December 15, 2009
Can't Haq It: Saudi-Israeli Collaboration To Stop Invader Bots
CAPTCHA, those squiggly letters on website and various user-i.d. portals you have to figure out and type in order to access something cybernetic and which ensures you are not a "bot" made out of silicon yourself, has been hacked. To the rescue now is a team so diverse, some have to kill each other if called into belligerent military service. But using 3-D animation and soon presenting in the land of anime, they may yet save us from the diminishing security of having to puzzle out a green angel-hair pasta version of "quetzlcoatl" and then type it in when we forget a password on gmail.
[R]esearchers at Tel Aviv University - part of an international team - have developed a "synthesis technique" to overcome the "bots" by generating images of animated 3-D objects that are detectable by humans but difficult for an automatic algorithm to recognize. The team . . . included colleagues at King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia, The University of Delhi in India and researchers in Taiwan.... Their findings are being presented this week ... in Yokohama, Japan
December 07, 2009
A quick reference to an interesting discussion The Algerian press & mass-market reach « Maghreb Politics Review
November 23, 2009
The Color of Monkey: Egyptians Draw A Bead On Haifa
Guardian (UK) angel Nesrine Malik tells of lyrics by an Egyptian writer, sung by sultry songstress Haifa Wehbe, that refer to a child pining for his "Nubian monkey". The term, supposedly referring to a toy, is apparently tied in with long-standing negative color-race attitudes among lighter-skinned Egyptians and other Arabs towards the swath of swarthy Nubians in Egypt's south, and blacks in general. Nubia's bias guardians have requested some sort of legal sanction against the song. The issue brings to rare local public airing the color biases of much of Middle Eastern society, or in Ms Malik's words, the "endemic culture of racial stereotyping in the region ". It apparently also extends to a standard of beauty that elevates a "light-skinned, catty-eyed and slim-nosed" Lebanese look, though the description of the Haifa Wehbe song as "a mindless children's tune sung by an equally vacant performer" does suggest that the term "catty" is not restricted solely to the field of ocular esthetics. (PS -- Just love those commenters below the article at the Guardian. Sheesh.)
August 01, 2009
In the annals of pointless: Chinese State TV Starts Arabic Channel
I am oddly curious about this:
Chinese State TV Starts Arabic Channel - NYTimes.com
The 24-hour channel, which began operating Saturday, will air in 22 Arabic-speaking countries and reach nearly 300 million people, China Central Television said in a statement. ...
The effort has a budget of 45 billion yuan, or $6.6 billion, according to a report last month by The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper.
The Arabic channel will carry news, feature stories, entertainment and education programs and will gradually expand its offerings, CCTV said. The network already broadcasts in English, French and Spanish as well as in Mandarin.
Hmmm, 99% chance this is an utter waste, but I am oddly curious about it. Might even motivate me to reprogram my Sat TV receptor.
May 27, 2009
Iran Blocks Facebook Before Election
Tyranny likes this.
Ahmadinejad sends Bad Karma to opposition.
April 24, 2009
Orientalist Art Boom: Will this get Aqoul design a cash bid?
From Saudi Aramcoworld comes this report of how middle easterners learned to stop worrying and finally loved the balm of Orientalist art:
In July 2008, Orientalism brought £21.4 million to Christie’s in London, “the highest total ever achieved for this category,” says Alexandra McMorrow, director of 19th-century European art for the prestigious auction house. This included world record prices for seven artists; “bidders from North Africa, the Middle East, India, Europe and America competed fiercely,” she adds. . . .These shifts are part of a larger, gradual, mostly sympathetic reevaluation that has been taking place over the past few decades of much 19th-century European art.
December 14, 2008
But. . . is it good for the shoes?
(Apologies to an old parochial expression.) President Bush encounters one meaning of leading a sole superpower when a journalist in Baghdad tosses his footwear at the US head of state. The arch terrorist reportedly shouted "This is the End". Jim Morrison is sadly incapable of comment.
November 01, 2008
(UPDATE) Starving for Detention: Pro-Saudi-Dissident Hunger Strike
A hunger strike in Saudi Arabia on behalf of Saudi dissidents in custody is set for November 6-7. It is apparently the first such hunger strike in Saudi Arabia, or at least the first publicly known one.
"To the government, we want to say that you can't put prisoners of conscience in jail without facing consequences," said Walid Abu-Alkhair, a writer and lawyer in Jiddah. "And to the activists, we want to say, you are not alone. We want to show that when you put human rights activists in jail, a new wave will come and take their place."Food for thought, or non-food as the case may be. (UPDATE: full information release/specifics further down below).
August 02, 2008
Arabic Translation Peeve, vol 200: Is this the Best the Army can do?
Check this out. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mr. 9/11, provided in Arabic answers to questions in the trial of bin-Laden's driver. Here is what our competent Arabic translators of our front-line fighting forces in the war on terror, as edited by our leading media, in a trial under a global microscope, provide as one answer of his:
“As the American Army (we) have drivers, cooks, crewmen and legal personal,” Mohammed wrote. . . "We also, are human beings ... we have interests in life. ...You can not understand terrorism and Al-Qaida from 9/11 operation.”Rant below.
July 26, 2008
Noor Too Frenzy
The Noor Turk Opera media frenzy spreads to the US. I haven't much to add beyond observing that Shahine was an early observer and the whole thing strikes me as probable product of a smart media campaign.
May 28, 2008
Keffiyeh & Donuts: Ad Cancelled Because of Scarf Threat
Can it get dumber than this? Probably, but you'd have to work at it. The disturbing part is not the initiation of an attack on an ad because of a scarf that looks like a keffiyeh, it's that the anything-but-small-time ad sponsor would roll over so quickly, with no counterreaction against them for doing so. (Bonus related question: What is it about nationalism and, in other contexts than this, feminism, that makes such issues out of headgear?)
April 23, 2008
Another Good Conspiracy Theory Down the Drain
Al Qaeda says an Israeli conspiracy didn't do 9/11. And, it adds, Iran started the Israel conspiracy rumor. Is that itself a conspiracy rumor?
March 07, 2008
Saudi Arapia? Hib-hob from the Land of the 2Moskz
Over at the Washington Post, Faiza Ambah tells the tale of a Saudi hip-hop crew who dream of stardom and self-expression. Unfortunately, their Saudi parents and kinfolk are not so enamoured of these kids now performing a real-life version -- allowing for musical genre differences -- of the movie Dirty Dancing (whose own star is, incidentally and sadly, fighting for his real life).
But even as they rap in praise of Islam and their mothers, and against the war in Iraq and terrorism, their biggest hurdle has been convincing family, friends and Saudi society that they are not simply trying to imitate a decadent Western lifestyle.
February 17, 2008
Kosovo flags & Arab Sats
A brief note, the coverage today of the Kosovo declaration / celebrations on Al Jazeerah and on Al Jazeerah was quite interesting: the actual Sat broadcasts focused quite a lot on the Kosovo-American flag pairing and US ... conditional support I suppose. Interesting imagery to be dominating the screen. The US could stand for this sort of positive imagery more often. One does not often get imagery on the Sats of hidjab wearing ladies leaning out of cars waving American flags wildly.
Whither Arab Sats? The 'Arab' (authoritarian dinos) broadcasting code
The Financial Times worthy article on Al Jazeerah's response to the Mubarek led censorship drive is worthy of some reflexion.
The key portion of the so-called media code is:
“The commitment to freedom of expression is a main cornerstone of Arab media activity, provided that the practice of this freedom should be informed by a sense of awareness and responsibility in order to protect the higher interests of Arab states and of the Arab nation,”
Of course the Arab states "higher interests" (never mind the polite outdated fiction of the 'Arab Nation') really means the interests of the dictators to provide turgid non-news. Now, taking Morocco as an example, with a relatively free-ish media under a media code that is perhaps nearly as potentially cretinous, it is true that application is as important as a law (above all in circumstances as obtain in MENA were law is more an expression of potential intent than binding law). But effects?
October 25, 2007
The Magic Kingdom
Last week, I decided it would be interesting to watch The Kingdom, an action movie that followed four FBI agents sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate a massive attack on an American housing compound. I went not because I expected it to be intellectually stimulating (it wasn't) or because I figured I'd learn useful things from the film (I didn't), but because I wanted to see how Hollywood portrayed Saudi Arabia. Save for the surfeit of British villains, Hollywood is a useful barometer of American perceptions of a particular part of the world; there is a reason so many bad guys were Russians during the Cold War.
