The Year the Protester Took Center Stage

It’s not often that The Progressive and Time magazine agree, and so when they do, it does mean something. This year, both publications dedicated their year-end special issues to the protester, showcasing the convulsions that have shaken countries all around the world since last January.

It’s good to see the mainstream media finally recognizing the importance of peaceful protest. Alternative publications such as The Progressive have been cheering nonviolent change forever and a day. Finally, corporate outlets have joined in the affirmation.

The Arab Spring was particularly heartwarming for me, since I’ve written a book on nonviolence in Muslim societies. The fact that mostly peaceful agitations were able to get rid of longtime despots in two countries—Egypt and Tunisia—gave lie to the notion that Muslims are incapable of adhering to nonviolence. It also marked perhaps the first time when Westerners were exposed to scenes of positive change from the Middle East. Media giants like CNN and Time had given short shrift to past instances of peaceful agitation in the Muslim world—such as the 2007-08 lawyers’ movement that ousted Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf and the ongoing demonstrations against the Israeli separation barrier—but they finally paid attention.

The protests in Europe and the United States were also extremely important, since they were challenging the global economic system that has brought such pain and misery. In taking on Wall Street and various international financial institutions, people finally said: “Enough!”

Again, in acknowledging this upsurge, publications like Time have been way late to the game. For years, alternative outlets such as The Progressive have been chronicling the depredations of free trade and free markets. Corporate media giants such as Time finally jumped on the bandwagon. Only when the protests gained momentum, did such media conglomerates deign to change their snide tone. It’s fascinating to see Time magazine now accepting the legitimacy of the protesters’ demands after extolling the virtues of globalization for so long. “Two decades after the final failure and abandonment of communism, they believe they're experiencing the failure of hell-bent megascaled crony hypercapitalism and pine for some third way, a new social contract,” the magazine says. (Note the use of the prefix "hyper-" here to soften the publication’s endorsement of the critique, but the magazine going even this far would have been previously unimaginable.)

This being Time magazine, however, the coverage would be incomplete without complete howlers. Consider this sentence in the lead article: “America's great 21st century contribution to fomenting freedom abroad was not imposing it militarily but enabling it technologically, as an epiphenomenon of globalization.” This is nonsensical on so many levels. The Iraq War is relegated to the memory hole, as is the U.S. backing of dictatorships around the world. Corporate globalization here is considered as the wellspring of democracy, rather than a contradiction. And adhering to the line taken by much of the mainstream media in their coverage of the Arab Spring, the global protests are seen as largely a result of technology gifted by the United States.

Such silliness is not surprising, since this turf is very new for publications such as Time. For better coverage of the earth-shattering events of 2011, you’ll have to turn elsewhere.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "We Need a Different Approach Toward Iran."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter