16 May 2016
The Centre for Media Studies, SOAS University of London, supported by the London Middle East Institute, hosted the successful one-day international conference, ‘Communication and Conflict: Iraq and Syria’ on 7 May 2016. The conference, organised by Dr. Dina Matar, Associate head of the CMS, critically engaged with one the most pressing issues of contemporary public discourse and life, the mediation of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the use of propaganda, public diplomacy, strategic and counter-strategic narratives in persuasion, recruitment and mobilisation and the related phenomena of forced migration, refugees, hate speech and Islamophobia that are often discussed as though dissociated from the conflicts themselves.
The first keynote speech by Professor Philip Seib from the University of Southen California set the scene for the discussions, beginning with a critique of reality and perceptions of reality, the continued demonization of Arabs and Muslims as ‘Others’ and the lack of understanding of the dynamic relationship between communications, politics and public diplomacy though all these processes impact our daily lives. Professor Seib has given us permission to publish his lecture.
The second keynote by Professor Lilie Chouliaraki from the LSE took up the challenge for intellectuals to act in the public sphere by calling for a more ‘informed responsibility and hospitality’ for the ‘superflous peoples’ - the refugees and migrants turning up on Europe’s shore as they flee the violent conflicts. These peoples, as she noted, are often invisible, massified, or discussed in media and public discourses in isolation from the conflicts that forced them to leave their homelands. The role, and responsibility, of media are central to these .
Fifteen speakers from the UK, including two PhD students from the CMS, from the US and Europe, presented theoretically- and empirically-grounded papers on media and conflict, with a special focus on IS propaganda and counter-IS propaganda campaigns, the emergence of a new visuality of politics and visualisation of suffering as well as of everyday lives, agency and resistance that came across most clearly in the creative productions of Syrian and Iraqi activists, journalists and cultural producers as they produced images of conflicts.
The conference papers will be published in a special issue of the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, published by Brill.
A transcript of the morning keynote address, 'Reimagining “the Other”: Mediatization of the Islamic State War and Perceptions of the Arab World' by Professor Philip Seib, University of Southern California can be found here.