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Al Jazeera, Iraq, US occupation « Previous | |Next »
April 16, 2007

I watched Control Room last night. It looks at the second Iraq war and the U.S.'s proclaimed liberating purpose in Iraq by centring on the television news network Al Jazeera. It wasn't a simplistic Arab-good, American-bad narrative, as it highlighted the conflict for journalists between their media professionalism and nationalism.

ControlRoom.jpg. It shows the war and its horrifying toll for civilians ands soldiers from an Arab perspective, instead of American cable television's sanitizing it for mass US consumption.

Though dated Control Room talks about media bias, the journalistic myths of "objectivity" and "impartiality", the way the Arab street interprets the American invasion, regime change and democracy, and the way CentCom, the headquarters for American invasion, treated the press and how the press responded.

It shows Al Jazeera's articulate, sophisticated, Westernized men and women, often BBC trained, taking their professional integrity fully as seriously as their American counterparts. They were liberal voices of Arab Islamic modernity who questioned the American military tried to control of the narrative and shape the information environment.

They offer alternate sources of information about what happened in Iraq at the start of the war to what we saw here in Australia as seen by Jehane Noujaim's classic fly-on-the-wall journalism with interviews with the station's reporters and producers.That was back then---2003. Since then there has been a pan-Arab satellite revolution, which is felt at every level of Arab society – and in every form of media, including political blogging and the emergence of a highly popular mass-mediated culture.

Today, after Abu Ghraib, we have the hell of Baghdad where people live with starvation, reprisal, violence and brutality. American counterinsurgency forces have begun the process of segmenting the city into smaller sectors with the goal of pacifying one area at a time. Large sections of Baghdad will be chopped up into walled enclaves.

We also have more than a million Iraqi nationalists, waving Iraqi flags responding to Muqtada's call for "Occupation out!" The Shi'ite million-man march have shown once again that the Sadrists rule the Shi'ite street - and that Iraqi Shi'ites nationalism cannot be squashed by all counterinsurgency means necessary.Then we have the Sunni insurgency's turn against al-Qaeda - so as to fight a better insurgency against the American occupation. We also have a suicide bombing by Sunni insurgents of the cafeteria of the Baghdad Convention Center, which houses the Iraqi Parliament, inside the Green Zone a US gated area in Baghdad. The rest of Baghdad is the Red Zone. Then there was a prolonged street battle in the Al-Fadhil section of Baghdad in which local residents joined insurgent forces after Iraqi and U.S. soldiers raided a mosque.

The message from the Baghdad street is clear. Rejection of the American narrative that says the Sunni insurgents are essentially part of al-Qaida while the Shi'a protagonists are allied to Tehran; hence the Iraq war is all about fighting the terrorists who caused 9/11 and the leading member of the "axis of evil". The Sadrist street message is clear. Americans out. The war on terror---the "long war"--is failing in Iraq, and this failure highlights the limitations of US military power, notwithstanding its global dominance. Presumably, a majority of Americans are no longer listening to the imperial presidency's 'democracy in Iraq' talk.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:52 AM | | Comments (1)


The phenomenal acclaim enjoyed by "Control Room" is worth studying and exploring how others can learn from similar initiatives.

A review appearing in a Texan newspaper Austin Chronicle recommends: Control Room should be required viewing for anyone within reach of a TV signal.

The great value of the impersonal, observational technique employed in the documentary is that it immerses the viewer in the contingency and complexity of events as they happen, notes A. O. Scott in a review for New York Times. "Whatever your opinions about the war, the conduct of the journalists who covered it and the role of Al Jazeera in that coverage, you are likely to emerge from ''Control Room'' touched, exhilarated and a little off-balance, with your certainties scrambled and your assumptions shaken. All of which makes it an indispensable example of the inquisitive, self-questioning democratic spirit that is its deep and vexed subject."

A major strength of ''Control Room,'' is being attuned to the paradoxes and predicaments, as well as the dangers, its journalists face. The documentary clearly observes that most of those who appear in the film cling to a journalistic ethic of objectivity and fairness, trying to navigate between their political allegiances and the code of their craft. Features pursued and emphasized by Josh Rushing’s forthcoming book, Mission Aljazeera: Build a bridge, Seek the truth.