Monday, June 26, 2006

Al Jazeera, seriously?

Al Jazeera has long been vilified in the West by commentators and politicians who have never watched the channel, let alone understood its contents.

(Note: This could be bias. I have no proof. It's possible members of congress regularly tune in to Al Jazeera. It's also possible they all speak Arabic. I might just be uninformed).

I have generally felt squeamish while listening to such high-pitched convulsions. For the most part, as best I can tell, Al Jazeera's news coverage is a bloodier version of CNN. Al Jazeera chooses to air Bin Laden's taunts to the West, while western media sources only announce that such taunts were broadcast on an Arabic language station, a more patriotic alternative that does not give the aid and comfort to the enemy, or so we are told. On the Iraq war, far more images of dead civilians are shown on Al Jazeera, in large part because the station is really in the blood business. When it comes to American news, the mantra is "if it bleeds it leads." When it comes to Arab news channels, the mantra is "if it bleeds, and you've got that blood on tape, then it leads." It's a different emphasis, but unless you consider it anti-American to broadcast the unpleasant fact that, when wars happen, people die, it's hard to call such news coverage biased.

Of course, Al Jazeera is biased, openly - when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Critics of AJ love to point out that the station refers to Palestinian suicide bombers as "martyrs." It's not really the best criticism. In Arabic, suicide is a negative term. In English, we may think of 'suicide,' negatively, but the word itself is descriptive, and value neutral. In Arabic, the word for suicide implies mental imbalance. To call a Palestinian militant a suicide bomber in Arabic would thus be the equivalent of saying "Yesterday, two insane, depressed Palestinians blew themselves up because they were mentally unbalanced in Tel Aviv, killing two civilians." You might as well call them homicide bombers (for those who don't know, that's what fox news calls them). Where Al Jazeera is really biased in its word choice is in its decision to refer to all Palestinians killed in an attack by Israelis as martyrs. Thus when a Palestinian, civilian or militant, is killed by an Israeli raid, he or she is 'martyred' during an Israeli attack.

What has always befuddled me, though, is that American commentators constantly complain about Al Jazeera's bias. I read Al Jazeera online almost everyday, and I'd never seen a story that seemed to justify such virulent protest by Americans.

Today I read an article that made me think differently (though I stand by my assertion that few who complain about Al Jazeera have ever actually seen it).

Here's the article, the translation is rough:

Saddam would not resist helping Washington with quieting [the violence]

Khalil Duleimi, the head of the defense team for former President Saddam Hussein, said that his client believes that the United States will come to him for help in quieting the resistance in Iraq and in smoothing the path for the withdrawal of the American forces.

Deleimi said in an interview with the Associated Press that Saddam was the key to returning stability...

The article goes on and on. Saddam doesn't want any more bloodshed. Saddam wants to help both Americans and Iraqis. One quote is "This blood in the Iraqi government which was brought to power by the Americans has no purpose. They are unable to protect themselves or the Iraqi people. [The violence] will force the Americans, without question, to the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and to the Baath Party to save themselves."

It would be a good article, if it were a joke. But it's not. The only source for the article is Saddam's lawyer. There's no American spokesperson, no analyst to say how ridiculous these claims are. No one who says "regardless of how bad it gets in Iraq, it is rather unlikely that the US government will turn to Saddam Hussein, whose execution is imminent, and beg for any help he can give."

If anything, the article serves as propaganda for Saddam Hussein. It portrays him as willing to work will all sides for the good of the Iraqi people. There's no mention of the crimes he is accused of.

The story is on the front page of AJ's website, but there's no mention of the story anywhere on Al Jazeera's English language site. Odd, don't you think?


At 9:04 PM, Blogger CML said...

you apparently don't realize that AJ also has an english language website... so we don't have to read or understand arabic to know that they slant their coverage (anti-west bias)?

and people strap on explosives, walk into civilian locations, blow themselves up, murdering all those around them (called homocide), and their friends and family cheer their actions and their deaths? in the name of the religion of peace? and you somehow find this NOT unbalanced and NOT the work of mental illness? hmmm...


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