December 28, 2001 Special Dispatch No. 320

The Role of the Arab Media: An Historical Perspective

December 28, 2001
Special Dispatch No. 320

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat published a full page of readers' letters. Zoheir Abdallah, a reader from the U.S., wrote the following:

"In the past 60 years, the Arab media have gone through three phases. The first phase was represented by the 'Hayy Al-Arab,' a program broadcast by Yunis Al-Bahri from Berlin's Arab radio station in Nazi Germany. Yunis Al-Bahri would fan the flames of Arab emotion against the West and Britain, and glorify Hitler, Nazi Germany, and the Axis countries. The Nazis had placed the Arabs at the bottom of the scale of the human races; if they had been successful in World War II, the Arabs would be worse off than they are today."

"Nevertheless, the Arab public used to crowd around the radio to hear Yunis Al-Bahri, and to applaud his inflammatory commentary."

"The second phase was represented by the 'Saut Al-Arab' ['The Voice of the Arabs' station] from Cairo, presented by Ahmad Sa'id. I remember this well. Every evening we would gather around the radio to listen to this station. My memory takes me back to some of the commentary and curses directed against some of the moderate [Arab] kings and presidents, and the West. I realize the extent of the demagoguery absorbed by an entire generation of Arabs, who had been brainwashed [and thus] behave illogically and emotionally – which assisted in the overthrow of the moderate regimes, for example in Iraq and Libya, and in their replacement by tyrants and Fascist parties, under whose burden part of the Arab world is still bowed."

"The sun set on 'Saut Al-Arab' with the 1967 defeat. After this defeat, the Arab public realized too late that this incitement had pushed the Arabs into a war for which the nation was unprepared. The wounds of that defeat have not yet healed. It has become clear to us, therefore, that the Saut Al-Arab generation had not learned the lesson of the generation of 'Hayy Al-Arab.' The only good thing to come out of the 1967 defeat was the fading of Saut Al-Arab and its demagoguery."

"The third phase is the Arab media's modern phase. We can call this the Taysir 'Alooni[1] from Kabul' phenomenon or the 'Al-Jazeera satellite phenomenon.' The Al-Jazeera correspondent came to be [called], and rightly so, a spokesman for the Taliban. He conveyed to us the pictures of the civilian victims of the aerial attacks, but didn't convey the pictures of the Taliban's military defeats. He didn't show us, or mention to us, anything about the Taliban's massacres of civilians. He claims that the public united around the Taliban. We didn't see on Al-Jazeera how the people rejoiced in the streets of Mazar Al-Sharif and Kabul when the nightmare of the Taliban was ended. Nevertheless, this channel has managed to attract the third generation of the Arab people. With the beginning of the Taliban's collapse, Al Jazeera's star began to fade, just like those of 'Saut Al-Arab' and 'Hayy Al-Arab' before it."

"It becomes clear, therefore, that the third generation has learned nothing from the mistakes of past generations. With the beginning of the month of Ramadan, some of the Arab satellite channels began showing series that deepened hatred in an atmosphere already saturated with it. An example of this is the series on the Crusader wars, which took place almost 1,000 years ago, but of which we still talk as if they were yesterday. Other series present the [pre-Islamic] wars of Dakhis and Ghabraa [pre-Islamic mythical wars]."

"Many nations have fought one another, and some of these wars took place in modern times. However, the nations reconciled, and established the best possible relations. The media was always the pioneer in establishing these relations. Thus did the Germans and the French, the Japanese and the Russians, and many peoples in the civilized world. In contrast, we are still licking the wounds of the past, and fanning hatred in our souls. Our printed and broadcast media play the role of pioneer in this area. This helps train a group of young people whose hatred for others leads them to commit suicide, thus killing people of whom they know nothing, only because they belong to another people and have different beliefs."

"Is there a light at the end of the media tunnel?"[2]

[1] Taysir 'Alooni was Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul before and during the war in Afghanistan, and was evacuated from Kabul when the Taliban regime fell.

[2] Al-Hayat (London), December 21, 2001.

Share this Report: