Sunday, February 06, 2011

Frank Rich: "Wallflowers at the Revolution"

"Palestinians burn posters with the logo of Al-Jazeera TV station."

Frank Rich:
A month ago most Americans could not have picked Hosni Mubarak out of a police lineup. American foreign policy, even in Afghanistan, was all but invisible throughout the 2010 election season. Foreign aid is the only federal budget line that a clear-cut majority of Americans says should be cut. And so now — as the world’s most unstable neighborhood explodes before our eyes — does anyone seriously believe that most Americans are up to speed? Our government may be scrambling, but that’s nothing compared to its constituents. After a near-decade of fighting wars in the Arab world, we can still barely distinguish Sunni from Shia.
That we often don’t know as much about the people in these countries as we do about their Tweets is a testament to the cutbacks in foreign coverage at many news organizations — and perhaps also to our own desire to escape a war zone that has for so long sapped American energy, resources and patience. We see the Middle East on television only when it flares up and then generally in medium or long shot. But there actually is an English-language cable channel — Al Jazeera English — that blankets the region with bureaus and that could have been illuminating Arab life and politics for American audiences since 2006, when it was established as an editorially separate sister channel to its Qatar-based namesake.
The consequence of a decade’s worth of indiscriminate demonization of Arabs in America — and of the low quotient of comprehensive adult news coverage that might have helped counter it — is the steady rise in Islamophobia. The “Ground Zero” mosque melee has given way to battles over mosques as far removed from Lower Manhattan as California. Soon to come is a national witch hunt — Congressional hearings called by Representative Peter King of New York — into the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.” Given the disconnect between America and the Arab world, it’s no wonder that Americans are invested in the fights for freedom in Egypt and its neighboring dictatorships only up to a point. We’ve been inculcated to assume that whoever comes out on top is ipso facto a jihadist.

This week brings the release of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir. The eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq is to follow. As we took in last week’s fiery video from Cairo — mesmerizing and yet populated by mostly anonymous extras we don’t understand and don’t know — it was hard not to flash back to those glory days of “Shock and Awe.” Those bombardments too were spectacular to watch from a safe distance — no Iraqi faces, voices or bodies cluttered up the shots. We lulled ourselves into believing that democracy and other good things were soon to come. It took months, even years, for us to learn the hard way that in truth we really had no idea what was going on. MORE...

Howie P.S.: "In Cairo, Al-Jazeera finds itself in line of fire" (Michael Moran-MSNBC):
No one who watches Al-Jazeera can argue that it isn’t driven by a missionary zeal to upend the status quo in the Middle East. Its targets include pro-American despots (Mubarak, the Saudi monarchy or Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika) and anti-American despots (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). That has given it unrivaled credibility in the eyes of an Arab public that long ago concluded its own state-run media outlets were often little more than propaganda outlets for the regime in power. MORE...

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