRS 1 thousands of dollars to rap on one of his tracks and it was the most mediocre verse of his career.
Because Peace Journalism cannot be defined as good journalism, and I think this is what the guy hadn’t figured out. It’s a joint project. When we see an article saying something we don’t like, we go to a different article to see the “truth,” which we now define as the thing we agree with. I’m not going to step into the murky waters of conspiracy theories to ask where the slanted journalism begins, if it’s the political interests of the owners of the media organizations, a secret plot by China or Russia to disrupt and topple our country’s infrastructure, an inevitable result of an overload of information with the advent of new systems of communication, or just shitty human behavior taken to the extreme. But we know that MSN tells one story, and we know FOX tells another, and we know, deep in our kind, patriotic, apple pie hearts, we know they are all full of shit. And we hate being lied to. I think that’s why we’re all really angry. There are real consequences to the actions of our political leaders, and with the internet giving us all voices like it’s a massive town hall meeting at all times, we all feel it is our responsibility to share our opinions and make a change for the benefit of our chosen political beliefs.
Peace Journalism begins with you. It begins with your willingness to question what you read. It begins with the strength of will to look, with the fury burning an ulcer in your stomach, that self righteous fury making your hand shake as you scroll down an article that you don’t agree with (we cool though, right?), and shake off that cloud of fear and anger we have been shrouded in. Humanize your fellow Americans. Humanize them. They are your neighbors: they teach, they drive trucks, they works in mines, they make shitty apps, they bus your table, they run your city, they upload their guitar solos to soundcloud, they try to lose a few pounds, they accept that I’ll never be a size small again, they fear the one thing we all know we face in the end. They don’t want to ruin your country, they don’t want to hurt you. The articles that say liberals are destroying gender or all conservatives are Nazis are not true. They are news because we consume it. If we only read articles about kittens playing pianos, that’s all that will be available. Journalists want to report the truth, they want to find and investigate the stories and tell you about them. But you need to listen. Peace Journalism begins with you.
I’ll leave you with a quote of the last thing I scribbled in that notebook after the conference, after a day of awkwardly interviewing real journalists and listening to them stammer around vague ideas of how to fix the world through words, how to establish a structure of journalism that includes context and history and motivations from every side of a dilemma, after a meal of Lamacun and an ice cold bottle of Diet Coke, my head pounding from the heat and the whiskey and my inadequate brain trying to process information vastly out of my league:
I miss America when can I go home I feel like shit
Well, what do you say?
submitted by markstormweather