October 11, 2007
Ayaan Hirsi Ali proves that even stupidity is dangerous
Today I was mulling over how the average person might view Ayaan Hirsi Ali based on the image she has cultivated for herself. A commenter on Brian Whitaker's blog captured this perception quite well:
Below is a segment from an colunm written a couple of days ago by Sam Harris & Salman Rushdie. It from the LA Times.
"Hirsi Ali was immediately forced into hiding and moved from safe house to safe house, sometimes more than once a day, for months. Eventually, her security concerns drove her from the Netherlands altogether. She returned to the U.S., and the Dutch government has been paying for her protection here -- that is, until it suddenly announced last week that it would no longer protect her outside the Netherlands, thereby advertising her vulnerability to the world.
Hirsi Ali may be the first refugee from Western Europe since the Holocaust. As such, she is a unique and indispensable witness to both the strength and weakness of the West: to the splendor of open society and to the boundless energy of its antagonists. She knows the challenges we face in our struggle to contain the misogyny and religious fanaticism of the Muslim world, and she lives with the consequences of our failure each day. There is no one in a better position to remind us that tolerance of intolerance is cowardice."
Try telling Ayaan Hirsi Ali that Islam Is not fascism.
There are two problems here. One is that (ill-informed) people apply the actions of a few murderous whackjobs to an entire religion. The second is that Ayaan Hirsi Ali actively encourages this misconception by making grossly uneducated assertions about Islamic tenets/beliefs, which are then lapped up by people who don't know any better.
October 04, 2007
USS Liberty sort-of followup: Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune does a service by giving the USS Liberty-attack veterans a full say. As I discussed many weeks back, the case deserves full fresh investigation. At the time, I shared my own developing conviction that it was more likely than not a case of culpable mistaken identity rather than a willful attack on an American ship (at least when it was ordered). The article erodes that conviction somewhat -- I'll downgrade mistaken identity from "buy" to "hold" -- but essentially the attack-with-foreknowledge argument often goes back to the same flaw: the belief that merely by defeating the "innocent mistake" claims by Israel and Fans, the only other conclusion is Israeli foreknowledge of the ship's American-ness before the attack began.
September 26, 2007
Abu Aardvark on The Surge & The Sunni Leadership
A personal favorite political magazine's blog presents a personal favorite political institute's video of an Aqoul favorite blogger Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, speaking at a conference at the CATO Institute on THE SURGE. The professorial Father of Aardvarks opines about the recent Iraq Sunni insurgent-US military cooperation, but bases his insights on Arabic language media and internet communications of Sunni community leaders. The conclusions he arrives at are basically that the Sunni leaders are stating to their very anti-US constituency that cooperation with the USA is merely tactical and the result of insurgent victories which forced the US to assist them in certain common aims of fighting al-Qaeda and fighting some Shiite militias. They view the government and al-Sadr as "Iranian" and they eventually want the entire US occupation out. In addition, the conditions are such that further sectarian fragmentation is underway and no matter how long the US stays, it appears the conditions will remain ripe for sectarian war. Informed readers, have at it.
September 13, 2007
Iran War On the Way: More Evidence
It appears that I may have been right to call attention to those saying a war on Iran is being rolled out by the Administration. An informed and expert source in DC affirmed it to me as well a few days back. And it looks like the usual suspect sources are now marketing it. (Love the part where we can mysteriously tell that the Germans really want us to attack even as they back away from sanctions against Iran. Saying "no" when they really mean "yes", those Teutonic teases!) Michael Ledeen appears to be the one whose job is to incite the converted; he who says that al-Qaeda and Iran are interchangeable terms and at one point called Dubai, an "Iranian colony". Man, all them dang camel jockeys are the same and interchangeable, and that thinking is how one manufactures a war. Anyway, Aqoulites and Aqoulite wannabes with Iran-specific knowledge are needed to weigh in, now and in the future.
September 07, 2007
Bin-Laden Versus Bin-Laden, same day
Osama bin-Laden on Sept. 7 2007* -- "19 young men were able, by the grace of [God], the Most High, to change the direction of [America's] compass."
Osama bin-Laden on, um, Sept 7, 2007 -- "burning living beings is forbidden by our religion, even if they be small like the ant, so what of men?"
In addition to terrorist, criminal, fanatic, and other filth-and-foul words, we can now add "what a fatuous dick".
F**kin' Alif, Dude! Arabic School Opens in Brooklyn
The Khalil Gibran International Academy school has opened in New York, part of the public education system. Being a wacko libertarian, I have my reservations even about public schooling as a general concept, but allowing it to be a virtue and necessity, still what advantage is it to have a specialized school devoted to Arabic culture and language for kids in Brooklyn USA? Folks, there does exist a private education option for establishing such things, if felt needed. This has a Euro feel of separateness to it, combined with the related US cult of the Great God Diversity. But I thought we yanks had passed on the "separate but equal" thing in public schools. Naturally, of course, the Daniel Pipes squadrons of haters-of-all-things-even-appearing-Muslimish-and-socially-acceptable made an unbelievably laughably weird xenophobic stink over it (Pipes: "learning Arabic in-and-of-itself promotes an Islamic outlook"). They even got the first chosen principal fired for correctly explaining that intifada in Arabic means a shaking-off, thereby apparently establishing that a school that teaches the Arabic language should most definitely not teach it accurately.
September 02, 2007
Tehran: A Sore US Wrecks? Iran War Looming?
The informed blogosphere and newsosphere are abuzz with rumors* that a US war, or a sustained attack (i.e.war), on Iran is being put out for aggressive marketing by Administration innards this week. Events will prove this true or false. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of such a thing, if it is being planned, I do wonder if the questions and considerations below have been addressed.
August 25, 2007
Syria's Consideration: A Realistic Travelogue in A Surprising Place
I must say something nice about the Washington Times, which normally has MENA-related fare along the lines of FoxNews and this type of swill. I saw this story a short time back of a travel-writer's visit to Syria in the dead-wood version, but not online. Now I see it is online. Amazingly, the writer actually seems to have taken note of the place and reported it and experienced what normal travelers there would notice, although one might find it too saccharine for its non-comments on the ubiquitous Leader & Family photos, or the pervasive poverty. Still, entitled sincerely and without guile The Kindness of Syrians, it is well done and refreshingly rooted in relevant reality; excerpts for you link-avoiders below the break. (Elsewhere on deeper questions of wealth and poverty, AbuFares has this to say; more on that at another time. Now back to the W. Times.)
July 16, 2007
"There are no Enrons here"
So a new issue of MEB Journal is on line, and this month's cover story is an overview of the Arabic-language business channels. A pretty fair overview, with a couple bits of news (evidently, there's a new station specializing in Islamic finance about to open), and this one remarkable statement from a CNBC Arabia spokesman, talking about whether business news in the region is hurt by companies' lack of transparency:
“We do not face obstacles in providing coverage,” says Ghani, adding that public figures are actually quite keen to talk with CNBC. “I think it’s a misperception here that companies are not transparent. Business is very much straightforward in the Middle East. There are no Enrons here,” he muses.
The mind, she boggles.
June 18, 2007
Ayaan Anti-Hirsute Ali: Son of Deuteronomy of Gath
Monty Python's Life of Brian meets real life as this woman gets to speak in public as if she knows what she is talking about. Saracen-slayer Ayaan Hirsi Ali was speaking at the National Press Club and I accidentally heard it on the radio. At first I didn't know who it was until a stream of simple-minded inanities about Islam versus the West narrowed it down fast. No transcript available, only memory, but I had to belly-laugh and nearly spew as she explained Islam's rigidly came from the fact that it takes its Scriptures as literal and divinely authored unlike, um, Christianity. In the Christian Scriptures, she explained, the books are not fixed as being written by God, but are said to be written "by people . . . like Paul . . . and Deuteronomy." (That's exactly what I heard, folks.) What an expert guide for us on religion and progress! O, why did I have to be a Monty Python fan?
June 05, 2007
USS Liberty: Error? Probably. Reinvestigate? Certainly.
Among the Mideast Six-Day War's 40th anniversary issues will be the June 8, 1967 attack by Israeli military forces on the USS Liberty, an American naval intelligence ship. In international waters near Egypt's Sinai peninsula, the vessel was torpedoed by Israeli Navy vessels, following repeated strafings/napalmings by Israeli Air Force planes. A special remembrance was held at the Navy Memorial (7th and Penn) in DC on June 8. Despite my own newer conclusion that the incident was indeed a result of Israeli errors, rather than an assault with foreknowledge of the ship's American nationality, I do think the incident should receive long overdue U.S. public investigation and hearings .
