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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

new Arab media voices « Previous | |Next »
December 17, 2006

In my posts on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict I have increasingly noted the anti-Palestinan bias of the Australian media and the way in which it is largely pro-Israel and pro-American. The other side of this bias is the lack of Arab voices --we just do not hear them. An Arab public sphere does not really exist in Australia; or if it does, it so marginalised in Australia that it has no voice. However, there is a global Arab voice--most notably the new Arab media such as al-Jazeera----but this is still difficult to access in Australia, even though al-Jazeera is the leading and most influential public platform for Arab critical voices across the Middle East and in the Diaspora.

In 'Voices of the New Arab Public' Marc Lynch (who blogs at Abu Aardvark) traces the emergence of the new Arab public sphere starting in the early 1990s until the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2004, analyzing the evolution of Arab debate on political developments related to the Iraqi crisis. He shows that this new Arab media has revolutionized Arab public discourse on Arab political issues, especially on Iraq and Palestine, which is challenging the contrived monolithic discourse, dominated by the “voice of the state”.

The argument is that Al-Jazeera's novel approach to Arab politics--freely aired open and unscripted public arguments and disputations on the most sensitive issues---is empowering individual Arabs to assert their independent opinions in the public arena, thus defining a new kind of Arab public and a new kind of Arab politics. This phenomenon is not mentioned by the Quadrant conservatives who argue that Islamic and Western cultures are incompatible in a single polity and say no more Muslims in Australia.

The academic reviews of Voices of the New Arab Public can be found here From these and Lynch's responses we can glean that the book makes a strong argument for the potentially positive effects of the new Arab media:

shattering state monopolies on information and opinion, challenging taboos and red lines which have shackled Arab political debate, consistently highlighting democratic elections and political reform, and empowering contentious politics from below. The book argues that building a culture of pluralism and public debate is a necessary condition for achieving real democratic reforms.. but not a sufficient one.

This is a very different voice to Stone's collapsing Muslims into Muslim fundamentalism and saying that the core of the Muslim problem (it stands opposed to everything Western civilization stands for) lies in the essence of Islam itself.

Mahmud A. Faksh, one of the reviewers of Voices of the New Arab Public, asks a good question: 'Is the new open Arab public sphere really paving the road to a liberal, pluralist politics, as the author seems to imply'?he says:

The answer is simply no. Indeed, as the study shows, the emerging Arab public discourse, open and free though it may be, remains cloistered in an Arab narrative anchored in Arab-Islamic identity and culture, spewing populism, anti-Westernism driven by past and present grievances (colonialism, the plight of the Palestinians under occupation, the suffering of the Iraqi people under the weight of the U.S.-imposed sanctions, the subsequent U.S. occupation, and perceived or real Western double standards), and obscurantist Islamism---all the antithesis of a civic liberal culture that promotes tolerance, trust, compromise, and reason in the marketplace of ideas.

Faksh says that the Middle East today is in the throes of an ongoing pervasive and intense struggle between moderate Islam and militant Islam that is shaping the Middle East's evolving cultural dynamics and its worldview and that modernist-secularist discourse in the Arab public arena is a marginal one. Lynch says that his book is explicitly ambivalent about the liberalizing effects of the new media, as opposed to its contributions to pluralism and contentious politics. It argues that the new Arab public can not alone produce democracy, is constantly tempted by populist mobilization, and will not necessarily advance liberalism.
He argues that even if the power of a new international public sphere is growing, it is not at all clear that it is a liberal public sphere as the politics of the new Arab public sphere tend towards populism, the politics of identity, of authenticity, and of resistance. He adds that whether the Arab public sphere develops in a liberal direction or in a populist direction, consumed by questions of identity and authenticity, is one of the most pivotal questions shaping the Arab future.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:15 AM | | Comments (6)


I offer a very different approach to the "ongoing pervasive and intense struggle," you dissuss, which I title: If Muslims Believed Muhammad,
They Could Transform the World

Through the Koran, Muhammad tells Muslims to "Say: We believe in God and what was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, to Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and what was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets. We discriminate against none of them" (The Family of Imran 3:84).

Another time, Muhammad warns Muslims against drawing “…a line between God and His apostles, saying: 'We believe in some but deny others....’" (Women 4:150).

