Saturday, March 19, 2005

Al-Arabiyya versus Al-Jazeera: Saudi Arabia versus Qatar. As soon as the news of the car bomb in Qatar was made public, AlArabiyya went into over-drive. They employed visuals and graphics that I have never seen them use before. They had a large red banner, that would expand and shrink to get your attention, under the title of "Urgent: Security Situation in Qatar." The anchorwoman was clearly overjoyed, and it looked like Saudi Arabia was more than eager to report on the development. Al-Arabiyya, you get the feeling, wanted to celebrate. It almost invited bellydancers to accompany the coverage of the Qatar bombing. In fairness, Al-Jazeera also stresses news developments and security situation in Saudi Arabia, but Al-Arabiyya went overboard. And this is a legitimate criticism of Al-Jazeera: here is this newsstation that extensively covers news developments around the world, and yet the coverage of the host country of Al-Jazeera was very, very muted, and very restrained. We did not see AlJazeera correspondents roaming the streets, as we see them in other capitals. The coverage merly quoted from official Qatari sources. That is a weakness. So there was a Muslim woman in New York who led some 100 Muslim worshippers. US media, loved the event. As I do not understand the appeal of religion, I will leave the matter to religious people. But this is not new in Islamic history. The Kharijites (those early rebellious dissidents in Islam)--in some branches--allowed women to be Imams, and Kharijite women were addressing Muslim crowds even at the time of Hajjaj in Iraq. (One should not, however, romanticize the Kharijites as they were fanatics, and some like Azarqites, justified--like Al-Qa`idah--the murder of women and children once they were declared "infidels." They also were very quick to engage in takfir (declaring the infidelity of others, even other Muslims). Some Kharijite women fought in battle, and their enemies sometimes were so terrified of the female fighters of the Kharijites that they would leave them naked after killing them, hoping that this practice would shame future female fighters, and deter them. It did not. Enough history. But: Al-Arabiyya yesterday aired a report by one of its female correspondents in Washington, DC. She was quite sympathetic, I felt, to this small movement, led by a former Wall Stree Journal writer, it seems. Today, the report was not repeated (as they often repeat reports) and a male correspondent aired a totally new report in which men who are hostile to that event were interviewed, and Nihad Awad, a propagandist for CAIR (a Washington-DC based Muslim advocacy organization), warned of same-sex marriage in Islam, just like that. I just did not understand his twisted logic: as to why a female leader of prayer would lead to same sex marriage in Islam, and as if there is anything wrong with same sex marriage. No wonder I never get along with those Muslim advocacy organizations in DC. Immediately afterwards, the anchorwoman interviewed Iraqi-born, Dubai-based Muslim fundamentalist demagogue, Ahmad Al-Kubaysi, who lashed out against reformists in Islam, and the anchorwoman joined in warning of "innovations" (a key Wahhabi flag-word). I taped the show on Al-Jazeera (Hiwar Maftuh) and the session on "democratic" movements in the Arab world turned into a discussion of Lebanese events. I could feel the tensions of Lebanon in the air, especially as this program (Open Dialogue) brings in a studio audience. I felt that the supporters of the right-wing opposition in the audience did not know what to make of me. They could not understand this person who was very opposed to the right-wing sectarian opposition, but who also was fiercely critical of the Syrian and Lebanese regime. They usually prefer their opponent to be a Ba`thist mouthpiece. Signs from Lebanon are not encouraging at all. You read the statements and speeches, and you feel the storm coming. I was 15 years old when the war erupted in Lebanon, and I have never had as many (bad) memories restored.