Joseph Braude: Broadcasting Change: Arabic Media as a Catalyst for Liberalism

Joseph Braude: Broadcasting Change: Arabic Media as a Catalyst for Liberalism

Robert R. Reilly: I’ll be brief in the introduction
because you’ve already seen it in the invitation that the subject of tonight’s talk is also
the title of Joseph Braude’s new book, “Broadcasting Change: Arabic Media as a Catalyst for Liberalism,”
and as you know there are copies available out on the table outside. What impressed me to no end – aside from
my having had the pleasure some years ago of hearing Joseph speak and was deeply impressed
by what I heard and learned from him – is the review he got from the person I happen
to think is the finest Arab journalist and who was the manager of Al Arabiya television
for quite a few years and that is Abdul Rahman al Russia. And here is what he said about Dr. Braude’s
new book, quote, “in the Middle East where literacy rates are low and public awareness
is minimal the influence of television and social media can be a life-and-death matter. As Jaffa Joseph Brody argues in this groundbreaking
book media can play a crucial role in countering extremism, challenging entrenched ideas, and
bridging distances. Braude’s expertise in the Arabic language
and his history of deep involvement in the Arab world make him ideally suited to investigate
both the problems and the promise of this field,” unquote. I don’t think you could get a better review
than that. Joseph as- again if you’ve read the intro,
Joseph Braude is fluent in not only Arabic but Farsi and Hebrew and English. I should add he’s written a number of books
the chose adventurous some spirit including one about Iraq and we were just sharing experiences
from the spring of 2003 when he went there to see if he might be able to start a newspaper. And of deed he wrote a book, “The New Iraq,”
on what he saw. He also wrote a book of his experiences in
Morocco, which were quite extraordinary when he embedded with the police on a murder case. So this just gives you some indication of
the depth of his his experience. And that was called the, that is called the
honored dead. He- Joseph is widely published in a number
of newspapers and magazines. He has left us or he will be leaving us with
a take away policy sheet that is available out where the book is I didn’t want anyone
Fanning themselves with it during the talk so I didn’t put it in your seats but I encourage
you to take a copy of that and I’m going to leave my brief introduction of Joseph here
because he’s written some notes on the back that he needs to use please join me in welcoming
Joseph Braude. Joseph Braude: I’m going to bring you some
good news and some bad news. The good news is that amidst the hardships
and the partisan polarization taking the form of sectarian difference and intolerance in
so many countries in the Middle East. There is a rising trend, particularly among
young people who want to transcend the identities that divide them. The bad news is that they’re still outnumbered
by some very nimble and effective actors who have been brainwashed by generations [of]
extremist propaganda and that conflict is is a tough one for liberals. This good news and bad news was sort of nicely
encapsulated by an Iraqi comedian who has a TV show. It’s called the Bashir show and it’s one
of several knockoffs of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show that have become popular across
the Middle East. So I thought in the spirit of levity but also
because it really speaks to the situation, I would share that clip with you now but lacking… Now when outsiders who look at the situation
in Iraq, including specialists in Iraq, are asked to diagnose the challenge of establishing
stability and security in the country, they often speak in terms of military and violent
actors, Iranian proxy militias the role of Sunni jihadists and so on. But for many Iraqis the problem begins between
the ears of that young man who spoke about the 85% and the 15%. He is someone who speaks blissfully unaware
of how he is contradicting himself perhaps because he was denied the tools of critical
thinking that he would need to pick apart the contradiction in his argument. In the Iraqi school system- and if you’re
Iraqi, you recognized that personality because someone like him may be teaching your child
in school. He may be deciding whether to grant a license
for your business in a government ministry and he would be staffing the police in in
many parts of the country and alas he may have a seat at the table of senior decision-making
levels of government. And so the question of how to affect positively
influence that mindset and enrich it with the tools that would help that young men reason
his way through [the] question of how to truly establish unity in Iraq, transcend sectarian
division, goes to the heart of the problems that Iraq is facing today. And a problem that is much broader now, that
problem is exacerbated by the fact that for every one show like the Bashir show there
are many satellite channels that are preaching violence and hate and seeking to indoctrinate
and the population and tweak the culture in a manner that suits their agenda. And so it would be necessary alas to ground
you in a flavor for what those channels are like too and to be an equal opportunity exposure
I’m going to show you a Shiite clip followed by a Sunni one, the first being one of the
many channels that is controlled by an Iranian government-backed militia. Again in Iran it’s called a lot and it belongs
to the Assad behind and half militia, which is one of the subsidiaries of the popular
mobilization forces. And here it’s not the typical type of clip
in which he is a given cleric is railing against the sectarian other but one in which the cleric
Muhammad Asaf II has chosen the target of Valentine’s Day. And we’re going to look at what he has to
say about Valentine’s Day and then consider the larger meaning of of his effort here. And here is iPhone footage that I managed
to find of an attack on the Valentine’s Day celebration in met Jeff hours after that
sermon was delivered an attack, one of the least bloody attacks ordered by that station
to be sure. A few people were roughed up several hundred
balloons were- were popped but the- the larger target is a celebration of love, something
that is seen by the cleric to be a foreign imposition or implantation and this action
that the cleric took using this very powerful platform of television was an effort, a successful
one to impose a new taboo on Iraq by way of his hold over the popular imagination among
