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Al-Gorezeerah

I was amused to learn about Al Gore’s purchase of the 24-hour Canadian cable news service, Newsworld International (NWI), probably the best source for international news available to American cable subscribers. Gore’s stated intention is to turn it into an “exciting” network “for young men and women who want to know more about their world.” The new channel will be known as INdTV. Groovy, baby.

After reading a few articles about the sale, I tuned in to the station. It was 1 in the afternoon, and the program was Hot Type, a show about books and ideas hosted by a young, reasonably hip-looking dude called Evan Solomon. “What scares you now?” he asked as the leonine visage of novelist Toni Morrison filled the screen, along with an array of ropy dreadlocks. “The administration of the United States,” she replied. “It’s such dread I almost feel paralyzed.”

Hmm, I thought: Sounds like the kind of channel Gore would enjoy just as it is. Perhaps he thinks it’s too biased, too leftist. “This is not going to be a liberal network, or a Democratic network in any way, shape, or form,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

If the idea behind INdTV is to produce more public-minded people like Al Gore, only younger, one has to wonder if he isn’t about to destroy the one TV station that already has the potential to do that. A steady diet of programs like Special Assignment, Up Close, European Journal, Play and Hot Type, all in rotation on NWI, not to mention its daily barrage of English-language newscasts from Germany, Japan, Canada and Britain, would probably do more to educate the average American in cultural and world affairs than anything else on television. What’s more, it would do so from precisely the liberal, internationalist, dare I say even smugly P.C., political perspective that Gore espouses. True, very few people watch NWI, but it sounds like Gore’s intention is to save the television station by destroying it.

The “stories” on INdTV “will be in a voice that young people recognize and from a point of view they identify as their own,” says Gore. I’d say that was code for “longer on style, shorter on content.” Just what we need. In the meantime, not being in Gore’s chosen 18- to 34-year-old bracket, I guess I can kiss the most internationally minded news station on television goodbye. Thanks, Al!

 

Recently I saw two men on television who fought on opposing sides of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. One of them, Kamil Al-Gailani, the new Iraqi minister of finance, was interviewed on Charlie Rose; the other, Saeed Hanaei, a self-proclaimed “anti-street-women activist,” was the subject of an eye-opening Iranian documentary, And Along Came a Spider (HBO, May 25), which I previewed on tape.

The Iraqi finance minister was quietly impressive — the kind of man who makes you think something worthwhile may yet emerge from the mess in Iraq. Gray-haired and stocky, he looked as if he was about 60, though I suspect he is considerably younger. But then, as he told Rose, he’d spent eight years on the frontline of the Iran-Iraq war. “Armies everywhere, you can’t control them,” he said in response to a question about the pictures of GIs gone wild at the Abu Ghraib prison, and no doubt he knows this firsthand. He wasn’t excusing the horrors, but he wasn’t waxing apocalyptic about them either, unlike most of Rose’s guests. Rather, he looked like someone who was determined not to allow every passing crisis to deflect him from the task at hand — turning Iraq into a decent country. Contemptuous commentators are constantly saying the U.S. has no one to hand power over to in Iraq on June 30, and maybe they’re right. But on the strength of his appearance on Charlie Rose, I’d take Al-Gailani over the average American politician (or commentator) any day.

As for the Iranian serial killer of And Along Came a Spider, he was exactly what you pray Iraq doesn’t turn into. Hanaei considered murdering prostitutes a religious duty. In fact, he believed doing so was a continuation of the services he had rendered his country during the war. Just as he had fought for Islam against Saddam’s secular dictatorship, now he was fighting for it against the women of the night who were polluting his city, Mashhad. With pride, he described in clinical detail exactly how (having first made sure his wife was out) he would lure the luckless women into his home and then strangle them. What was so astounding was the fact that, once they found out about it, his wife, mother, son and brothers all believed he was in the right to have done so. So too, judging by their responses in interviews, did many of the citizens of Mashhad. (Some even inquired whether his son would continue his father’s noble work.) Fortunately, a judge disagreed, and had Hanaei hanged. You can see him dangling from the rope at the end of the documentary.


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