Monday, August 04, 2008

4-Aug-08: On Al-Jazeera and professorial mindsets

Two days ago, a newspaper called "The National", published in one of the Gulf states, carried a serious analytical piece critical of Al-Jazeera. In particular, it focused on the way Al-Jazeera covered the release of Samir Kuntar, the convicted terrorist murderer of a four year old Jewish child whose head he bashed to pieces. (We wrote about this sickening individual two weeks ago - see "22-Jul-08: The once and future child murderer".)

The critical article was penned by someone called Sultan Al-Qassemi, a man whose home is in the United Arab Emirates and who is chairman of Young Arab Leaders. The fact that we know about it is due to the excellent work of MEMRI , the Middle East Media Research Institute. It's an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East, and publishes some of what it finds. No one else comes close to the range and quality of the work they put out. Without them, we would be exposed to a mere fraction of the news and analysis that's published in the Arabic-speaking world. More power to MEMRI.

Sultan Al-Qassemi quotes a revealing statistic. A Jordanian poll says 98 percent of political science and media professors in the Arab world claim to watch at least three hours of Al-Jazeera daily, labeling it as the 'the most respected news agency.'

He says:
"What is frightening about that number isn't that 98 percent of Arab
political science professors admit to watching three hours of television a day,
but that they watch three hours of the same television each day. The problem
with watching Al-Jazeera in Arabic isn't just that the channel gives ample airtime to militants and terrorists to share their 'perspective,' but because its conspiracy theories and controversies give the station so much influence
on the easily swayed Arab mindset. "
He refers to Al-Jazeera's 'Code of Ethics' posted on its website. "The very first pledge by the Qatar-based channel" he says "includes 'giving no priority to political considerations over professional ones.'

An example of what nonsense this is can be seen from what how Al-Jazeera dealt with Kuntar's release from an Israeli prison:
"The station not only repeatedly interviewed 'the hero' but brazenly threw
Kuntar, live on international television, a surprise birthday party to celebrate
the occasion. The party, organized by Al-Jazeera came complete with fireworks, a
full band, and a giant birthday cake along with the picture of the Hizbullah
leader Hassan Nassrallah. "The channel's Beirut bureau chief, Ghassan
Bin Jiddou, sporting a pink tie for the occasion, repeatedly addressed the
terrorist as 'my brother' saying: 'You deserve even more than this.'
Reflecting on whether Qatar, Al-Jazeera's sponsor, comprehends the dangers that come from associating with events like a birthday party for a convicted child murderer, Sultan Al-Qassemi suggests that
"All Arabs should re-examine their understanding of what characterizes a hero;
take a look at your own child and imagine just how frightened the four-year-old
[murdered Jewish child] must have been... Although we may never know what
psychological pressures Kuntar endured during his incarceration in Israel's
prisons, we do know that he was allowed to marry and to graduate from Israel's
Open University with a degree in political science, rendering him an ideal
Al-Jazeera viewer... The privileged treatment that Kuntar received courtesy of
Al-Jazeera was the coup de grace to their claims of neutrality... Which
brings to mind a friend of mine's adaptation of the famous Joseph Goebbels'
dictum that characterized so much of Nazi Germany's propaganda: 'When you
want to get away with a lie,'
he said, 'you must repeat it many times
over and believe it to be the truth. Only then will others believe
.' "It certainly works for Al-Jazeera. Just ask 98 percent of Arab
political science professors."
Sultan Al-Qassemi's incisive comments are timely. Later this week, we mark the seventh anniversary of a terrorist massacre in a Jerusalem pizza restaurant that ended the beautiful life of our fifteen year-old daughter and her best friend and 13 other innocent people. What's the right way to honour their memories and violent deaths?

We don't expect the show-business giants of Al-Jazeera to understand this. Nor do we think that "98 percent of Arab political science professors" will comprehend the following: As they have done each year for the past seven years, the teen leadership of the EZRA youth organization here in Jerusalem's northern suburbs will hold a public charity bazaar on the afternoon of Monday 11th August. All proceeds - from the sale of arts and crafts, back-to-school equipment, music disks, fast food, a pet-the-animal corner and other similar attractions - will be given to charity, including to Keren Malki, the foundation we created in our daughter's memory. (Please point your friends to the Keren Malki website.) Visitors to the bazaar can also donate blood.

Did we mention that the annual bazaar is to honour the memory of our daughter Malki Roth and her friend Michal Raziel? (The simple brochure, in Hebrew, is here.)

For those of us who don't operate global news networks or teach politics in Arab universities, this is just another reminder of how different our society and its values are compared with theirs.

Can you imagine Al-Jazeera trying to make sense of a society that commemorates the victims of a terrorist massacre this way?

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