Sunday, June 25, 2006

a case study in agenda-driving

Saudi prince Al-Walid bin Talal is not an Islamist. In fact he is one of the most modernist members of the Saudi royal family. He has been known for spectacular philanthropy, including donations of $40 million to Harvard and Georgetown, as well as massive investments in American corporate icons like Citigroup, News Corporation Ltd (of Rupert Murdoch and FOX News fame), and Apple. He also has a record of advocating social and political reform in Saudi society, as summarized by his Wikipedia entry:

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is not part of the ruling executive within the House of Saud, and has generally kept out of politics, concentrating on his business interests. However, he has recently started to make overt political statements in his press releases and interviews. His views can be seen as critical of Saudi traditionalism, proposing reforms to elections, women's rights and the economy. He has also openly criticized operation of the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco. He is vocal about women's rights and hired the first female airline pilot in Saudi Arabia, Hanadi Hindi.

He has also taken a notable pro-American stance, backed up by his $10 million financing of American study programmes at the American University in Cairo.

The bottom line on al-Walid is that he is exactly what America needs: an ally with enough credibility back home in Saudi Arabia to have a genuine influence on changing the society there. He is a liberalizing figure.

However, a recurring theme amongst Islamophobes is the utter inability to recognize reformers within the Arab world as the allies they are in the war on terror. Of these, MEMRI is the worst offender, selectively cherry-picking information from the vast myriad streams of Arab media to support a particular world-view, that Arab society is a monolithic anti-Semitic mass of hatred, when in fact any serious observer will report that Arab media is in many ways more committed to showcasing opposing viewpoints than our own here in the United States. As such the Arab media is a massive thorn in the side of the tyrannical regimes of the middle east - so much so that you can be arrested in Saudi Arabia for even phoning into a talk show.

So what happens when an ally of the United States such as Prince al-Walid decides to invest in a new Arab media station, Al-Rislah? A station that the Christian Science Monitor describes as "media-savvy, modern, and moderate" :

According to Al Risala's executives, that media can be both secular shows that undermine family values and religious programs that foment extremism.

"Islam has been changed throughout time," says Al Risala's general manager, Sheikh Tarek Swidan. "If we go back to the roots then we see Islam being very peaceful, very open. Respect of all humans, respect of all religions, respect of all races - that is the original message of Islam."

"We are directing the channel to be in clash with ... terrorist ideas," adds Mr. Swidan. "We are going head to head."
"When we speak of Islamic revival, we always focus on political organized groups aiming at gaining power," says Mr. Haenni. But just as important a phenomenon, he says, are "private religious entrepreneurs."

These entrepreneurs target the upper middle class, and focus on personal enlightenment rather than political engagement. They're socially conservative and opposed to what they see as the decadence of much of Western culture. But they want to benefit from Western science, education, and progress, and they condemn violence and extremism.

And, says Haenni, they use "fully all the means of mass culture ... chats on the Net, chat shows on TV, Islamic rap in the West. Mass culture is not the enemy anymore."

"It's a more worldly view of Islam," says sociologist Madiha al Safty. "They are trying to reconcile modernity with Islam."

Well, of course such a venture must be characterized as - what else? "Hate TV"

...Al-Resalah's excessive anti-Western content is somewhat astonishing. It is no different from any other hate-filled Saudi TV channel. Take, for example, Sheik Ahmad Al-Kubeisi, who appeared on Al-Resalah on March 15 and said: "When there is no hope for peace, there is no alternative but to resort to the gun. ... The West's conflict with Islam and the Muslims is eternal, a preordained destiny that cannot be avoided until judgment day."

It would seem that MEMRI would prefer that Al Risalah go head to head with the Islamists by ... not going head to head. The concept of debate is lost upon them. But the truth is that the best way to utterly delegitimize the Islamist ideology is to put it on display next to a rationalist and liberal viewpoint. I wish that MEMRI had as much confidence as I that Enlightenment values are superior to those of the dark ages.

There is no better resource for Arab media analysis than Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark. The Arab media are our allies and are central to transformative societal change in the Middle East. MEMRI and their ilk are obstacles to victory in the War on Terror for they would have us abandon the allies we so desperately need.

(props to Praktike for the CSM link).

1 comment:

  1. well said Razib. You put your finger on it - it's the assertion-driven word dump. he drops "factoids" like other people drop names.

    Look, CF - you need to learn due diligence. You string together ideas like this is some free association game: Westerners are hirabists! The Arab street is filled with rage! look I am sure you believe these things, and there might even be in some cases - with suitable qualifiers - points of agreement between us. But you have come to believe these things because you read them somewher elese and nodded along, stupefied by the brilliance of whomever it was that was spouting off. I believe things because I critique every fact I am fed by everyone, and actually go out and try to verify what I hear. And usually I have to interpolate between extreme viewpoints to try and approximatye reality. I never swallow other people's facts whole as you do, and I certainly don't go out to other blogs and recycle them to show off how many I can regurgitate.

    If you want to demonstrate your intelligence, do the due diligence. Source your assertions, then examine them, and prove to me that you've come to this fact because you've examined the issue, not because it fit conveniently into whatever bullshit narrative you're infatuated with at the moment.

    Do it my way, and follow my lead, and you'll find the world a much richer place. There is beauty in gray.

    Fail to take heed of my words here, and you condemn yourself to impotence. A condition I am sure you prefer to avoid.