About 3,400 years ago, before the Hebrews had even entered the "Promised Land," Moses warned his people of a future day, when they would be "…driven out [of the Land] to the farthest parts under heaven…" (Deut. 30:4). But Moses also assured the Israelites that God "...will have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you" (Deut. 30:3).

If, today, Muslims truly believed Muhammad, they would believe "what was given to Moses." And they would rejoice in the resurrection of Israel as Moses foretold. Instead, countless Muslims, "believe in some [prophets] but deny others," while they prepare to "wipe Israel off the map.”

In other words, if Muslims believed the Prophets who preceded Muhammad and drew no “line” between them, they would humbly admit to God and the world, "We have been wrong to fight against Israel." And an astonished world would behold Israel's deadly enemies evidencing incredible faith, unmatched by Jews and Christians throughout their bloody history!

If militant Muslims and their supporters renounced their ignorant rejection of Israel and transformed themselves into peaceful believers in Abraham’s God, astounded Jews and Christians would be hard-pressed to renounce their own ignorant dismissal of Muhammad as a “false prophet” and Islam as a “false religion.”

Then, Jews and Christians, following the Muslims’ unique example, could finally abandon their own erroneous manmade teachings about “the Messiah Jesus” (Women 4:171) and embrace Muhammad’s messages about him, which Jews and Christians have always scorned — the very messages that could create peace among all “believers.”

If Muslims believed Muhammad….

you views are very similar to the Quadrant conservatives in Australia---eg. this article by John Stone entitled The Muslim Problem and What to Do about It. Stone talks in terms of the Islamic cancer in our body politic continues to grow—stealthily, unobtrusively, and that:

We need to understand that the core of the Muslim problem—for the world, not merely for Australia—lies in the essence of Islam itself. It is the problem of a culture that, for the past 500 years or so at least, has failed its adherents as its inward-looking theocracy has resulted in it falling further and further behind the West. It is that sense of cultural failure, that sense of smouldering resentment that fuels the fires so busily stoked by the more extremist Muslim teachers. Fiercely exclusive rather than inclusive, Islam holds that church and state are inseparable; that women, while respected so long as they stick to their appointed place in the Islamic scheme of things, are less than equal to men generally; and that even the most extreme violence is justifiable when applied in pursuit of approved Islamic ends. Until all that changes—and it can only be changed from within Islam itself, if indeed it can be changed at all—the Islamic culture will never reside in harmony with others.

I'd be interested in your assessment of Stone's article.

One of the things that Al Jazeera does is bring the human side to the conflict, albeit very confrontingly into our living rooms, computers and newspapers through syndication to the extent that western media pick it up. Another very important aspect of their work is that some of it is in English. Up to now it has been very challenging to read Muslim perspectives from Muslims in a language I could understand and respond to.

yes I agree with you that:

Up to now it has been very challenging to read Muslim perspectives from Muslims in a language I could understand and respond to.

I find myself drifting over to this kind of stuff but it is not the same. We are still within the American universe, as it were---listening to Americans talking about America. alt muslim takes us to the edge and we begin to step into a different world.

Sometimes I dip into Dar Al Hayat or The Daily Star, which are both in Lebanon to access an Arab perspective. I find it hard going.

So Al Jazeera's high definition TV 24 hour news broadcast in English is very welcome. It will not be shown on any American,Canadian or Australian cable or satellite service and can only be seen on broadband.

I have this admittedly silly fantasy that the English Al Jazeera channel would win the rights to broadcast the F.A. Premier League soccer from Murdoch's Sky network.
Then the populace would head over there to get a different view just like the ratings for SBS went up when the World Cup was on.

nice idea. Love it. It would create shock waves through Australia. 'It' refers to Arab public opinion that can be expressed through the Arab Public Sphere formed around an English Al Jazeera.

As Marc Lynch shows "the Arab Public Sphere," has become a site of high contestation (where opinions clash). This is unknown in western media commentary on Arab media, as the media in Australia cast Arab media aside through sensationalist caricatures of it as propaganda and vulgarity.

Thus Israel's summer 2006 onslaught against Hizbullah includes a media offensive charging univocal coverage by the Arab press. The Australian media did not deconstruct this interepretation--the Israeli stance was recycled.

Lynch deconstructed similar (mostly American ) charges against Al-Jazeera in the 2003 Iraq War.