his followers and tweaking the culture is an ongoing pursuit of all of these actors. There’s also a feeding frenzy among Islamist
extremist elements of the two sects such that the 24-hour incitement against Sunnis in addition
to the reality of Iranian – let’s call it political hegemony in Iraq – spawns pent
up demand for a response and equally vehement and visceral response, call it a cycle of
incitement. And one of the many channels that is doing
that kind of work on behalf of Sunni jihadists is called “we solve TV” and thought I’d
show you a little poetry that comes out of “we saw well”
[clip] Now it was heartening in 2014 when the Saudi
government shut this, evicted “we solved” from Saudi territory. The voice you heard is a Saudi preacher and
the channel is a kind of a joint-venture, a lot of Kuwaiti funding and quite a bit of
Saudis [in their] staff. It was also evicted from Bahrain and eventually
from Kuwait. This is a channel that literally has blood
on its hands. It was fingered by the Bahraini independent
commission of inquiry for having directly incited some of the killing in Bahrain in
2011 and “his rule”. Also attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait have been sourced to orders issued on this [channel]. The problem is again a matter of public attitude
because two years later in 2016 a well-intentioned member of the Saudi Majlis Shura, the consultative
council, tweeted a tweet that he hoped would encourage more shutdowns of channels like
we saw by trying to elicit a show of public support. And so he committed- he- this is a sort of
an online poll on Twitter in which he asks in light of the fact that the- which “we
saw” channel insights internet’ Singh’s sectarian strife and serves a partisan agenda
that is sometimes in tune with Isis, do you support its having been closed? More than or nearly 25,000 people responded
to the poll. 18 percent said yes they support it having
been closed. 82 percent said that they were opposed to
its closure. Now I think that some caveats are in order
here first of all since we note that the the TV stations Twitter presence gets a mention
on the tweet it’s clear that we saw was aware of the poll probably they used their
formidable social media presence to engineer a get out the vote which would have skewed
the results nonetheless apparently they had who would get out that vote and meanwhile
if there were there ought to have been a liberal cadre that would launch its own get out the
vote drive in order to send a message but it did not make its presence felt in this
poll and so the question comes back to a matter of popular culture and popular sensibilities
and so the question that returns to the aspiration expressed by the Iraqi comic of transcending
divisions based on identity is how do you get from that vaguely espoused sentiment to
an actual change in the culture? Now forty-nine years ago remarkable man far
from Iraq and Saudi Arabia in North Africa set out to do just that it’s the Tunisians
strongman al Habib Bourguiba whom I have in mind the liberator of Tunisia from France
and a dictator who sought to bring some liberal values or sensibilities to a conservative
population and there was a memorable moment in Libya right after Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi
had taken power in the last in a long chain of Nazareth’s coos when Bourguiba put into
words what he called the alternative Arabism, an alternative vision of the nationalism that
he believed in. And here’s how he expressed it then didn’t
know adams in so their message yeah so then making you have to hustle man out man what small matter to a dilemma that I
am an admiral what that does you know
…. Why I feel it’s worth subtitling and sharing
that decades-old clip is not because he said what he said but because he acted on it. Say what you will about Tunisia under Bourguiba
and his successor Ben Ali who was deposed in the first of the Arab Spring revolutions. They were brutal, they were corrupt, and so
on but they were also people who consistently pursued a cultural agenda which took the form
of education in schools, an overhaul of religious instruction and consistent media work to promote
a certain set of ideals which included women’s equality and empowerment ideas about intolerance
and a range of other essentials for the development of a democratic society such that when in
2015 for Tunisians were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in holding together
the frail and ongoing democratic experiment in the country at this point the only ongoing
Arab Spring democratic experiment a lot of observers in Tunisia said that this was somehow
in a sense boogeyman’s legacy that the presence of a strong labor constituent constituency
in Tunisia capable of organizing and acting against Islamist in positions the presence
of a strong network of women’s movements organizations capable of pushing back against
efforts to roll back their rights would not have happened but for the groundwork that
was painstakingly laid for that within the culture so if you are a liberal today in the
Arab world or any number of Arab countries and you’re looking at the bitter legacy
of the post Arab Spring experiments you have in attempting to draw up your own plans as
they say in Arabic we are on a Holodomor two choices the sweeter of which is bitter you
can adopt the revolutionary position more revolutions and face the likelihood that like
so many of the recent revolutions it will lead to more chaos more violence that even
if there are elections those elections may only calcify communal communal divisions or
consecrate an extremist ideology or coronate a strong man or and this is no fun you can
look for an environment in which a new leader has begun to speak the language of were Kiba
and attempt to hold him to it to enter a relationship with the system to contribute your ideas and
energies to that new experiment and to push against the limits and the red lines that
have been imposed on you by that autocratic establishment I wrote this book because I’ve
spent a lot of time in the region looking for opportunities to promote liberalism or
I should say opportunities that local actors have found to advance their liberal agenda
the question of how to help them do their work more effectively there are leaders in
the region today who at the very least are speaking of Bourguiba like language before
we evaluate this since the genuineness and the staying power of their stated commitments
I just like to give you an opportunity to watch one here is the Egyptian president Abdul
Fatah Al Sisi speaking about the role of media in inculcating the ideals that he says he
would like to pursue. