Monday, November 13, 2006

What Americans Fear.

Al Jazeera.

What comes to mind when you see that name? Most Americans immediately think of terrorists and raving fundamentalists. That might be because most Americans can't tell you the difference between Al Jazeera and Al Qaeda. Those who know that Al Jazeera is actually an Arab news network mistakenly characterize it as a propaganda tool of extremists. Apparently American military strategists see it as easy pickings. Al Jazeera has had its offices bombed by American forces. Twice. Oops.

Ironically it's the extremists who seem to despise Al Jazeera the most. While certain totalitarian-leaning western conservatives believe that Al Jazeera expresses a view that is sympathetic to Al Qaeda, it's the fundamentalist leaders of Islamic nations who see Al Jazeera as a serious threat to their power. Funded primarily by the progressive emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Al Jazeera provides the Arab world unrestricted access to information, a thorn in the side of zealous leaders who relish complete control over their people. Knowledge is power and once a despot loses control of the information, he loses control of the people. Even though Al Jazeera's reporters infuriate western leaders by getting close to suspected terrorists who elude international authorities, the journalists seem motivated by a desire to offer the other side of the story. A side that most Americans don't want to hear.

Al Jazeera represents hope...the hope that the West and the Middle East aren't as divided by culture and creed as many believe. Organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda don't see themselves as terrorists but as liberators who are fighting an enemy too powerful to confront by traditional means. While no westerner in his right mind could justify the attacks perpetrated by these organizations, the fact remains that there are people in other parts of the world who can. Al Jazeera offers some insight into the circumstances people in these parts of the world face and that understanding can help us find find common ground. It's worth pointing out that it wasn't all that long ago British leaders described Colonial militants as terrorists. Our history books list those same men as patriots. Perspective is a funny thing.

Assuming that Al Qaeda is alone in despising American influence throughout the Middle East is undoubtedly erroneous but concluding that everybody in the Middle East wants all Americans dead is preposterous. We're being arrogant if we actually believe that Osama Bin Laden is out to get us because he disapproves of Desperate Housewives and bacon, the reality is that his issue is the heavy-handed manner in which the west has treated the Middle East. Al Jazeera simply communicates that point. Just because they present a side of the story we don't like doesn't mean they aren't unbiased.

Al Jazeera simply offers a global perspective that isn't readily available through domestic outlets. Even though CNN makes an effort to be worldly and the BBC has an uncanny knack for digging up hard to find news items from around the world, western networks are prone to self-aggrandizing and the story often gets lost in egos of those reporting the news. Christiane Amanpour is a prime example of an international reporter who has allowed her personality to become bigger than the news. We need a fresh perspective.

Al Jazeera recently opened up a Washington Bureau and will be launching an English language broadcast later this week. In spite of massive efforts to find outlets in the US, most cable providers have been reluctant to pick up the channel. It's ironic that a country so proud of its free press would see fit to stifle a voice simply because of ignorant misconceptions. The CEO's will offer up financial concerns as the reason they won't pick up Al Jazeera. They'll claim that there isn't enough of a market to justify offering up a channel, but with space being made for inane offerings like ESPN U and VH1 Classic, it would appear that barring Al Jazeera has more to do with good old fashioned American bigotry than it does free market economics.

Al Jazeera provides information.

What are we afraid of?

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