May 15, 2007
MEMRI Again: Subtle distortions, lies, and videotape
Although I haven't the time for a long discussion, I think it worthy of discussion here Brian Whitaker's item on MEMRI's distortion on the Palestinian TV item.
Well, it's an agitprop operation. Works well, sadly.
May 13, 2007
Middle East conflict analysis
It doesn't get much more insightful than this:
MIDDLE EAST—With the Iraq war in its fifth year, the war in Afghanistan in its sixth, and conflict between Israel and the rest of the region continuing unabated for more than half a century, intelligence sources are warning that a new wave of violence in the Middle East may soon blah blah blah, etc. etc., you know the rest.
Also, Ahmadinejad, Iran's nuclear program, bin Laden at large, Moqtada al-Sadr, Moqtada al-Sadr's militia, Fallujah, renegade mullahs, embedded and/or beheaded journalists, oil revenues, stockpiles of former Soviet armaments, freedom, racism, Halliburton, women's role in Islamic society, the Quran, withdrawing troops, economic disparities, Sikhs, Pakistanis, oil, rebuilding, stories of hope, the Saudi royal family, the Holy Land, insurgents, and the tragedy of Sept. 11th.
Living here, working in media, seeing the coverage day by day, this is actually what it's like. After a while one doesn't really hear what is going on any more, it's just one big blur. How are people who work close to these conflicts supposed to deal with media and reader fatigue? How can they continue to generate interest in and support for their causes when the "Middle East" has become something you kind of want to close the door on, even living here?
March 08, 2007
Public diplomacy and playing to your audience
Some of you might have seen this New York Times article at the end of January about a new reality show being broadcast in the Middle East:
“On the Road in America” looks, on first viewing, like the sort of television show that Al Jazeera and MTV might produce if they could be coaxed together in front of an editing terminal. A 12-part reality series, currently being broadcast throughout the Middle East, “On the Road” features a caravan of young, good-looking Arabs crisscrossing America on a mission to educate themselves and the people they encounter along the way.
There was also an interview on NPR with a Palestinian-Lebanese participant and the Israeli cameraman who had been on the crew accompanying the trip.
It sounds like the show could be reasonable TV, and even (maybe) a tiny step forward in understanding on all sides. There's an element of "ZOMG A REALITY SHOW FOR ARABS!" in the coverage which irritated me (it's not like there aren't fifty million reality shows already on the air), but was willing to discount as an artefact of writing for an American audience.
February 10, 2007
Independent Jewish Voices
As many have heard and read, on 5 February a number of UK newspapers carried a declaration by a newly founded Jewish group that seeks to challenge the current Jewish establishment in Great Britain.
January 16, 2007
Wikileaks.org leak: Site for the Whistleblower?
A new project, wikileaks.org is out of the bag, ahead of schedule. News leaked of the new site's proposal to unite international cybernerd expertise with political dissidence to create a place where persons can safely post leaked government documents with minimal fear of direct detection. The technical feasability and security value I know not, but here is where they provide basic info, with link to a sample of a leaked document allegedly from the Somali Islamic Courts movement. For MENA-watchers, or more probably US-MENA watchers, it may be a site to keenly watch.
January 09, 2007
Little Mosque, Big Hype
It's common knowledge that all sorts of goods and services sell better if they are marketed using a terrorism/clash of civilizations angle. Every time I visit the bookstore, I see new and republished titles with prefaces and back covers that unsubtly use this type of framing to draw attention to otherwise dry material. In light of this cultural obsession with terrorism and Islam, it's hardly suprising that a new Canadian sitcom about small-town prairie Muslims has attracted an absurd amount of international attention. Local media, apart from regurgitating the usual cuddly sentiments (this show could only happen in fuzzy wuzzy multicultural Canada, US networks are too gutless and xenophobic!), have focused on CBC's publicity blitz for Little Mosque on the Prairie in the face of sagging ratings and the predictable dominance of American television programming in Canada.
January 05, 2007
Saddam Execution & Recent Events: A Moroccan Perspective
The casual reader of Tel Quel, a trendy francophone Moroccan weekly, or, to a lesser extent, of Le Journal hebdomadaire, might be forgiven for thinking that the average Moroccan is more interested in the depenalisation of cannabis, the right to convert to Southern Baptism or whether algebra will be taught in Tamazight than in events in the Middle East. One Tel Quel journalist wrote "Je n’aime pas le Hezbollah" ("I don't like Hezbollah"), thus showing how disconnected this magazine is from the broad strands of Moroccan public opinion - fiercely pro-Palestinian, pro-Hezbollah and anti-US.
December 22, 2006
Al Jazeera English on The Daily Show
By now many have seen the Daily Show clip about Al Jazeera English from 13 December, where Samantha Bee visits the Washington DC office of AJE and, finding it utterly boring and just not the right format to captivate Americans, proceeds to "jazz it up a bit".
December 20, 2006
Stupid statement from Robert Fisk
From an interview with Robert Fisk in the UAE's Gulf News:
Has the proliferation of the alternative media – particularly online – helped present truer pictures?
Blogs are not a useful alternative press. I don't use the internet much, as I don't have time and there's no system of accountability. I know many journalists and writers now read everything online and then use it to write pieces, but that's just mirror journalism.
Well Robert, if you "don't use the internet much", how in God's name are you placed to comment on whether blogs are a useful alternative press or not? Given the immense censorship in certain countries, it is only via the internet - and these days, usually in the form of blogging - that citizen journalists and actual journalists are able to get stories out. Making a broad and dismissive statement from a platform of self-confessed ignorance is hardly the behaviour of someone worth heeding, is it?
November 24, 2006
Labor Rights in the UAE: An Update
In the UAE, a new agreement means middlemen are to be cut out of the labor supply chain bringing workers to the country from four countries that serve as major sources of manpower.
If the agreement works, it will go a long way towards bridging the gap between what workers expect when they leave their home countries, and what they actually receive. However, this is a big 'if,' especially given the the number of regulations regarding workers that already exist but remain unenforced. Nevertheless, the agreement would serve the interests of both workers themselves and the companies that hire them. Workers are often cheated by unscrupulous agents into illegally paying large sums of money to secure jobs, and these funds are often secured by pawning the family jewelry or through loansharks charging exorbitant interest rates. When the workers in question find out how much they will actually be paid, they are not happy. All too often, low morale- also caused by poor working conditions- has led to work disruptions, as workers have put down their tools in protest.
November 15, 2006
Al-Jazeera International: Setting the News Agenda?
Fortunate enough to have a stinking cold and be bunged up in front of the TV all day I managed to catch the inaugural day of Al-Jazeera International. Concurrent on Al-Jazeera's Arabic network there was back-patting self-congratulatory coverage and on the English sister network presenters like Riz Khan used their first shows to to take the opportunity to explain what the shows were going to be about, what the remit was, what they hoped to achieve etc.
November 14, 2006
Rack Your Brains
In a democracy, the media often twists a reasonable statement into a ridiculous soundbite which gets propagated widely, and causes unnecessary defensiveness on the part of the speaker. A far bigger problem, however, is that not enough people challenge the ridiculous claims of speakers in authoritarian countries (or indeed by speakers in the so-called free world about faraway places that their populations know little about).
November 11, 2006
Arab Media: Al Jazeera Newspaper
Likely lost in the American elections noise and the Israeli Gaza invasion, an interesting item reported in the FT among other sources on Al Jazeera planning a competitor to the hoary old pan-Arab dailies, Al Hayat (my personal favourite), Asharq Al Awsat (All Saudi views, all the time...) and of course Al Quds Al Arabi (old school Arab nationalism, I found them shrill and boring when I bothered to read it).
A worthy concept, but I am afraid the very physicalness of newspapers make them too easy to ban (by the way, I remain puzzled why Hayat hasn't been found in Maghreb for decades) or pressure.
October 26, 2006
Sheikh Hilali, Imported Imams and the Cultural Divide
Since I'm sick and daytime television is unbearable, thought I might write a bit about the emerging controversy around Sheikh Hilali, an Australian imam who recently made some rather provocative observations about women during a speech on marital relations and adultery.
Currently, the primary media hook seems to be that Hilali compared unveiled women to meat that gets snatched up by cats because it is left outside, uncovered. This is clearly drawn from the one-page English transcript noted above, which contains little substance save for the frankly bizarre and crude remarks about cats, meat and fridges (and some gratuitous mudslinging at People of the Book).
