By Michael Goldstein
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By LA Weekly
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As for the possibility that Al-Jazeera might ever adopt a pro-American stance vis-à-vis the occupation, that was out of the question. Even if many of its journalists were essentially Westerners with Arab faces (as Mamoun Fandy said at NYU), the viewers, it seemed, were very different. “We have an audience which needs careful and gradual education,” Khader explained, “and this is what Al-Jazeera is all about. Educating the Arab masses for something else, but gradually, without impinging on their beliefs and their dogmas and their traditions and their cultures. We want to change, but we know that change should be gradual; otherwise, people will lose their identity or, simply, switch the channel.”
I brought up the subject of Arabs living in the West. Why were they so overwhelmingly against the war, given that they’d chosen to live in a democracy? Wouldn’t supporting the American effort to democratize the Middle East be more logical?
“The problem is not the intention, it’s the way you proceed and the mission you project,” Khader replied quietly. “I can tell you frankly that after 9/11 most of the Arab and Muslim communities in the West, along with those in the Muslim world, started believing that the West was preparing a new crusade against them. Don’t forget that after 9/11 the Arab and Muslim communities in America were virtually besieged!”
“How so? Bush made a lot of statements about Islam being a religion of peace . . .”
“Statements and good intentions are not enough. Many Arabs were asked by the FBI to go and register. They were singled out at the airport. They were denied access to many flights. I know it’s understandable from the point of view of the Americans, but imagine yourself in an airport in a queue, and an officer says, ‘You and you and you, please come here.’ Especially when you are an American citizen, enjoying your constitutional rights, and you see yourself profiled and singled out, you start to think that this is a fake democracy. Because a true democracy would not make this distinction. After all, those who did 9/11 were not American citizens.”
I asked Khader what the reaction would have been like in the Arab world if some American tourists had hijacked a plane full of Egyptians and run it through the pyramids.
“The reaction would have been unimaginable,” he replied, “because the Arabs are easily emotionally affected. But at least we don’t pretend that we are democratic.”
“Well, you’re notdemocratic. We are.”
“So you have to act as democrats.”
I told Khader that this seemed slightly unfair to me. Though hailing from a part of the world lined wall to wall with dictatorships, he felt at liberty to criticize every infringement of a democracy that provides many Arabs with a completely free life they could never receive in their countries of origin.
Khader’s voice went very quiet. “At least,” he said, spreading his hands in front of him in an almost pleading way, “at least people like me, they have only one dream in their lives, which is to transpose this Western democracy, as it is, with all its negative aspects, to their part of the world. At least.”
“And do you feel, if you had to go before your Maker, you could honestly say that as a journalist at Al-Jazeera you’ve done everything you can to make that possible?”
Khader spread his fingers across his chest, as if to signal that he was speaking from the heart. It may even be that both Khaders were speaking.
“Yes,” he said. “We’re trying very hard. Believe me when I tell you that sometimes when I leave work and go home, I keep thinking, ‘Have I done everything possible for the good of this horrible Arab world? Have I done enough to put an end to this nightmare?’ I don’t know about the other editors, but I believe that they also are doing whatever they can to satisfy their own agenda of democracy and freedom, and to have a clean spirit, and a clean heart, when one day they stand before their Maker — if He exists.”
Control Room opens at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles on June 18.
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