Sunday, May 27, 2007

Al Jazeera: A Force for Change

Jeb Koogler from The Moderate Voice blogged Take a look at this clip from Al Jazeera:

Despite all the criticism that it gets, only on Al Jazeera do you have such open, intense forums for debate where secular activists like Wafa Sultan can have their voices heard.
Al Jazeera certainly runs a lot of Anti-American stuff, but I have to congratulate them for broadcasting Wafa Sultan, speaking in Arabic, to an Arabic audience. And I am very happy that Wafa is brave enough to appear in that situation, and take the position she takes.
This video, for instance, is a segment of a program with Faisal al-Qasim, the host of the political debate show, The Opposite Direction. On his show, Qasim regularly puts forward a highly controversial question (”Why are Muslims attracted to terrorism?” or “Will Arab dictators ever step down?“) and then pits two people with opposing viewpoints against each other. One of the things that’s so amazing about The Opposite Direction is that it not only deals with extremely controversial issues, Qasim also consistently arranges the discussion to be between two equally knowledgeable and respected figures on both sides of the argument.
I wish our MSM would do that.
There is, of course, a lot of discussion about Al Jazeera as being an anti-American network that, among other things, portrays the Iraqi insurgency in a positive light. But, these accusations aside, Al Jazeera, as one of the only independent popular tv networks in the region, is (overall) truly an incredibly positive force for change in the region. Besides Qasim’s show, Al Jazeera hosts a range of different programs that regularly challenge Arab dictators, question social norms, and promote free speech. And it’s not just academics and Westerns who watch the network. The Opposite Direction, for example, is among the most popular tv shows in the entire Arab world.

Also, it’s interesting to note that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the leader of Qatar who essentially founded the network a few years ago, has gone to great pains to ensure that it remains free and uncensored. This is quite incredible, given that al-Thani himself is an Arab autocrat (albeit a fairly progressive and reform-minded one.) As a result of his support, Al-Thani has found himself quite isolated by his neighbors, many of whom have become upset by the fact that he continues to allow Al Jazeera to broadcast within his country. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has tried multiple times to shut down the network with little success. And, let’s be honest, if Al Jazeera ticks off the Saudi royal family with its controversial debate shows, and its unflinching news coverage, it’s probably doing something right.

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