October 22, 2006
Spinning in different languages or proper adjusting of message to audience?
Following up on some small debates on MEMRI mendacity and accusations of doubletalk between English and Arabic on the part of Arabophone intellectuals, I found the following article from Reuters interesting, amusing and also thought-provoking: Diplomat acknowledges U.S. "arrogance" in Iraq.
The essence of the story, the head of US public diplomacy Near East bureau, Alberto Fernandez, apparently (I have been too busy to watch TV myself) acknowledged the US has bollixed up Iraq due to arrogance and stupidity. The US government has forthwith claimed (re the English) it is a misquote.
A moment to reflect on the problems of structuring messages and communicating between languages, based on the longer text of the same Reuters story from the NY Times Reuters feed.
[Update: Unsurprisingly this is showing signs of setting off, what was it called in comments, a stupid storm: I point to Bou Aardvark's note on the issue. I wonder if the stupid storm on the part of pornstarlet wannabes like Malkin will actually deprive the US of one its few capable interlocutors on the Arab Sats, in some cretinous recreation of Soviet style purges for not following party lines]
October 17, 2006
Iraq the Mortal: Lancet reports 800 gazillion slain
I'll probably update or followup as time permits (have updated now after the break), but we should note the recent study issued by The Lancet, which alleges some absurd figure for Iraqi deaths from coalition and other violence post-US invasion -- a followup to their earlier study (see below for link to abstract), which at least had a broad enough confidence interval to fig leaf the foolishness. When I begged my government in 2002-3 not to enter this stupid war and occupation with all the cruelty and foolishness it would entail, I neglected to leave out the fact that it would perpetuate mass gulllibility among those who think "Bush & Co." is Hitler, and that any accusation should stick. And those, like the media, who think peer-reviewed medical literature is face-value gospel. Thankfully, a responsible and serious set of critics of the invasion/occupation/budding civil war, the Iraq Body Count, who actually ask critical questions and document the same matters in real time, has issued a serious commentary listing enough red flags about the Lancet study to decorate a communist banquet.
Debating the merits of MEMRI, chez Clive Davis
There has been a flurry of email in the wake of Clive Davis's thoughts on MEMRI spin. Clive has posted updates to add reader opinions, but I'm collecting the correspondence here to engage our own peanut gallery (and perhaps lure Clive's readers over here for a wee discussion).
First, a brief summary of events: After Clive's initial post, some emails were exchanged between Meph and a couple of uninformed wankers, which he dutifully recorded in a follow up entry, More on MEMRI. A few more emails have since been sent from our side, including a signature Lounsbury response.
October 14, 2006
Muhajabah and Heretic ponder the Offenderati
Last week, a devout Muslim friend and I had another productive talk about the state of Muslim-West relations over lunch. Actually, it wasn't lunch per se, more a stroll through the local bookstore as she was fasting and I was not.
I really don't know why she likes me. Perhaps she is trying to draw me back into the fold as it were, but I enjoy her company and find her observations astute and refreshing (as an aside, I am always amused when women view me as a "project", someone who needs to become more social, outgoing, faithful, less eccentric, etc).
In any case, the Muhajabah, while strolling through my favorite corner of the bookstore (World History/International Political Science, obviously), made an observation that recalled recent discussion of "Professional Offenderati" here on Aqoul:
"Do you think these wild-eyed types in Pakistan call their bosses to ask for the afternoon off because they need to throw things at the US embassy and burn the Pope in effigy?"
MEMRI Mendacity, brief thoughts
Following up on my Lounsbury comment about a fine illustration of MEMRI's mendacity with respect to its pretensions of providing a window on Arabic/Islamic discourse, as identified via this post at Dean's World, I thought I would blither on a bit about this and other nasty spin.
There is certainly an emerging and quite nasty strain of bigotted or at least xenophobic reactionary commentary in the West with respect to Islam generally - and let me insert here for the sub-literate that in noting this I am not intending to excuse the Islamic world of its own version of this nor deny there is a sad and often disgusting strain of violence-mongering as our own bint ash-shaitan illustrated in her note on Saudi mosque nonsense - and it strikes me that MEMRI is an agitprop operation that is specifically trying to feed that now.
October 11, 2006
Tash ma Tash: Serious Saudi Satire or Child's Play?
The Tash ma Tash controversy rages on and has been adequately reported in both Arabic and non-Arabic media as well as on the blog of our own Lounsbury. However, apart from the obvious religious knee-jerk reaction that has sadly come to be expected when the world is dealing with something apart from sombre doom and gloom of the Wahhabi institution, there have been some interesting and disturbing reactions that reflect some entrenched attitudes towards free speech and criticism.
The attitude towards comedic parody laced with political observation differs widely. In Egypt for example, despite the long-standing heritage of presidential domination and totalitarianism, political satires, most prominently Mohammed Subhi's "Mama America", get away with a lot and resonate with the concerns of the Egyptian public. The Egyptian actor Adil Imam's "Al-Irhabi" (The Terrorist) in the 90's was one of the first indigenous Arabic works to tackle and put a human face on the phenomenon of homegrown terrorism and Syria's Duraid Lahham has a long history of political satire, the play "Ka'sak, ya Watan" ("Cheers, o homeland") being one of the most moving works deriding the weakness of the Arab states in confronting Israel, where hope in a bright Arab future is metaphorically killed off in the death of Dureid's new-born baby Ahlam (= dreams).
October 06, 2006
Petulance: MENA, American Magicalism & Infantilism
I noted our old amigo Abu Aardvark has a comment on Israeli presence on al Jazeera (and an apparent continued American boycott) that is worthy of consideration, as usual.
I frankly am at a loss to understand how the present American Administration is proceeding in region, other than by pure infantile magicalism. Refusing to talk to "bad actors" and essentially adopting a politico-diplomatic strategy that amounts to "I am going to hold my breath until you change and like me" hardly seems to be an appropriate strategy of a great power. But then considering the cretinous demarches to date, perhaps not talking is best.
October 03, 2006
My Fieldtrip to the Right Blogosphere
Apart from daily scans of the Aggregator, I don't have a lot of time to spend reading blogs of any political/religious stripe. I'm not sure how often our contributors venture out into the wider blogosphere either, let alone cultivate relationships/flamewars with other blogs. My mental image of 'Aqoul somewhat resembles a secluded house on the outskirts of a chaotic city, a bit like Professor X's mansion (I'm sure this will lead to a bizarre side discussion on which X-Men are most like our authors/regulars, but let's try to stay focused).
In any case, I don't follow the daily mumblings of ignorant morons wanking on about dhimmitude and the infinite evils of Islam, nor do I routinely comment on blogs other than this one. Perhaps I'm a victim of the echo chamber effect, but I think it has more to do with wanting to spare myself the frustration of seeing the same Islamophobic glurge repeated over and over until it magically becomes fact.
October 01, 2006
TV in the Middle East: some notes
As some of you know, I've just started writing for Middle East Broadcasters' Journal, and consequently have spent the last couple weeks learning some of what there is to know about the broadcasting biz. I may come back to some of the stuff I've been working on once my actual paying employer has had a chance to publish it, but in the meantime, here's a sketch of the overall situation in the exciting world of TV. (Anyone wanting pretty charts and mostly-reliable statistics should check out this Booz-Allen-Hamilton report on the Middle Eastern TV market.)
Violence, Christians, Muslims - More Fallacious Framing
I caught an interesting article in the Washington Post on Somali shopkeepers and violence which I think is a decent point of illustration of the easy, fallacious framing that often occurs.
Now, in this instance, the article focuses on the xenophobic reaction of Xhosa to Somali shopkeepers, telling known by a name derived from Islamic and Somali vocabulary - baraka, which as many readers know is simply the Arabic for "blessing(s)," although not as the journo incorrectly puts it "God's blessings" as a phrase, merely understood, as in English low church usage that it's God that does blessing. Somalis are known as barakas. Now, the article, aside from some ethnic superficialities, is quite good. However, in reading it and reflecting on how such stories get framed I rather thought it typical of, in particular, Western journo reporting in Africa and elsewhere on violence where an ethno-religious cleavage exists.
[Crossposted from The Lounsbury]
September 20, 2006
Racism? What racism?
Allow me to bring your attention to a particularly poorly written piece of UAE agitprop. The UAE is quite heavily segregated socially - people of different national and ethnic origins tend not to mix together except for business. This has been exacerbated greatly by some rather flagrant racism.
