October 07, 2005
Arab Media - Arab Sats: Father of Aardvarks (edited)
I would be remiss not to draw attention (although I suspect most 'Aqoul readers are already aware) to Abu Aardvark's article Watching al-Jazeerah.
In that context let me add a few observations:
First, for me the most important paragraph is this one:
Al-Jazeera ushered in a new kind of open, contentious politics that delighted in shattering taboos. The names of its most popular talk shows suggest their distinctive combination of transgression and pluralism—More Than One Opinion, No Limits, The Opposite Direction, Open Dialogue. Al-Jazeera’s public defines itself in opposition to the status quo, against the glorification of kings and presidents and their sycophants. A program in the summer of 2003 asked viewers whether the current Arab regimes were worse than the old colonial regimes. Responding online, 76 percent of the respondents said yes. Nor does radical Islamism go unchallenged: When the station aired an exclusive video by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in June, it turned his monologue into a dialogue by inviting one of his leading Islamist critics and several liberals to respond point by point.
Absolutely, I recall ... well the moment al Jazeerah made an impression on me. I happened to watching when our fine Guide Muammar rang in to a talk show run by Mr. Comb Over and ranted on and on, until ... and this literally shocked everyone, Comb Over cut him off and hung up. (As an aside I rather had the impression that Jazeerah was already rapidly on the rise even in the Maghreb c. 98; the call I am thinking of was c. August 98 or so, maybe a few months earlier).
The dialogue and the criticisms - not the fact they air objectionable things are the key things to understand.
I also should note that I very much enjoyed this moderately unkind but necessary dig at Thomas Blither on Pointlessly Freidman, as well as the larger point in regards to the conversations:
According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “The U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein has triggered the first real ‘conversation’ about political reform in the Arab world in a long, long time. It’s still mostly in private, but more is now erupting in public.” Any regular viewer of al-Jazeera would find those remarks laughable. Long before George Bush took up the mantle of democratizing the Middle East, al-Jazeera routinely broadcast debates about political reform in the Arab world. In 1999 alone, the station aired talk show telecasts on “Arab Democracy between Two Generations,” “Democracy in the Arab World,” “Arab Participation in Israeli Elections,” “The Relationship between Rulers and the Ruled in Islam,” “The Misuse of States of Emergency in the Arab World,” “Human Rights in the Arab World,” and “Unleashing Freedom of Thought.” In 2002, only months before the invasion of Iraq, its programs included “Democracy and the Arab Reality,” “Reform and Referenda in the Arab World,” and (in a dig at the democratic trappings of Arab regimes) a mocking look at “99.99% Electoral Victories.”
The point here being is that there is in fact an Arab dialogue about many things, and further to that, despite certain rather fact impaired spin in this regard (usually from the group which feels its point of view is not dominant - sometimes that means both sides), the dialogue is a real change driver.
It is, of course, imperfect. But the phrase "do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good" or the newly popular phrase attributed to Lawrence of Arabia in re better the Arabs do their thing imperfectly than outsiders try to excute perfectly comes to mind.
Finally, as a guy who merely lives and works in the region and has a financial interest in seeing things blossom, let me whole heartedly endorse this paragraph's observations:
Al-Jazeera and its Arab television competitors are building a pluralist political culture in which all public issues are up for debate, and disagreement is not only permissible but expected. Its importance cannot be overstated, particularly since neither Islamist movements nor the existing autocratic Arab regimes—the two most powerful competing forces in the Arab world—offer a route to liberal reforms. And pro-American liberals in the region, however brave and eloquent, are, on their own, weak and marginal. Al-Jazeera offers them what American guns cannot: credibility, legitimacy, influence. When Ghassan bin Jadu, al-Jazeera’s Beirut bureau chief and host of Open Dialogue, sat down on-camera in December 2003 with the liberal Saad al-Din Ibrahim and the moderate Islamist Fahmy Huwaydi to discuss Ibrahim’s argument that Arab reformers should accept American support in their quest for significant political change, their conversation reached millions of Arab viewers.
If Western officials, and especially American ones, are smart they will end the pointless beating up on the Arab Sats and come to see them as tools to exploit.
With some degree of intelligence and attention to the right rhetoric for the Arab audience, they just might have an influence.
Of course I might win the lottery (well if played).
I meant to quote, in the context of the above, this advice which I very much agree with: Bou Aradvraak is spot on with this advice (which goes equally well for any Western power):
A better American response would be to actively engage with al-Jazeera. One of the hidden costs of al-Hurra is that it sucks up the time and energies of American guests, official or not, who might otherwise be reaching far wider audiences on al-Jazeera. The United States should maintain a stable of attractive, fluently Arabic-speaking representatives, stationed in Doha and other Arab capitals, whose chief responsibility would be to appear on any Arab satellite television station that would have them. Even if they didn’t win every debate, their presence would force their Arab sparring partners to take American arguments into account. It would keep Arabs honest, while at the same time demonstrating to Arab audiences that America took them seriously and was willing to debate them on an equal footing.
