Friday, November 12, 2004

Year-old news that's news to me.

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So. Everyone in America needs to watch "Control Room."

I have always had a little fascination with Al-Jazeera, being that my dad lived in the Middle East for a while and I'm always interested in what other countries' media operations are saying. Yes, that definitely puts me on Ashcroft's list (soon to be passed down to Alberto Gonzales. Hi Al!) but I think it is important to understand what is going on over there and how it is being broadcast over the greater Arab world.

Here are the high points:

Most Arabs don't hate Americans. They hate Bush and they hate his administration. They hate the arrogance. Iraq is literally the oldest civilization on the planet. They have taken care of themselves for thousands of years. They had libraries when Europe was clawing its way out of the Dark Ages. They were offended by the Crusades then, and they are even more offended now. Some Arabs feel that their susceptibility to dictators is their own fault- that Arabs do not rise up as they should against their brutal leaders. But they nonetheless think that it is their own responsibility- the Arab responsibility- to overcome them, not the "white man's burden" to intervene.

Al-Jazeera employs women in high positions, and they don't wear veils.

Tarek Ayoub, an Al-Jazeera reporter, died from wounds inflicted by the U.S. military that also hit two other non-military targets where the media was staying in Baghdad. I don't see how the U.S. can simultaneously argue that this was accidental while touting their precision weaponry. But accidental or not, it wasn't very smart.

Toppling the Saddam statue was staged. One Iraqi Al-Jazeera exec said the men in the square didn't even have Iraqi accents, and all the men involved came in with the tanks. Did one of them just carry the Iraqi flag around, waiting for this moment? And why did no one come out of the surrounding buildings to join them? PR, my friends, it was all PR.

Some things that Arabs believe, if they are true or not, are very troubling. Some think that the looting was by order of the U.S. Military. Looting TV stores and even the Ba'athist headquarters makes sense. Looting a museum does not. An Al-Jazeera reporter believed that they were ordered to destroy evidence of Iraq's history in order to create a more malleable, forgetful Iraqi people. Whether or not this is true, it is scary that he, and undoubtedly others, think it is true. He believes America is seeking to erase Iraq's history in the name of democracy.

Al-Jazeera is not propaganda. Rumsfeld likes to say it is because it is easy to imagine that they are. It is easy for Americans to believe they are because Americans don't watch it. But we must remember that they are reporting from the Arab perspective- they show the cost of this war more explicitly than we do not to propagandize but because this war is on THEIR turf. Their people are dying. Their museums are being destroyed. They have a different perspective, but not a useless perspective. In fact, every day we ignore what Al-Jazeera has to say, we are missing an opportunity to understand just why we are struggling to win their hearts and minds.

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