I am not sure what legal sanctions exist regarding discrimination, but it is clear that if these exist, they aren't ever enforced. Housing ads can thus ask for Keralite Muslim bachelors, and job ads for Tagalog-speaking candidates only to apply for positions where these language skills are unnecessary, while nightclubs often turn away non-white people at the door on flimsy grounds. Pay scales differ wildly depending on one's skin color, as does how one is treated by all sorts of people one encounters, ranging from shopkeepers to immigration staff.
There has lately been some very slight movement towards recognizing this and doing something about it. Until now, that is.
September 05, 2006
American Media: It's not all fluff and stupidity
We here at 'Aqoul have spent no small amount of time bitching about the sad state of US media (news channels in particular). So it's heartening to note that even the most vapid, empty-headed celebrity rags have taken it upon themselves to educate issues-ignorant Americans on the nuances of Mideast politics.
As we can plainly see, it's not all stereotypical self-absorbed human interest slop for morons.
[Photo: Star Magazine - August 21, 2006]
June 27, 2006
Denouncing the 'Islamofascists': Ambivalence & Rhetoric
As any regular reader knows, I rather despise the idiotic term "Islamofascist" as both technically inaccurate (at least for Sunni Islamists) and aesthetically displeasing. A bad, clumsy and frankly dim attempt to dredge up the misty memories of WWII and the 'good fight' against the Nazis. I'd have preferred if its pimps (notably Sullivan, who is often dim in this area) had chosen say a Commie reference, which given Arab Socialist influences on Islamist thinking in areas like economics, would at least have had some relevance to reality.
However, I noted that the controversial Moroccan French language weekly, Tel Quel has in its recent edition adopted the same sort of discourse as illustrated in its cover "The New Fascists".
May 30, 2006
Media Savior Secularism: Ruthless Business Empires & Making Liberalism in the Arab World
It is not often I have the occasion to combine three of my negative obsessions: secularist posing, corruption and Egypt into one comment. But uniqely an FT article from 21 May by Roula Khalaf and William Wallis allows me to do just that, covering Orascom, the Egyptian telecoms & everything else giant's plans to launch a Sat TV news channel.
Orascom, whose...non-virginal business practices in region (including some fine accusations of bribery in the context of Iraqi and North African cell tenders) do not immediately lead me to think of its owner as a secular savior - rather as part of the business as usual sorts.
May 25, 2006
"Dhimmi": Crock Quran? (And I don't care)
(Apologies to Southern African-American folk music.) The apparently false allegations that Iran was preparing a law requiring Jews and Christians to wear identifying symbols has not only resulted in a newspaper retraction, but also has led some to revisit an overused word among much of the Islamophobic blogosphere and elsewhere: "dhimmi". The term, in history applied to Jews and Christians in certain Muslim periods, appears to be derived from some type of legal inferior status imputed to non-believers in the early stages of the Islamic conquests. Lately, however, it has sort of become a kind of warblog/Little Green Footballs type of Islamophobic cult-jargon (cf. moonbat) for one who is a perceived "Uncle Tom", i.e. a non-Muslim who suggests that Muslims may indeed act with ordinary human motives, or that their faith is flexible and not pervasively malevolent.
May 16, 2006
Maghrebine Media II
Now that we have had our little side trip on Somali-Dutch immigration politics (fulfilling all desire on my part to touch on the same, although at Reason.com one can pursue one’s desire to comment on the irrational reactions) , I thought I might return to something rather more profound, that being media in the Maghreb and the recent Moroccan steps to liberalisation.
May 04, 2006
Morocco, Journos and Media bis, a reply
This is a bit tardy, but Issandr Bey of the Arabist had a comment on my somewhat ill-tempered take on the Moroccan journal, Le Journal Hebdo libel case judgment as well as more generally on the media there and some related developments.
As a distraction from working on a market proposal which I haven’t got the proper information on regardless, I thought I might expand on my comment on The Arabist reply.
March 29, 2006
On MEMRI & Translations: Winds of Change, a Thread Reply
While we have an upcoming article on MEMRI itself, I was sucked into (well rather I wanted to avoid working on the Quarterly Reporting rot for the US overseers) a discussion of our Wafa Sultan transcript translation at the American Righty blog, Winds of Change. I frankly know fuck all about them so I rather think I annoyed the hell out of them, but no matter. I've decided to reproduce here my last comment, replying to an intriguing example of thinking that perhaps typifies the ideological MEMRI consumer. It certainly was queer. I also note that throughout the conversation I had to urge them to come over and ask questions of Meph et al re partciular points of usage in the translation, etc. Queerly no one seems to have followed up on that. Since I rather slacked on lending Meph a hand due to other obligations, I declined to play the translator.
March 23, 2006
Wafa Sultan: Bigger, Longer, Uncut - The Full Sultan Jazeera Transcript
Due to the tempest created by Wafa Sultan, 'Aqoul has decided to translate the Arabic transcript of the Al-Jazeera show on which Wafa Sultan for most intents and purposes made her debut. Hosted by Faisal al-Qasim, The Opposite Direction is held in debate format and usually deals with controversial issues touching upon taboo subjects like the Saudi royal family.
March 22, 2006
Al Bawaba's interesting reading
March 15, 2006
Fatwas and Wafa Sultan
Responding to a comment on my sarcastic 7-step guide to becoming a Muslim reformer, it occured to me that most Westerners have no idea what constitutes a fatwa, and that Wafa Sultan has used this misconception to her advantage in the New York Times.
First, the comment about my entry:
Crooning “Oh, oh, I’m under a death sentence, oh, oh, they’re coming to chop off my head, oooooh I’m so scaaaared” is lame snotty mockery when the target of your mockery actually is under a death sentence and people actually are getting killed.
I admit my comments were flippant and not intended to trivialize the problems faced by people who are intimidated and threatened by both secular and Islamist entities in the Middle East (such as the lovely and very brave journalist, Mona Eltahawy). Still, the ensuing debate has uncovered a number of popular and dangerous misconceptions, which will be cleared up here and there as I find them.
March 13, 2006
How to be a Muslim reformer
After reading an article on Wafa Sultan (the up-and-coming Muslim reformer) in the New York Times today, it occured to me that I should get on this reformer bandwagon before the market gets saturated. I'm articulate, telegenic, exotic (yet oh so fluffy and Westernized), not to mention female (oppressed by rigid Islamic paternalism, naturally). Too bad I've got so many other little schemes on the go and can't spare the time for this one. However, I've written a handy little guide for aspiring refuseniks, male or female, Muslim or non-Muslim. Hopefully it will inspire readers to lead the charge in enlightening the benighted Islamic world.
March 11, 2006
Danish Cartoon Protests: Roundup
March 10, 2006
Pop-Inshaad: The Rise of Islamic Singers
As contemplating Irshad Manji and the DPW caving have taken their toll upon my will to live I thought Aqoul would turn to issues of pop-culture. A recently emerging trend has received plenty of media attention since the rise of the Azerbaijani born British Islamic singer Sami Yousif. Islamic 'inshaad' or religious singing has become a massive market in the Gulf and the Middle East and it is not simply a matter of Wahabi defintions of what is religiously compliant catching on, although that is partly the case. Islamic singers have produced anything from totally instrument free multi-harmony based songs (spearheaded mainly by Ahmed Bukhatir, actually quite good if slightly melancholy in my view) to full orcherstra backed-albums such as those released by Yousif, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and a piano virtuouso.
March 08, 2006
Of pride and protest
The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research has this comment on the Danish cartoons controversy:
"The blame for the events cannot be placed on one party. Still one cannot negate the important fact that we are the party that needs to present ourselves in a better manner. We need to negate the tarnished image which many people project about Arabs and Muslims. Certainly, the Arab and Muslim behavior during this crisis will give credence to our false image of being a bigoted, narrow-minded people who have an inherent tendency towards violence and hatred for others. It is sad to note that the circle of enemies has expanded in the aftermath of the crisis. American and European media have started to support of the Danish newspaper that violated our religious sentiments, and this is an unwelcome development for our cause."
February 25, 2006
Customary Marriage and Paternity Testing Laws in Egypt
A recent landmark case regarding paternity testing in Egypt has brought the issue of customary marriage and the backwardness of Egyptian paternity legislation into the spotlight.
