Survey reveals mistrust of UK media coverage of Arab world

Updated 26 September 2017

Survey reveals mistrust of UK media coverage of Arab world

LONDON: “Don’t believe what you read” is the main takeaway from a poll of attitudes toward UK media coverage of the Arab world.
Some 22 percent of respondents to an Arab News/YouGov survey perceived UK media coverage of the region to be accurate while 39 percent thought it was inaccurate. Another 39 percent did not have a view either way.
Media experts said that while the poll results reflect an often sensationalist and reductionist rendering of events by the UK media, outlets in the Arab world also need to tell the story of their own region better.
More than 2,000 people were polled in the “UK attitudes toward the Arab world” survey conducted in August — a month when many news sites were busy covering a string of attacks across Europe perpetrated by extremist groups such as Daesh and so-called “lone wolf” terrorists.
Such terror attacks on the streets of London, Paris and Madrid increasingly represent the prism through which people in the UK and Europe see the Middle East, according to media experts.
But there is more to see in the region and Arab commentators have a part to play in that, according to Noha Mellor, professor of media at the University of Bedfordshire.
“There are not many Arab voices in the British media save for very few who are usually interviewed about issues pertaining to terrorism,” she said.
“Unfortunately, stories about terrorism have come to define the whole region, which means few nuanced stories about daily lives in Arab societies.”
Fawaz Gerges from the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics agrees that as consumers of media, we have all become “obsessed” with terror at the expense of other themes which touch the lives of more people in the Arab world.
He highlights the symbiotic appeal of sensationalist headlines based on the media’s need to write them, our desire to read them and the willingness of Daesh and other such groups to ultimately and ironically benefit from them.
“We are terrorizing ourselves,” he said. “This plays into their hands and provides the social oxygen that allows them to exist.
“As bloody as the Middle East is, terrorism is still a tiny fraction. In a sense it is not the most important topic. Think about the poverty, the civil wars, the fracturing of the post-independence states — or youth unemployment, which is the most significant challenge facing the region.”
Mellor believes Arab media outlets also need to change their approach.
“Despite the proliferation of pan-Arab outlets since the 1990s, Arab media outlets also need to do more in order to project a new image of the region and appeal to British audiences’ unsaturated interest in knowing more about the region.
“There could be more English-language outlets in the region to feed Western news outlets with new stories which otherwise will go unreported in Europe,” she said.
While UK media coverage of the Middle East may suffer from terror overload, it could also be collateral damage in the wider depletion of newsrooms worldwide.
The migration of advertising revenues from newspapers and broadcasters to technology companies such as Facebook and Google has forced publishers to cut costs.
Foreign news coverage often suffers as a consequence.
“Not every British outlet can afford to send a foreign correspondent to every Arab city,” said Mellor.
“The result is that most reports will originate either from international news agencies such as Reuters, which means a unified version of the same story circulating to many British outlets, or from a handful of correspondents sent to one location in the Middle East, usually Jerusalem where life can be drastically different from surrounding cities and countries.”
Despite the findings of the survey, Gerges believes the UK media is comparatively sophisticated and its audience discerning.
“The British public is highly educated. There is a big difference between British readers and their American counterparts. They are very much interested in the world and particularly in the Middle East — so in that sense I think the British public demands more.”

• For full report and related articles please visit: How Brits view Arab world

Ahlam Al-Nasr: Daesh poet of poison

Updated 15 December 2019

Ahlam Al-Nasr: Daesh poet of poison

  • Al-Nasr is thought to have been originally named Shaima Haddad, a young girl from Damascus who fled after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011

LONDON: “There is no life but through jihad and its honor … jihad is our life and our victory It is what the soldiers of the enemy fear … and it is what created happiness in our lives.”

The above two stanzas are taken from a poem by the poet and writer Ahlam Al-Nasr encouraging women from around the world to join the terror group Daesh.

While little is known about Al-Nasr, her unconditional support for Daesh’s extremist, expansionist aim of imposing strict Shariah law on the world is obvious — and clearly evident through her writing.

“Ahlam Al-Nasr’s poetry was punchy and fresh, while still using mainly classical Arabic and the traditional monorhyme and focusing on the timeless tasks of praise, celebration, lament and lampoon,” Dr. Elisabeth Kendall, senior research fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford University, told Arab News.

“Al-Nasr’s most powerful and enduring poems are simple clipped compositions that are ideal for conversion into nashids (anthems).


  • Nationality: Syrian
  • Place of residence: Unknown
  • Occupation: Poet,
  • Daesh propagandist
  • Medium: Poetry, book entitled ‘The Blaze of Truth’

“Set to non-instrumental music and sometimes with violent video footage, their catchy sing-along rhythms can appeal to aspiring Daesh fighters in the West even if their Arabic is weak.”

Al-Nasr, whose real name cannot be verified, is thought to have been originally named Shaima Haddad, a young girl from Damascus who fled after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. A report by the New Yorker magazine claimed that firsthand experience of the Syrian regime’s air raids had triggered her radicalization.

“Their bullets shattered our brains like an earthquake/Even strong bones cracked then broke. They drilled our throats and scattered/our limbs — it was like an anatomy lesson!/They hosed the streets as blood still/Ran/Like streams crashing down from the/Clouds,” reads one of her earlier poems on the bloody conflict.

Al-Nasr’s family fled to Kuwait shortly after fighting broke out, but the writer did not plan on staying in the small Gulf state for long.

She returned to Syria in June 2014 and, four months later, wed Vienna-born extremist Abu-Usama Al-Gharib in the terror group’s de-facto capital Raqqa, which capitalized on her recruitment into Daesh’s ranks.

Al-Nasr quickly rose to prominence among the extremists. Her poems covering death and destruction, of loyalty to the caliphate and the beheading of apostates, spread like wildfire among militants and commanders, spurring them even further through romanticized versions of their plight.

“Poetry is an incredibly powerful medium of communication in the Arab world, much loved among educated and illiterate alike,” Kendall said. “The Arab version of ‘Pop Idol’ features aspiring poets and has over 70 million viewers.

“More importantly, poetry endures. Militant jihadi Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and chat forums can be closed down, but the poetry remains lodged in the collective memory.”

Al-Nasr was a court poet in Raqqa and was used as an official propagandist for Daesh — an ironic move given the strict restrictions the terror group places on women.

Her book “The Blaze of Truth” is a collection of 107 poems praising the militants’ goals and supporting their “journey,” with the poetic, elegant prose designed to recruit even more extremists.

In one of her poems, she incites Muslims across the world to kill and burn the enemies of Islam, saying: “Our innocent children have been killed and our free women were horrified/Their only crime was being Muslim/They have no savior/Where are the heroes of Islam?/Kill them and burn them and do not worry about the consequences/follow your almighty sword, and you will make the best news.”


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Other poems include praise for Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliph and Preacher of Hate Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who committed suicide during a US raid in October, as well as a poem titled “Osama, You Have Left” in which she mourns Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden and refers to him as a “reformer.”

Al-Nasr not only writes poems, but has also delivered a 30-page essay detailing her support for Daesh’s decision to burn captured Jordanian pilot Muath Al- Kasasbeh.

Much is yet to be discovered about Al-Nasr and her place within Daesh as the organization crumbles in the face of international coalition raids, but one thing is certain — her poetry will continue to be sung by the militants.

“My own survey work in Yemen shows that 74 percent of the population consider poetry either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in daily life,” Kendall said.

“No surprise, then, that extremists use it to spread their message,” she added.