Al Jazeera move will challenge our beliefs

Al Jazeera logoI am disgusted by the knee-jerk reactions I’ve been reading about the news that Al Jazeera is buying Al Gore’s Current TV with plans to launch a version of its news network in the U.S. Completely disgusted. America cries “foul” at any wisp of censorship abroad — principally, when “our” version of truth is blocked from the eyes and ears of others — but we personify the term “hypocrite” in so doing. Nothing proves it like calling into question the character and motives of Arabs wishing to do business among us.

Time-Warner Cable immediately pulled Current TV from its line-up, even before the deal was announced. I am a Time-Warner Cable subscriber, but I won’t be one for long. The Atlantic Wire tried to explain:

The network did not give an official reason for the move, but many have speculated that it’s simply prejudice against the new owners, who are based in Doha, Qatar, and have seen their fair share of controversy over the years. The Middle East-focused Al Jazeera began as an Arabic-only network, before adding a English language version, and has been accused in the past of a decidedly anti-American bias and even of sympathy for terrorist organizations. More than a decade after the September 11 attacks first brought the network to the attention of most Americans, and despite its impressive coverage of the Arab Spring in 2011, those stereotypes still persist.

Never afraid of spreading those same stereotypes, comedians are getting into the discussion. Here’s a transcript (courtesy Newsbusters) of Jay Leno with Joy Behar, who works for Current TV.

Leno opened, “Osama bin Laden is your new boss?”

Behar responded, “Current TV was bought by Al Jazeera, yes. To me it’s like Al Gore, Al Jazeera, Al Pacino. It’s all the same thing to me.”

“I just work there,” Behar continued. “I’m learning Farsi, you know.”

“So much for Jews controlling the media,” quipped Leno.

A commenter to the Atlantic Wire story called Al Gore a “traitor” for selling the channel to Al Jazeera. This view is shared by many, many Americans. And Fox’s Bill O’Reilly said Gore had “shamed himself” and called the former vice president a “hypocrite” and the deal “sleazy” and “disgraceful.”

the men of my Arab familyAl Jazeera has been a part of my life since I first watched the channel while visiting my daughter’s family in Amman in the winter of 2006. Here’s part of what I wrote back then:

My son-in-law, Waseem, took me through the cable channels that he has available, and it brought to mind the contemporary absurdity of Napoleon’s old saying about war, “the victor gets to write the history.” Let me tell you folks, that statement is no longer possible in war time, for the reality is that there are many versions of truth when it comes to war.

And all of them are present on cable TV in Jordan, including the channel that speaks for the Iraqi resistance. Numerous versions of propaganda are there for the average citizen to weigh, and I have to believe this is ultimately healthy for a region dominated by colonialism for centuries. Juxtaposition, for example, the American general saying everything’s fine on the Arab language channel created by the U.S. with the resistance channel’s video showing just the opposite. And much of this video (which shows up on Al Jazeera two hours later) isn’t shot by professional news crews; it’s our old friend “citizen journalism” telling the tale in picture and in sound. Cell phones, it seems, are a new weapon of war.

And my son-in-law’s window on the world is much wider than mine.

I wrote plenty about Al Jazeera during the Arab Spring, and I think they provide a much-needed point-of-view in the U.S., a counterpoint to the Zionist movement, which has torn the region apart since 1948. Our economic interests have aided in atrocities and the Palestinian genocide, over which the planet itself weeps and mourns. Consequently, we get a highly censored view of the whole Middle East, and the inbred hatred we seem to have for Arabs is now being played out over, of all things, a cable channel! Are we so fearful that we would deny the same free speech to Al Jazeera that we claim for those not under our governance throughout the world?

I want Al Jazeera, because I think we’d all be better off knowing Arabs as human beings instead of the dangerous fanatics that our government needs us to know. Loss of innocent life is loss of innocent life, regardless of whose “side” it is on, and we’re all going to have to make a decision sooner or later about the world we have taken for granted for so very long.

In addition to the nonsense about the deal, I’m also reading some thoughtful commentary, too, and that gives me hope (New York Times, Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and even The New Republic). If this proves only to get us talking, that would be a net gain for everybody.