The reason the case caught the attention of so many is that it involved the young son of a famous Egyptian acting couple. Sumia al-Ulfi and Farouq el-Fishawi are now estranged but their son Ahmed upon reaching his early twenties was propelled into the limelight due to his parentage and good looks. The twist that made the case even more explosive is the fact that Ahmed, just as his acting career was taking off, rejected his Westernised background and career and instead embraced the principles of Islam, becoming the poster boy for the Amr Khaled (popular noveau trendy preacher) generation and the campaign to call Muslim youth back to their roots.
January 20, 2006
Media, Business & Problems
Our Dear Father of Aardvarks has an interesting posty on al Jazeerah's market position and some recent claims that al Arabiyah is beating it out that has interest from both commercial and socio-political points of view.
January 11, 2006
On Media, Influence and Means: Agitprop, Iraq,
Via our dear friend, Father of Aardvarks 'a comment on Gerecht on Iraqi payola', found 'Hearts and Minds' in Iraq: As History Shows, Ideas Matter More Than Who Pays to Promote Them leads me to make a comment on influence and media from a business standpoint.
January 06, 2006
George Galloway joins Big Brother
My disillusionment is complete. I welcomed his triumph over Oona King when elected MP for my constituency Bethnal Green and Bow on the premise that an anti-war twat was more favourable than a pro-war Labour arse licker. Now he has gone and made a laughing stock of the anti-war movement and the Respect party by craving the limelight and exposing himself to be the media whore and showman he is. George Galloway has joined Big Brother UK
January 02, 2006
Those Kazakhs Just Can't Take a Joke
At least not when it's told by Borat Sagdiyev, the alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (perhaps better known as Ali G). Perhaps it was less than sensitive for the sixth most famous person in Kazakhstan to use an Internet domain controlled by the Kazakh government to satirize the Kazakh government, but they in return showed an extraordinary lack of humor by shutting the site down completely. They even threatened to sue.
(Borat's fans need not fear; he is up and running elsewhere.)
December 23, 2005
Skeletons aren't the only things in closets here
The least bad local paper ran two stories alongside one another yesterday, each ostensibly about Elton John's marriage to (well, civil partnership with) David Furnish. What I found interesting was the way the first and second stories differed.
The first, which was longer and given the top of the page, exclusively quoted people who opposed gay marriages. The people who were quoted could reliably be expected to take a particular line- two were figures from local churches and two more were prominent UAE academics, (unfortunately but predictably) including one who wants to register the UAE's first independent human rights organization. That fact was notable by its absence from this article.
The second article was somewhere between neutral and pro-gay marriage. The only national quoted opposed gay marriage in his own backyard. The last names of people who are quoted do not appear in the article; neither do their places of work (contrast with other article). Also note the phrase "gives a stuff" in this 'family' newspaper. But what grabbed my attention was the first line:
For the rest of Dubai Elton John's wedding is a minor event. But for one shadowy and little-understood minority of Dubaians, it is a very special day.
The author simply cannot explicitly acknowledge that there actually are gay people here. Whenever anyone is caught for 'immoral activities,' the media always describes them as some sort of freaks whose acts are alien to all that the local culture stands for, but a tiny aberration in an otherwise moral country. I suspect it is going to be a fair while before that changes.
December 22, 2005
Egyptian Journalist Mona Eltahawy Questioned on Election Column
We've been teasing below but no jokes or banter this entry; this is serious.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy's just-issued International Herald Tribune op-ed has been published. It argues that "our recent parliamentary elections with their paltry 25 percent turnout would have been roundly condemned by international observers had they been allowed to come and see how the state hijacked democracy." She has been regularly reporting on the elections and the accompanying problems.
This has caused disturbing repercussions. A source reliably familiar with the post-publication situation confirms that expressing this opinion has resulted in Ms. Eltahawy being officially summoned to the Egyptian State Security for a brief meeting in which a message was conveyed that she was in trouble and being monitored. Persons, especially outside Egypt, interested in the situation may consider noting their concerns to the following organizations.
December 05, 2005
Arab journalists "weak and corrupt"
A bit of a clash of kanjas is taking place in the UAE after Dubai Holding chairman Mohammed Al Gergawi accused Arab journalists of being weak and corrupt:
Dubai: Arab journalists have expressed anger over a statement by Mohammad Al Gergawi, Executive Chairman of Dubai Holding, who accused media professionals of being corrupt and accepting bribes from various parties.
Al Gergawi called on the media to refrain from focusing on people who have been marginalised, as well as in concentrating on their issues and project the positive aspects of society.
So on one hand journalists are being paid off to write nice things about their governments, on the other hand they're not being positive enough and should crank up the spin?
Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al Faisal, Chairman of Al Watan Saudi newspaper said that it is not fair to hold all the Arab media responsible or accuse it of corruption.
Prince Bandar stressed the importance of supporting the media by Arab governments, to help it reach a better performance in form and content.
Al Gergawi overruled what Prince Bandar had said and commented that governments should not direct media. Journalists and media men rejected Al Gergawi's statement.
So now we have Gergawi fearlessly standing up for media independence, as long as it leads to the printing of nice things, and doesn't focus on the "marginalised".
November 30, 2005
Clearly it seems as though the Pentagon isn't confident about winning the war of ideas in open competition. After revelations on purported plans to bomb Al Jazeera, we now have the American military "secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by U.S. troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq." The Americans aren't short of financial resources or technology. So one must presume their handling of the situation on the ground is pretty miserable if they've come to the point where not only do their achievements not speak for themselves, but nobody is willing to listen when they do speak in their own name (see Al Hurra).
November 08, 2005
France, Riots and Online Commentary: Islamophobia Demasked
This will be a brief post, as unfortunately (or fortunately) I have mountains of work that must be addressed.
However, in the guise of a comment I thought I would, after reading Andrew Sullivan's ludicrously ignorant banging on about France and the riots as an Islamic intefada (and via Fist Full of Euros, Pipes' equally ludicrous assertion of the same, whanking bigotted fool that he is) as well as other comments, make an assertion.
The Anglophone commentary, essentially American on this subject I think is demasking a deep reservoir of fear and loathing directed at Muslims and Islam in general. Polite bigotry, if you will, dressed up in terms like "extremist Muslims" and Islamists versus "moderate Muslims" when the real meaning is "niggers/scum we fear and despise for their difference" versus "good niggers who know their place."
October 13, 2005
Radio Sawa - Morocco: The Legal Status Scandal (small addition)
Some news earlier this week reminded me of a small tiff that arose in the past few months between the Moroccan "Higher Broadcasting Authority" (known by its French acronym, HACA) and Radio Sawa and the US government by extension. Something for Aardvarks in general I should suppose.
The issue revolves (or revolved if the reports are right) around the status of HACA as the independent media regulator (this is relatively recent but nevertheless the case for a while now), and the requirement that broadcasters obtain regular licenses from HACA by August 2005.
As the sharp reader might have divined, Sawa did not.
In effect, the United States took the position that Sawa needed no license as it is in fact a governmental agency covered by a bilateral accord authorising the Voice of America.
October 11, 2005
Ramadan TV & Terror
Of interest to the media, terror and culture people here, a fine little story on a Ramadan soap that I have been following (or rather, am forced to follow unless I hole myself up in my office) on MBC: Syria launches terror-themed soap for Ramadan.
I caught this referenced online somewhere, but had actually been watching the series without knowing where it was going, although the last episode (10 September on MBC) gave the game away with the somewhat dime Khaliji character getting brainwashed by a ultra-Salafi takfiri type activist. That and the chica who is the implied wheel-chair bound narrator pulling or slipping back her hidjab to show nasty scarring.
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:
October 06, 2005
Our friend The Father of Aardvarks has an interesting little piece drawing attention to a new report on Arab radio from the Arab Advisors Group; a very solid media advisory group founded a few years back (I should disclose that I know one of the founders, and have done business with him).
Our fine Father of Aardvarks, or Bou Aradvraak as I like to call him, largely concetrates on the public policy angle, which is important, but I find the business angle as interesting.
September 28, 2005
Big Media Catches On: Images of Iraqi Carnage Exchanged For Porn
I really can't think of a more abhorrent combination for Arab sensibilities. Has it hit the sats yet?
September 22, 2005
Handbook for bloggers and "cyber-dissidents"
Reporters Without Borders has published a blogging handbook to help bloggers protect themselves from recrimination and censorship:
Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.
It can be bought from bookshops for Eu10, or accessed/downloaded for free online at this page. It is available in English, French, Chinese, Arabic and Persian.
The guide also contains interesting case studies from bloggers in Iran and Bahrain.
