6/25/2006

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).

7 comments:

ConflagrAsian said...

Aziz,

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.

Those programs that display opposing and pro-western viewpionts have an agenda, and who knows what their dealings are with western corporate interests or what they get out of emulating western media styles. The Arab street is filled with rage when it is constantly witnessing the effects of western imperialism (e.g., Israeli Occupation and terrorism, coalition forces overthrowing governments in Afghnstn and Irq as if there can be no consequences for the west, etc,). This cannot be suppressed forvever, and the west cannot wave a magic wand and make it all disappear, yet maintain it's current ways of conducting business in these regions.


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.

Islamist ideology is also resistance ideology, resistance ideology spawned by decades long western imperialist policies in the region.
These, so-called "Enlightenment values" are what the west is hoping to impose, among other things, when it tries to take sway over other W Asian lands. You speak of "rationalist and "liberal viewpoints", but these are largely viewpoints that are dominant in the very western nations that are trying to police the world, start for-profit wars, turn the tide of all world opinion in favor of what the it itself wants. These are destructive things for the Arab states to acquire -- destructive because of their imperialist nature and their almost exclusive association with all things western.

And this use of the expression "dark ages" is pure propaganda. That's what the west said about Afghanistan before dropping bombs over that republic.
They smash ever last bit of infastructure left in these societies and then proceed to call them "stone age" societies. Dark age before; stone age after. I suppose that, in the eyes of the imperialists, the puppet named Karzai probably represents what Afghnstn "should have been".

Do you think that western battalions and regiments would have invaded Afghanistan had the Taleban been nuclear?

Aziz Poonawalla said...

Conflag, I think we are on different planets. Seriously. I bear you no ill will like I do other commentators who came at me from precisely the opposite direction. But you are talking at a level I was at 4 years ago. It's not just pointless trying to talk to you, it's a genuine waste of my time. I have no interest in engaging you.

You seem to write your posts with an attitude that you are explaining something profound to me, or raising some argument that I haven't seen. I can tell you that I've not yet seen a SINGLE thing in your comments that is either original or genuinely insightful. Seriously, drop the "I know something that you need to understand Aziz" because I guarantee you that I am Qui Gonn Jinn here and you're the sniveling 6 year old with a chip on his shoulder - who might someday move on to great things.

If you were to start your own blog you'd get a hell of a following, and man you'd get the LGFers in a lather. Man, you'd probably drive poor Flanstein completely insane. I kind of want to see that, actually - there's a fellow who seriously needs a taste of his own medicine.

google my site for a post called "lanat upon the hirabists". It will clarify where I stand on the matter. Especially the very last link on the very last paragraph. And then stop lecturing me with old talking points and inanities, and pay attention to WHY I write what I write.

Dont be obsessed with showing me how smart you are and trying to educate ME - do that on your own blog, if I think you've written something smart or something worth replying to, I will. You're new around here; I've been doing this since 2002 and youve got a long way to go before I feel that you have enough cred to actually be worth listening to. But the moment you say something original, you might get my attention.

ConflagrAsian said...

I can tell you that I've not yet seen a SINGLE thing in your comments that is either original or genuinely insightful.

Ok, Aziz, the point here is that you don't agree with me, is it not?

the moment you say something original, you might get my attention.

Aziz, this is not about "originality" or creativity, and I'm not to demonstrate that. I'm not trying to argue novel points. Nothing of the sort.

Why I say what I say is not because it's original, but because I believe it is truth.

Btw, Aziz, I read the articles you suggested, "lanat upon the hirabists" and "Bin Laden's Fatwa: A Call to Harabah".

I understand that Bin Laden isn't acting in consistency with the Qur'an. Bin Laden has an agenda and he's trying to bend Qur'anic scripture to his cause. But you can also see that he is desperately angry with what he sees the west as getting away with.

But, I also understand that some western nations are essentially harabists in their tactics abroad. The western "liberators" come to plunder, and they aren't very careful in assuring the safety of non-combatants.In fact, striking at non-combatants itself and placing the blame on "Islamic Radicals" is a good way to try to deflect fury. Is that not wrong as well?

ConflagrAsian said...

In your impressive article, in the last paragraphs, you speak of "incubators".

It is the western states that provide the fertile soil for incubation. As long as there are imperialist, belligerent western nations, there will be resistance; and why should there not be?

Razib said...


Ok, Aziz, the point here is that you don't agree with me, is it not?


no, the point is that you're being a stupid recycler of tired cliches. that does not mean you are instrinsically stupid, just that you are behaving stupidly. assertion after assertion adds nothing to the debate, instead of a sequence of assertions/contentions alternating with empirical citations, you simply pile on thhe cliche wagon.

seriously, go back to 9th grade english, where you learn how to write essays.

Aziz Poonawalla said...

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.

ConflagrAsian said...

But you have come to believe these things because you read them somewhere else 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.

Ok, what you're getting at here is independent inquiry/verification.
I'm no different. I don't just uncritically go along and nod in approval to whatever I happen to like hearing. This is incorrect, Aziz, and you know it. Stop this derisive manner.

Since the western imperialist, especially US, news agencies are the dominant media sources, how do you know what to trust, Aziz? Citing spurious sources is what most westerners do, and it is mostly all that they are willing to do; and they believe they have gotten the truth. I know I pile on cliche assertions a lot, but please show me how they are in error. When you use the word "terrorist" what do you really mean by it -- what the western propaganda machine wants it to mean? If we prodded a little deeper, I think, we'd find that your supposed well sourced, independently verified information is really little more than western-sympathetic noise. Yet, all you seem to want to do is accuse me of unsourced "assertions". How about taking the merits of those assertions into account, without simply dismissing them out of hand as without citation or backup, or as un-"original"? Originality isn't the issue; truth is. But once one has come to dismiss the truth as rubbish, seeing or hearing it further will cause a typical reaction -- that it is all old, tired cliche. But you must realize, Aziz, that the truth is not always exciting, not always something you haven't heard before.

What is your excuse for using the imperialists' propaganda vernacular? Of course, you seem to trust them, but why do you do so? Look around you, Aziz, at the west's behavior in E and W Asia, and in latin america, now and over the past 60 years. In fact, look at the last 300-500 years. Look at the various "Companies" there were, such as the Dutch East India, British East India, French, Danish, etc., etc., over the last 300 yrs. Look at the econo-political policies. Look at and realize the west's largely negative hegemonic influences in these regions then as now. Oh, no, but you wouldn't have that, would you, because, after all, it is all rehashed and tired cliche. "It's what those people with anti-western agendas want to tell you".


You say that you critique everything your fed and never swallow anything whole, but how is it that you often sound, yes, so similar to what I'd get from a typical dose of one of Murdoch's rags?

I am going to begin paying very close attention to your diligence, style, vernacular and sources, after and during which I am going to assess your supposed credibility and objectivity, Aziz.

How much do you want to try to deligitimize those against which you harbour an emotional bias?

-C'Asian