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Historically, there have been many misunderstandings regarding western and Middle Eastern political and social ideologies (Harris 92). On one hand, western countries have criticized the beliefs, values, and foundations of Middle Eastern philosophies by branding them as archaic, retrogressive, and intolerable. On the other hand, many Arabs perceive western ideologies to be superficial and motivated by money and material gains.
The media has magnified most of these ideological differences. Indeed, the design of most media content today suits the country of origin and not the objectivity of the message portrayed. Unlike in the past where the control of global media was western-dominated, new global media companies broadcast non-western content. However, even with the introduction of new media, the divide between the east and the west exist. Consequently, mainstream international media is either “pro-western” or “pro-eastern.”
Today, there is a lot of intolerance from the US government towards Arab media (and more specifically Al Jazeera). This intolerance shows the US government’s unwillingness to accommodate Al Jazeera in the United States (US) media. The September 11 attacks in the US compounded the government’s negative attitude towards Arab media because the government saw the Middle East as a threat to its security.
However, before these attacks, there was a significant level of tolerance by the US government towards Al Jazeera broadcasts. Now, Al Jazeera television (which is the main Arabic television network) receives minimal airplay in the US. Interestingly, Al Jazeera airs in more than 120 countries around the world, with a viewership base that exists across 250 million households (Kessler 47). This paper discusses the intolerance for Al Jazeera by the US government.
Political and Commercial Interests
The biggest criticism leveled against western media is its biased presentation of global issues. The Egyptian revolution is one example cited by Kessler (47) as a biased presentation of global matters in the western media (because western media used the revolution to perpetrate western ideals in the Middle East).
Since there are many western political interests in the Middle East, Kessler (47) borrowed the views of an international relations expert (specializing in the Israeli-US relationship), when he said that the US government buys the citizens’ approval of its activities in the Middle East by locking their perception to western ideologies about the Middle East. It is through such an understanding that Singham (2) refers to the unfavorable presentation of the US (in the war on Iraq) as the main reason for the government’s dislike for Al Jazeera.
Therefore, the US government sees Al Jazeera as a potential threat to its interests in the Middle East. Many cable network providers are also unwilling to contradict the government’s position on this matter. Largely, this reason outlines the political intrigues surrounding Al Jazeera’s failure to penetrate the US media.
Commercially, cable network providers have stated the inadequate market for Al Jazeera (in the US) as a reason for their refusal to accommodate it in their broadcasts.
Al Jazeera contests this view because it claims to receive thousands of emails (from Americans) requesting their broadcasts in the US. Their petition has however been unsuccessful. There is a strong belief among the cable network providers that there is more to lose (than gain) by providing Al Jazeera in America (Nisbet 11). Their loss centers on fears of losing subscribers.
Western Dream vs. Non-Western Dream
The emulation of the “American dream” occurs in most parts of the western world including Europe, South America, Asia and other parts of the world. Developed by America’s founding fathers, the “American dream” stresses the need for equality among all men. Even though recent decades have seen a modification of this dream, the main philosophy informing the “American dream” is social mobility through hard work.
Incorrectly, the structures underlying the western dream gauge success and prosperity in other regions of the world (the advancement of the “western dream” as a measure for socioeconomic prosperity in the Arab world is worse). According to Arafa (21), the “western dream” is unequal to the “Arab dream” because the philosophy driving prosperity and success in the western world does not mirror the same measures of success or prosperity in the Arab world.
Arafa (21) highlights the differences between Middle East and Western cultures by showing a strong emphasis on unity, freedom, and sturdy social foundations as the main foundations underlying the “non-western dream”. In addition, the main difference presented by Harris (153) regarding the foundations of the western and non-western dreams lie in the focus on financial motivators (or the lack of it).
For example, a significant hallmark of the American dream is homeownership. Indeed, many Americans consider homeownership to be a significant mark of success. In the Arab world, the emphasis on such material possession (home ownership) is not profound.
Many Americans are unexposed to such differences in socioeconomic perceptions because western media still shapes their view of the non-western world. There is therefore a strong need to diversify America’s perception of the non-western world by allowing the penetration of non-western media (allowing Al Jazeera to air in America is one such move).
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The Need for a Change of Strategy
Undoubtedly, the views represented in western media have largely shaped America’s impression of the Arab world. However, as observed in this paper, most of these views work to safeguard western ideologies about the Middle East. Nisbet (11) also agrees to this assertion and affirms that western media is slightly biased in its representation of the Middle Eastern people.
to Nisbet (11), there is a strong need to educate the American public regarding all aspects of the Middle Eastern culture so that they can have an unbiased understanding of what Arab culture entails (holistically). Exposing the American public to Arab media is the best way to do so. Furthermore, allowing Al Jazeera to broadcast in America is one way to achieve this outcome. This move allows the American public to see the Arab world through the eyes of the Arabs themselves.
This view is more objective than relying on western media to explain a culture that it does not understand. In fact, Singham (2) explains that the intolerance exercised by the American government towards Al Jazeera is “Anti-American” because a country that thrives on the principles of democracy, individual liberties, and a free media should not prevent certain media outlets to broadcast in their country.
Finally, allowing Al Jazeera to broadcast in America is a positive move in fostering intercultural understanding between Arabs and westerners (especially considering the fact that there is a great religious divide between the two groups). Moreover, since Al Jazeera does not only air political issues, Americans will be able to know other dynamics of the Arab culture (such as what makes them laugh or cry) and appreciate their culture.
Indeed, Singham (2) uses this argument to criticize American cable network providers for failing to accommodate Al Jazeera in their networks because he explains that Al Jazeera also airs comedy shows and other media content that is unrelated to the Arab world. Singham (2) does not therefore understand why the US government (or the cable companies) should prevent the American public from accessing such media content.
Instead, he proposes that the American people should enjoy the freedom to watch whatever they want because by doing so; they will be able to make informed decisions regarding what political, social, or economic issues they support. Still, Singham (2) draws from the previous argument of American liberties and freedoms by questioning the intolerance of “other” political or social views in America.
The US has been on the forefront to promote individual liberties and press freedom not only within its borders but also around the world. However, the selective applications of these principles dent the country’s credibility as the world’s leader in promoting fairness, equality, and the accommodation of divergent views. To redeem its image, America should be truly democratic and embrace the foundations of its national ethos by allowing the American public to decide what to watch.
According to the principles of the “American dream”, there should not be any artificial controls to shape the social mobility or views of the public. Comprehensively, there needs to be an objective review of the government’s intolerance of Al Jazeera and other elements of Middle Eastern media to promote intercultural understanding between both regions.
Arafa, Mohamed. “Hungry for news and information: Instrumental use of Al-Jazeera TV among viewers in the Arab World and Arab Diaspora.” Journal of Middle East Media 1.1 (2005): 21–50. Print.
Harris, Richard. A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication, New York: Taylor & Francis, 2009. Print.
Kessler, Oren. “The Two Faces of Al Jazeera.” Middle East Quarterly 19.1 (2012): 47-56. Print.
Nisbet, Erik. “Public diplomacy, television news, and Muslim opinion.” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 9.2 (2004): 11–37. Print.
Singham, Mano 2011, Why Al Jazeera is not found on US cable networks. Web.