September 15, 2005
No place like home, literally
On visiting the Microsoft's Xbox360 website, something seemed to be missing... let's see... time for a little jigsaw work...
...ah yes - the entire MENA is wiped off the fucking map.
September 14, 2005
Newspapers of the UAE
With the United Arab Emirates about to get its sixth daily English language newspaper, here is a summary - with links for those interested - of UAE newspapers:
1. Gulf News
Among western expats, Gulf News (circulation 91,000), owned by Al Nisr Publishing, is generally the best-regarded of the broadsheets. Over the past couple of years it has dramatically improved its content, quality, design and online version (300,000 hits per day). But in recent months some patchiness has crept back, perhaps due to staff being poached by the new paper. Gulf News arguably faces the toughest competition from the new Dubai paper, as its audience profile and content at this stage seem likely to be the most similar to it. Interestingly, Gulf News used to be a tabloid when founded in 1978, but was relaunched as a broadsheet in 1985.
2. Khaleej Times
The Khaleej Times (circulation 72,000), owned by Galadari Printing & Publishing, claims the highest readership (450,000) in the UAE and enjoys strongest popularity among subcontinental expats, the majority population here. It has a few good journalists and is sometimes rated for its business pages, but its general level of writing and reporting is abysmal, not just in the level of grammar and accuracy, but also in basic journalism such as story content, story structure, tone and style.
September 13, 2005
Lebanese Media: Al Safir, September 13
Okay, one today, and maybe another tomorrow, then I'm out of communication for a while again.
Damascus Opens the Door to Mehlis and to Interviews with Witnesses Next Week
Lahoud in New York Refuses to Air Dirty Laundry ... Siniora Attends Conference on Aid to Lebanon
It just doesn't stop. It appears that Mehlis got an extension to his investigation (of the death of ex-Leb PM Hariri) past the drop-dead date of September 15, since he'll now be interviewing Syrian intel people next week. The paper quotes a Syrian source extensively on the discussions, saying that both sides were happy with the outcome, that there was no formal protocol about how the two sides would work together, but that there'd be a "gentleman's agreement".
The paper names a bunch of people, including the last two Syrian heads of intel inside Lebanon, Ghazi Kanan and Rustom Ghazaleh, and a bunch of other high-level Syrian security types (I'll put the rest of the names & ranks in the extended).
In the meantime, basically all of the leaders of Lebanon's new ruling party are now in Paris, where it seems like they've been for weeks and weeks now. And President Lahoud is still firing off irritated comments at everyone else in the entire Lebanese government, now from New York, where he's at the UN.
Palestinians of Gaza "Free" ... in Their Giant Israeli Prison
Rafah Crossing Closed Before Crowds of Palestinians ... and Israel Expresses its "Anxiety" to Egypt
Finally, after 38 years of occupation and oppression and massacres, Palestinians yesterday tasted freedom for the first time... even though it was incomplete.
The last Israeli soldier had not lifted his foot from the land of the Gaza strip before thousands celebrating "victory" arrived...
But the joy didnot ease the anxiety of the powers that be about the coming days, for many aspects of the withdrawal have not been completed, most important of them being the oversight of the border crossings, and the end of Israeli control of the air and water."
The bit about the "giant prison" is a direct quote from Mahmoud Abbas, from later in the article.
September 11, 2005
Well, Secret Dubai Gets High Profile Mention
Nothing like fame for our colleague and friend.
Dubai Opens Door Wide to News Media, but Journalists Note a Catch
The quote: "More controversially, content that verges on the political has also been blocked: Secret Dubai Diary, a quirky blog about Western expatriate life here, was blocked for weeks this summer, raising howls from the blogger community. Etisalat says users can appeal to have a block removed."
Very nice. Quirky, though, irritates.
September 06, 2005
Lebanese Media: Al Safir, September 6
Lahoud Forces Extra Session in Ba'abda to Settle "Crisis of the Prisoners"
Mehlis Briefs Annan and Security Council Today on His Investigation Before Going to Syria
Presidential Trip to New York on Monday, and Siniora's Enthusiasm for Cooperation Diminishes
God, I'm tempted to just knock off the Lebanese politics part of the paper, at least until the 15th. Anyway, latest in the ongoing government brouhaha: The council of Ministers, the highest branch of government, is having a very hard time meeting, on account of the President, who is to convene them, is practically on trial. They finally managed to have one working session (at which I guess a bunch of trivial administrative stuff such as RUNNING THE COUNTRY was accomplished), but were required to hold a second extraordinary one to answer the complaints lodged by the relatives of the four security chiefs currently under arrest for conspiracy to murder Rafiq Hariri that they were being held under inhumane conditions.
My heart bleeds.
Also, in an inset, they announce that half the cell phones in Lebanon are going to have their prefix number changed. 03 to 71. Just so y'all know.
Onward: the Lebanese political news is a bit short today, so we get THREE MORE articles on the front page:
September 05, 2005
Lebanese Media: Al Safir, September 5
Jumblatt Calls for Succession in the Presidential Portfolio: Lahoud will remain as long as he will [translation very very shaky]
Council of Ministers returns without redistributing portfolios [trans. very shaky], and three detainees are transferred to the military police
Basically a roundup of the current state of the Mehlis investigation into Hariri's death - Mehlis is in New York meeting with Annan, and various different accusations are being laid against him by different parties in Lebanon (see this asad abukhalil post for a (longwinded) example of the kind of skepticism). Also, on the political level, various people are meeting with other people - today it was (Druze leader and current majority-party honcho) Walid Jumblatt with Hizbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, who are apparently in a preliminary stage of coming to some sort of terms on replacing President Emile Lahoud, who will be in a very tricky situation indeed if four of his closest aides are on trial for murdering Hariri.
Also, three of the four suspects have been transferred from the jurisdiction of the civil to that of the military police. Why this is newsworthy, I don't know, but it's in the headline.
Editorial (by Talal Sulman): The Bitter Fruit of a Year after the Extension
The extension of Emile Lahoud's presidency, of course: "The truth is not born from error, and mistaken political decisions can lead to national disasters..."
He argues that the extension of Lahoud's term has led to a disaster for both Lebanon and Syria: for Lebanon, it has made the country a de facto international protectorate, while for Syria "the tab is still running, but it will be large."
September 03, 2005
September 02, 2005
Lebanese Media: Al Safir, September 2
This one is going to be a bit thin. Been distracted by the lost city of New Orleans.
[International investigator] Mehlis Accuses "Security Cabal" of Cooperation in Planning [Hariri's assassination] and [Lebanese judge] Mirza indicts them
- The international investigator renews his calls for Damascus to help in securing the testimony of "Lebanese officers".
- Political responses: Lahoud intends to remain president, Seniora responds by praising the integrity of the international investigation
- Sa'ad Hariri cautions against pressuring the judiciary
- New arrests made by the internal security forces.
To sum up the story so far, the UN team appointed to investigate the murder of Rafiq Hariri a few days ago arrested four of the heads of Lebanon's security apparatus at the time of the murder, including one still holding his previous post. Yesterday, Detlev Mehlis, head of the commission, announced at a press conference that, yes, these four men are suspected of playing a part in the conspiracy to murder Hariri. (A fifth man, an ex-MP, was picked up with the other four, questioned, and then released.) The senior Lebanese magistrate connected with the case almost immediately announced their indictments on charges of conspiracy, etc. Mehlis also said at his press conf that he did NOT consider Lebanese president Emile Lahoud to be a suspect, nor did he have any Syrian suspects in mind - he wants to interview potential witnesses, not accuse anyone, when he asks the Syrian state for better cooperation. He also said that he had not heard testimony from anyone other than Lebanese and Syrians, and certainly not from any Israelis.
The conf triggered a cascade of political statements, including three from President Lahoud, in one of which he announced is intention to "continue to fulfil his duties to defend the constitution an laws and independence of Lebanon". Both PM Fuad Siniora and majority-party leader Sa'ad Hariri called for everyone to respect the independence of the Lebanese judiciary and of the UN inquiry and to not seek to influence or pressure it in any way. Hint, hint, we're looking at you, Mr. L.
September 01, 2005
Lebanese Media: As-Safir, September 1
From Lebanon's as-Safir newspaper:
Above the fold:
Will Mehlis Announce Today Why He Suspects the Security Cabal?
