The long-awaited TV news channel Al Jazeera America launches nationwide today. This is a good thing. Remember the Dark Ages? George W. Bush, with the help of the conservative media, had a bull’s-eye on Al Jazeera. The Bush administration said that Al Jazeera was the same as the terrorists. Al Jazeera showed clips from the statements of suicide bombers, and according to Bush’s dim line of reasoning, that made the news channel equivalent to terrorists themselves.
This was maybe eight or nine years ago–in the middle of the aughts, as I recall. A couple of people I know recited nearly identical lines about Al Jazeera’s wrongs. My response at the time was that Al Jazeera is a cable news network. Saying that they’re the same as terrorists is like saying CNN is evil for reporting the news. I noted that Al Jazeera (at that time) served primarily the Middle East, and the audience for the channel was different from the audience for American channels. That is, Arabs in the Middle East probably want to hear about what is said and done supposedly in the name of their religion.
The real reason the Bush administration went after Al Jazeera though was because Al Jazeera wasn’t presenting the party line according to Bush and Cheney. The American media had kowtowed to Bush. Even the great New York Times through Judith Miller’s mouth was parroting the Bush propaganda. Not held back by the constraints of the American media, Al Jazeera and others were free to present what was actually going on in Iraq.
Some Americans don’t want Al Jazeera America providing a news alternative. There is widespread prejudice in the U.S. against people of Arab descent. But Al Jazeera coming to America is the best PR for the Middle East that money can buy.
There was an instructive moment in the show Mad Men. I’m watching season four of that hit TV show set in the 1960s. In one of the episodes I just watched, Honda executives who are launching their first automobile invite Don Draper’s ad agency to make a pitch. We see prejudice against the Japanese execs from Roger Sterling, one of the senior partners at the firm, who fought in World War II. The younger Draper fought in Korea and doesn’t have the same jaundiced picture of the Japanese. And Bert Cooper, the most senior partner, has been portrayed as a Japanophile since the beginning of the series. Sterling is clearly seen as being in the minority.
The Honda automobile was the initial gateway that opened the doors of America. Some people still buy GM or Ford cars for nationalistic reasons, but most people long ago realized that Toyota and Honda vehicles are more reliable and better built. Toyota also likes to point out that some of their vehicles are American-made and contain more U.S.-built parts than the equivalent Ford or GM.
Exposure to Japanese goods and culture bred acceptance of them as people. Arab culture is interesting and exotic. Having traveled to several predominantly-Muslim countries, even during Ramadan, I’ve seen firsthand the beauty and amazing history of the Middle East. That culture, despite our decade in Iraq, remains remote to most Americans.
My hope is that Al Jazeera America will breed a new awareness of the Middle East based in curiosity and fact instead of animosity and delusion. I fully believe that this is the gateway that will help open people’s minds to what they are so adamantly closed off to now. I see the ignorant things some people post on Facebook including some of my own tea party-loving relatives. Simply, it’s fear of the unknown. Once the unknown becomes known, Americans will see that, as Depeche Mode so aptly put it, people are people.