The Arab people are notorious for disagreeing about everything, the recent botched “constitution” signing in Baghdad, for example. Or the Arab Summit in Egypt where Libyan leader Moamer al-Kadhafi asked Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, “Who exactly brought you to power? … You are a liar and your grave awaits you,” at which point the entire thing dissolved into chaos and Abdullah stomped out.
The US has produced a satellite channel aimed at Arabs so crappy that they are absolutely united in hating and mocking it. Let Riverbend, blogging from Baghdad, tell you about it:
I wish everyone could see Al-Hurra- the new ‘unbiased’ news network started by the Pentagon and currently being broadcast all over the Arab world. It is the visual equivalent of Sawa- the American radio station which was previously the Voice of America. The news and reports are so completely biased, they only lack George Bush and Condi Rice as anchors. We watch the reports and news briefs and snicker… it is far from subtle. Interestingly enough, Asa’ad Abu Khalil said that Sawa and Al-Hurra are banned inside of America due to some sort of law that doesn’t allow the broadcast of blatant political propaganda or something to that effect. I’d love to know more about that.
A channel like Al-Hurra may be able to convince Egyptians, for example, that everything is going great inside of Iraq, but how are you supposed to convince Iraqis of that? Just because they broadcast it hourly, it doesn’t make it true. I sometimes wonder how Americans would feel if the Saudi government, for example, suddenly decided to start broadcasting an English channel with Islamic propaganda to Americans.
And Riverbend isn’t alone. Here’s a sampling of Arab comments from all over:
“….what struck me the most is the name and logo of the new station. If the US was pumping in $62 million (great to see our tax dollars doing good things once more) on a slick propaganda project like this, you’d think they’d at least think long and hard about the project’s brand and logo.
With the addition of one little dot (see above), the Arabic letter “ha” become a “kha,” thus changing the word al-hurra, ‘the free one,’ into al-khara, ‘the piece of shit.’
Hopefully, Al Hurra is not planning a billboard and poster campaign on the streets of Cairo any time soon.
Arabs on Monday, February 16, dismissed as slanted, arrogant and condescending the new U.S.-funded Arabic-language television network Alhurra, which was launched to polish the image of the United States in the region.
“The channel and its presenters insist on the fact they are free, as if they were telling the Arab viewer he is not, that he is oppressed and the United States will teach him freedom,” Egyptian pundit Salama Ahmed Salama said according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“It’s quite a stupid way of proceeding,” said Salama, the editorialist for the government newspaper Al-Ahram who is often critical of the Egyptian political process.
The basic problem is that the American penchant for clarity and neat, explicit, black-and-white classification of people’s identities and intentions clashes badly with the Middle East’s traditions of multiple identities and sometimes hidden aims, as well as the frequent imprecision in stated intentions. I do not claim that either tradition is better or worse, just that each offers very different ways of dealing with the world. Arabs and Americans are like ships passing in the night, sounding their horns, firing their guns, making known their views, but having no impact on the other.
The epitome of this is the widening gap between Arabs’ perceptions of the US and many Americans’ flawed interpretations of those Arab perceptions.
This reflects the lingering childishness of President George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, when he suggested that those who attacked the US, and their many supporters, were motivated by hatred for American freedom, democracy, tolerance and other such fine values. The American president’s intellectual gangsterism (“they hate our freedom”) is simplistic, wrong and dangerous, and an inappropriate and ineffective retort to the worldviews of the criminals who have terrorized and killed thousands of Americans and other nationals. By arguing that our region is troubled and violent because Arabs and Muslims hate American values, and then attempting to correct this by launching television, radio and magazine efforts in Arabic, the US government perpetuates a fatal combination of political blindness and cultural misperception that is only going to exacerbate the gap between Americans and Arabs, rather than close it.
In public diplomacy as in its Iraq intelligence analysis, Washington suffers from occasional technical incompetence that is then magnified grievously by the distortions of extreme political ideology, woefully inadequate cultural understanding of Middle Eastern societies and a rigid refusal to examine how American foreign policy impacts on Middle Eastern perceptions of the US. I predict that if Al-Hurra television does offer Arabs and Muslims a better understanding of American society and values, its main impact will be to heighten Arab anger and irritation with US policy in the Middle East because the gap between American values and American foreign policy conduct will become even more obvious to newly enlightened Middle Easterners.
Al-Hurra, like the US government’s Radio Sawa and Hi magazine before it, will be an entertaining, expensive, and irrelevant hoax. Where do they get this stuff from? Why do they keep insulting us like this?
JEDDAH, 6 March 2004 — Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, yesterday urged the Iraqis to end the bloodshed and work for unity.
The imam also blasted the newly established US-run Al-Hurra television channel for causing “intellectual chaos and confusion” among Muslims.
Sheikh Sudais denounced a “war of ideas” being waged by parts of the Western media with the aim of imposing particular cultural and intellectual patterns and dictating specific reforms in the name of globalization, openness and freedom.
The US government-funded Al-Hurra Arabic channel was aimed at sowing doubt among Muslims, especially women, about Islamic teachings and discrediting Islamic principles. “It spreads intellectual chaos and destroys the correct thinking of the Ummah and its cultural heritage,” he said.
The new US ME propaganda TV, Al-Hurra. A sample of its tough and very objective reporting. Here is a question that its director, Mouafac Harb, asked George W. Bush: “Q You may be the only world leader today, and maybe the first American President, to pay a lot of attention to freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Why is that? Are you so committed to that?” This may have been the toughest questioning that Bush has ever been subjected to.
Clerics in Saudi Arabia are venting their anger at a new US-funded television channel for Arab viewers, saying it was founded to fight Islam and Muslims are religiously forbidden to watch it. Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khudairi, a cleric and judge in Riyadh, and Sheikh Mansour bin Ahmed al-Hussein, another government-appointed cleric in the Saudi capital, both slammed Al-Hurra, saying no one should work for the station, watch it, or support it with advertising.
During his Friday sermon before thousands of worshippers Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, prayer leader of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, said that Western satellite channels directed at Arab viewers were part of a “war of ideas,” against the Muslim world. Al-Hurra, or the free one, made its broadcast debut on Feb 14 with footage of windows being opened, symbolizing freedom, and comments by US President George W. Bush praising Iraq’s determination for democracy.
Al-Hurra is the latest US government effort to reach out to Arabs. The others include the Arabic-language Radio Sawa, also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors that runs Al-Hurra, and “Hi,” a slick Arabic-English cultural and lifestyle magazine for youth. Al-Khudairi, a cleric and judge in a Riyadh court, was asked by a viewer about al-Hurra. In a written fatwa, or religious edict, he said last week that Muslims were religiously forbidden to watch the station or have anything to do with it.
So, while the War Party is casting desperately around for proof of accomplishments and successes in their remake of the Middle East, they can proudly point out that they contributed substantially to Arab Unity.