(Lahoud counterattacks: [Mehlis is trying to] "rescue" his trip to New York; Berri expedites security appointments; Sa'ad Hariri supports an international tribunal; Lebanon and Syria subject of discussions among America, Britain and France)
A not-much-there-there article, pretty much all in the headlines. First paragraph is expended complaining about how a much-anticipated press conf given by the head of the investigating committee was preempted in favor of a short press release written in English. There's a bunch of pointless speculation, followed by the news that the four security officials remain under guard in the Monte Verde hotel (where the investigating team is based), while ex-minister Qandil was let go after being interrogated yesterday evening.
August 31, 2005
Lebanese Media: As-Safir, Intro and August 31
I was planning, upon completing my Arabic course and resuming my new career as a gentleman of leisure, on doing a daily translation of the front page of one of the big Lebanese newspapers, preferably one that doesn't have an English edition already on line. Sadly, having attempted that the other day, I now understand why all the big-name middle east bloggers tend to translate little bits and pieces of news reports: because doing full translations is bloody exhausting.
So I'll be trying to do a daily headlines-and-summary report of the front page of As-Safir, a leftist-Arabist newspaper ("The newspaper of Lebanon in the Arab World and of the Arab World in Lebanon") which has the virtue of (1) being cheaper than most of the other papers and (2) not already having an English edition on line, so that this little exercise might add a little value for someone, somewhere.
August 30, 2005
Veiling the lady
Visit for many more examples.
Public Service Announcement No. 1: aljazeera.com still not al Jazeerah.
A small note, one which I like to make whenever I run across someone in the English language world (online) citing to aljazeera.com as "al Jazeera(h)" clearly thinking it is the famous Arab TV Sat station. aljazeera.com is still not al-Jazeerah, which you can find online at aljazeera.net.
I will continue with this small public announcement until, at some point in a likely far distant future, the error is expunged. Or I get blown up. One or the other.
August 21, 2005
Snap-unhappy in Manama
Bahrainis are less than snap-happy after an international photography exhibition was forced to withdraw some of its images, after earlier attempts at moderate censorship failed:
They had originally censored some pictures featured in the World Press Photo exhibition with black tape, but had to take four down because people kept removing it.
The photographs taken down were of a naked tribal man, a semi-naked drug addict, a topless model during Paris Fashion Week and naked portraits of South African women who have been the victims of domestic violence.
Manama Municipal Council chairman Murthada Bader clears up any confusion about what is and what isn't acceptable in the Island Kingdom:
"The exhibition shows the world the truth about death, murder, famine, poverty and happy times, but nudity is not an issue we will accept here in our country."
July 21, 2005
Secret Dubai Diary Blocked by the UAE
One of 'Aqoul's contributors, secretdubai, now has firsthand experience with UAE's strict internet censorship practices. Her blog, Secret Dubai Diary, was apparently blocked by UAE's Etisalat internet provider after she published a (rather funny) poem based on Gilbert & Sullivan.
The resulting furor has been picked up by local news:
Secret Dubai Diary, a weblog that examines UAE life from an occasionally ironic perspective, was blocked for visitors using Etisalat servers on Sunday.
"I have never heard or read of a Dubai blog being blocked before," says Adnan Arif, an award-winning UAE-based blogger. "Out of all the UAE-based blogs it is the most interesting. It is probably the first blog to hit on a formula that works for local readers."
July 14, 2005
Islam & Terror - Profounder Reflections
As noted, I remain submerged in corporate flackery and spin, but I wanted to bring several items to everyone's attention.
First, the esteemed Abu Aardvark has two important posts up:
July 06, 2005
Media, Reform, US Gov and Business
On US Gov and Media Reform, an email
I reproduce here an email from a friend of mine in private equity and media in the Middle East, located out there. And an Arab too, not some whinging expat (ahem).
It is lightly edited to scrub certain references and the like, but I share it for its interest. I note that some US Gov types wanted to meet with media actors, including from the business side. I made the introduction. Here is my amigo's note afterward.
July 04, 2005
Economic Growth, Media Modernisation and Competition in MENA
Given my abiding concern for seeing economic growth occur in this fine region – that is the MENA region – I thought I might return to some thoughts I have had following on prior comments on the business environment and the like.
First, a brief comment (or perhaps a rambling and extended comment) on mentalities, provoked by a conversation with one of the women who render my life complex (if interestingly corrupt and immoral) in regards to a local television effort to create a “star system” to promote local talent.
Rather like the Lebanese “Star Academy” it is an interesting way to bring up new talent and provide a public exposition of popular trends. As an added advantage, the local chicas who compete are quite hot with a distinct tendency to wear the latest inappropriate Leb Slut fashions, which is very hard to argue against.
July 02, 2005
The Struggle of Moderate Islam
Moderation good for Muslims
"ISLAM recognises no theocracy, and no overlordship of any religious leader or party. Each believer prays directly to God without any intermediary. So in a way, the authority of our clergy rests on very shaky foundations." Irfan Hussain (KT, April 21) has hit the nail on the head.
I really appreciate you for publishing this wonderful opinion. Some clerics go rampant not only in Pakistan, but also in Bangladesh and many other developing Muslim nations. Muslim parents in these countries send their children to 'madrassas' to learn about Islam and its beauty.
But, unfortunately, the children learn an extreme form of Islam created by misinterpreting the teachings of Holy Quran and the 'hadith' in an aggressive way by these clerics. They merely take advantage of the poverty and illiteracy to inject the doctrine of violence and hatred in the veins of young pupils. They portray the image of non-Muslims somewhat like 'untouchables'.
The acquiring of knowledge is treated as a sin and moderation is seen as transgression. The beauty of Islam is completely destroyed. Thus, the religion of peace is transformed into a religion of terror. The teachings of these clerics suggest Muslims are born only to go for ‘jihad’ and dying irrationally will help them acquire salvation.
Jihad is allowed only when the enemies target us, and the killing of innocent people for the sin they never committed is not jihad, but an extreme sin. God created every human being and only God has the power to take the lives of His creatures. Islam teaches us to respect life, not destroy it. These clerics should not be encouraged. They transgress, invent, and destroy the true teachings of Islam.
The Muslim governments should keep these people in check in order to progress and make our mark in the world. The acquiring of knowledge should get top priority. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) always taught the believers to acquire knowledge and to spread knowledge. We should follow his holy teachings.
— Mohd. Salekun Noor, Fujairah
July 01, 2005
New arrivals to Dubai - the self-proclaimed media capital of the Middle East, with a dedicate media "free" zone - are often suprised at the stunning mediocrity of UAE newspapers. Here are some reasons why the Dubai press is so pathetic:
Newspaper journalists are paid tiny, "asian"-level salaries (salary levels depend on ethnicity here), often a good deal less than Dh3000 (US$750) per month. This ensures that the vast majority of hacks are from the Subcontinent, where a strange, archaic form of English called "Babu English", according to Melvyn Bragg, is spoken. Many if not all of these journalists are unqualified, untrained, and unexposed to quality western media.
The Head of Copy of one daily paper has a team of subeditors who rather than just sub copy, rewrite it from the ground up. Asked why the paper can't just hire decent journalists in the first place, he explains that one subeditor can manage the work of about six reporters, therefore it is cheaper to have a small team of talented subeditors, and endless useless smudgers.
Unfortunately papers often employ barely literate subeditors as well. This in turn drives decent journalists away. "I just couldn't take the fact that they would actually change my copy and put huge grammar and spelling errors into it, when my grasp of English - as a Brit - was far better than theirs," one ex-reporter complained.
An Account Manager at the Dubai office of a major international PR company once revealed that they deliberately send out press releases to the newspapers late in the day, around 5pm, in the fairly certain hope that these releases will be cut-and-paste verbatim into newspaper articles, by lazy and incompetent journalists running out of time.
This explains why anyone working in the media needn't bother to read the business sections of the newspapers, as the exact same stories will have already arrived by email earlier (often several days earlier) in the week.
Newspapers in Dubai are in oppressive thrall to the middlemen of various royals. As the Editor of another daily rag explained, every day hours are spent (wasted) trying to work out the exact placement of the various "sheikh-cutting-ribbon" pics on the front page, to ensure the most senior dishdash is highest and most prominently displayed, and so on.
Most senior UAE government ministers and even Dubai's ruler have repeatedly called for more transparency and a tougher press. But the lowlier dishdashes, civil servants and assorted retinue members feel it is their role to scrabble around and interfere, erroneously believing it will somehow curry favour with their patron to quash a story or bully someone into buttoning their lip.
As the abovementioned editor points out: "I can't ring up Sheikh Mohammed three times a day to ask him to call off his middlemen."