A few thoughts on Al-Jazeera

Have you ever checked out the Al-Jazeera Homepage? There’s some interesting stuff on there. Al-Jazeera often seems to be demonized by American media, so the less informed might be forgiven for thinking it’s some sort of 24-hour Osama Bin Laden talk show, with suicide bombings on the late night television. And maybe some anti-Zionist ads thrown in for good measure. It’s true, a lot of Muslim radicals use Al-Jazeera as a media access point–Jill Carroll’s kidnappers, for example, sent a tape to Al-Jazeera. But maybe Muslim extremists are just better at press releases and media awareness than we are.

I was first introduced to Al-Jazeera when I was taking Arabic at (famous university) and the university paid for a satellite subscription so that the Arabic students could gape vacantly at the television, utterly unable to follow anything that was going on because while the newscasters do generally speak Modern Standard Arabic, they speak it much more quickly than on our other instructional videos. I had more success reading the news ticker on the bottom than comprehending the journalists. Al-Jazeera is a media empire, for sure. They are all over the Middle East, but also the world–I would certainly liken it to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) or New York Times.

Al-Jazeera is actually an excellent news source, in many ways. It’s probably the biggest Middle Eastern media company that Americans have ready access to. For Northern African news, it’s a godsend–a sampling of today’s stories, for example, includes drought exacerbated tensions in Kenya, continued violence on the Ivory Coast, and release of political prisoners in Syria. I often make Al-Jazeera part of my daily news roundup, because there’s a lot of interesting news on there that I don’t see being reported in American media. (Likewise, I often read/listen to the BBC news.) Yes, there is a focus on Middle Eastern news, and there is an unabashed bias on some major issues, but tell me CNN doesn’t focus on American news, and doesn’t hold a bias on certain issues as well.

Al-Jazeera has opinion polls and discussions which often get quite lively, and incorporate a wide range of viewpoints. Al-Jazeera also has a clearly posted code of ethics, which is more than I can say for some American news companies. On a given day, you can find a news story about Lebanese homosexuals, suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, Confucianism in China, or an interesting “culture” story. I believe that Al-Jazeera does provide reasonably balanced, excellent reporting, and often it opens my eyes to global issues that I was unaware of. I also really enjoy the discussion threads–they are usually well moderated, and very interesting, even if I don’t always agree with the content–I always leave them thinking.

It’s a curious thing that in the age of rapid communications, we can be totally unaware of things that are huge in their home countries. I often find myself reading American news for several days in a row, and I force myself to go out and read something written somewhere else, under a different government, and with a new perspective. Sometimes that Al-Jazeera, sometimes it’s not. But the way to learn about the outside world is, in my opinion, through actively seeking information about it.

Today of course the big news on Al-Jazeera is the truce Bin Laden is offering the United States. (Although Al-Jazeera was criticized for editing the tape…I’m curious to know if ABC would be criticized for editing an hour’s worth of video for a few relevant soundbites.) “The new operations of al-Qaida has not happened not because we could not penetrate the security measures. It is being prepared and you’ll see it in your homeland very soon,” he said. I don’t know how much of this to believe. If alQaida has been active in Europe, as the tape claims, I suppose it’s reasonable to think they’ve had to put off another attack on the United States due to personnel and planning issues. I am also of the opinion that if someone really wants to attack the United States, they will. This is the way of things. There’s only so much that our security measures can prevent. However, alQaida has probably been destabilized due to American offensive activities, which may only serve as a goad to the organization, rather than a deterrent.

I am curious to hear about the terms of his truce. And I think he raised a valid point–on the coasts, at least, Americans are opposed to the war in Iraq, and the President does seem to be riding roughshod over us. “We are getting increasingly stronger while your situation is getting from bad to worse,” Bin Laden pointed out, which is certainly a strong point, and he’s right. The American foothold in the Middle East is slipping, and people are dying as a result. I’m just not entirely sure what Bin Laden might want from the United States. Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly. But what else? And unless alQaida brings the war back to American soil, I think any terms Bin Laden offers are going to be ignored. Such is the way of arrogant nations.

“We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war…If your desire for peace, stability and reconciliation was true, here we have given you the answer to your call.”

If only it was that easy.