The key here is, even with people with somewhat less than fluency in Arabic, if they are at least functionally operational in Arabic and are allowed to get out and about, they can develop a sense of what kinds of arguments and discourse to develop; even if on camera they depended on translation.
Yes. But so is that waste of money al-Hurra.
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Abu Aardvark's post is spot on and there is not much more to add. I think the fact that Al Jazeera has fallen prey to conspiracy theories ranging from Israeli to Saddam funding came as a knee jerk reaction on the part of the Arabia and America. The former purely shell-shocked at the fact that an Arab figure of authority is being questioned or criticized live on TV and sincerely believing (from bitter experience) that nothing good and free can develop organically from the sands of Arabia, the latter, offended and confused at this apparently precocious and rough edged Arab brand of press that was not entirely sycophantic to the US and its agendae.
Lack of journalistic freedom in the Arab world and the general lack of desire to criticize America on the part of many Arab (particularly gulf) countries have combined to put Aljazeera, which to be fair is still in relative terms a fledgling, in an impossible situation.
As Abu observed, America should swallow its pride, engage with Al Jazeera and tap into this priceless god send of a medium. The Arabs should have more faith in themselves and know a good thing when they see it.
Posted by: Meph at October 8, 2005 06:22 AM
I'm confused ... are the embassy types prohibited from talking to actual Moroccans or Egyptians or what have you? Or just discouraged during working hours?
Posted by: praktike at October 9, 2005 08:53 AM
No. But lack of language skills added to managerial risk aversion and thus security tied limitations on ability to get out and about and the fact for ordinary (relatively speaking) people to get to the Embassies is nigh impossible....
A number of small things that on their own one would say should not be serious, collectively add up to a bubble environment.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 9, 2005 09:27 AM
Well, it just takes effort is all. I mean, I'm in something of a bubble here at AUC and that has little to do with security and much more to do with being around khawagas all the time.
Posted by: praktike at October 9, 2005 01:17 PM
You're a student. Quite a different thing than being an American diplo with reporting duties, etc. etc. etc. The AUC bubble is a rather differnt beast (although of course diplos have that as well).
Seems trivial, but as far as I can tell it is a major "extra cost" that only the most determined decided to surmount.
A lesson: do not count on "good" happening if it comes at a cost. People follow real incentives, not airy ones.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 9, 2005 05:21 PM
Popular political satire show in the UK reporting the fact that..
'David Frost has joined Al Qaeda, oh sorry AL Jazeera. "Hello, good morning and Allah Akbar".
A raucous laugh, cheaply elicited, ensued. What a pile of ingorant shite. In stitches anyone?
Posted by: Meph at October 10, 2005 07:43 AM
Which show is it?
Well, no suprise.
I could see, without the al-Qaeda angle and the whole boatload of wrongheaded assumptions, something funny out of Frost badly pronouncing esSlam 'aliekoum (actually in my head it sounds quite funny).
Well.... what can one say except the spin sticks.
Of course it is true the other way, I recall pointless debates with my old maid, an Iraqi woman rather reduced in station by her having to flee Iraq (although she was, as a Shia oddly pro-Sadaam - of course as a Turcoman....), with respect to whether CNBC Arabiyah was a Jewish plot.
While certainly not everyone's cup of tea, the concept of CNBC Arabiyah and its "all Saudi Stock Market All The Time" news being a Jewish plot always struck me as quite peculiar.
Posted by: lounsbury at October 10, 2005 07:57 AM
Actually I think Frost is doing the English-language station, along with that Josh Rushing dude from Control Room.
Posted by: praktike at October 10, 2005 08:32 AM
Yes I know.
However, the "obligatory" reference to an Arabo-Islamic identity and all that. (That word that starts with H, ends with r)
It brings to mind an Iraqi Kurd friend of mine who went to SOAS who does a brilliant rendition of a posh British convert (or sometimes MENA native 'gone London native' - drawing on his time with SOAS and the peculiar people who wash up there): "Allo, elahoo Ekbar chums."
Hmmm, it's hilarious when he does it. Perfect really.
Posted by: lounsbury at October 10, 2005 08:44 AM
No! Really? I thought he was off to AUC's Arabic Language Institue to be crash coursed into the lingo! Well that makes much more sense and the whole joke falls flat on its arse.(!)
L- Actually, I think David Frost's invisible pipe in the corner of the mouth pronunciation even in English is comical anyway (hence the choice to make him the butt of the mimic I'm assuming)
Of course it is true the other, and every other way but it doesn't make it any less exasperating. Jazeera is radically Islamic, CNBC Arabiyah a Jewish channel and Darfur is the new Auschwitz. The piercing eye of the world is looking so far for the other hidden angle it is disappearing up its own areshole.
*Bremner, Bird and Fortune
Posted by: Meph at October 10, 2005 08:46 AM
Arsehole* , was tempted to omit the correction as that is probably how Frost would pronounce it...Go on, say it and you'll see what I mean..
Posted by: Meph at October 10, 2005 11:42 AM