Aljazeera’s الاتجاه المعاكس )The Opposite Direction) is one of my favourite programmes aired on Arab television. The presenter, Faisal Qasim invites two guests, often from polar opposite opinions and political stances to debate a controversial topic. True to Aljazeera’s principles, there are no holds barred, and Faisal Qasim often has to referee the proceedings. Much of what is said on the programme would land you in prison in most if not all the Arab states beyond the confines of Aljazeera’s Doha studios. In one episode a brawl almost breaks between the guests.
Despite recent claims in a Wikileaks cable leak that the American administration believes Aljazeera has been used as a political tool by the Qatari royal family, the channel remains one of the most revolutionary and brave media outlets in the world, not withholding the criticism of Arab leaders (save perhaps the Qatari monarch).
The Bush-Chaney government attempted to dirty Aljazeera’s credibility in the west, with George Bush calling it the ‘mouth-piece of Bin Laden’, and claiming that it deliberately and repeatedly compromised American combat operations in Iraq by its coverage. The documentary film Control Room (available here), provides a behind the scenes look at how western and Arab media covered the Iraq war from Central Command in the Qatari desert. Not wanting to risk being filmed bombing the Iraqi capital, an American fighter jet destroyed the offices of Aljazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, killing Aljazeera journalist Tarek Ayoub. By the end of the film, even American reporters begin to admit openly that the entire media coverage of the war was stage-managed. An Aljazeera producer reveals that the young Iraqis jubilantly waving American flags and tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein weren’t even Iraqis. Yet the western audiences weren’t to know run; they wouldn’t notice the men speaking a non-Iraqi dialect. To top it off, the official American military spokesman, Joshua Rushing committed the ultimate act of betrayal- he moved to Aljazeera, becoming one its foremost journalists in its English language platform, citing the disingenuousness of American news channels.
In one of the bravest episodes of الاتجاه المعاكس I’ve seen (Nov 23 2010) to date, the guests spare no efforts in their description of Arab leaders and the condition that Arabs find themselves in. Faisal Qassim opens with the following description...
“Why do the Arabs constantly boast of their gallantry, courage, and honour, although of all the peoples of the world, they are most likely to resign themselves to injustice, oppression, and persecution? Aren't our peoples reminiscent of a man who is always boasting of his escapades with women, only to turn out to be an impotent windbag? Why do we boast of our manliness, while, in fact, we are merely mice who are afraid of their own shadow? Why do we boast of our bravery, when in fact, we are a nation of beggars? Why do we boast of our courage, when in fact, we are the most cowardly people on Earth? Is there any major crime that the Arab rulers have neglected to commit against their people? When has any Arab people ever revolted against its executioners – except in their wildest dreams?”
Iraqi Researcher Muhammad Al-Khodari is no less kind...
“The constitutions of the Arab countries resemble a whore who is raped by the president and his entire entourage, whenever he feels like it....
No one denies that the Arab rulers excel in coming up with innovative ways to annihilate their own peoples”.
Western leaders don’t quite get the same treatment on Western media programmes. We prefer neat discussions, impressive graphics and chivalry. Maybe it’s because western leaders don’t do the same things Arab leaders do. Maybe it’s because we have democracy. Perhaps Arab leaders are corrupt and ours are not. Maybe because the guests on Aljazeera have no reasonable hope of ever choosing their leaders, they resort to insulting them.
The result is a semi-humorous showdown on who can come up with the most degrading insults- something Arabic speakers are very good at. Despite, or maybe because of these reasons, the show is extremely entertaining.
(An excerpt of the episode is available at http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2716.htm)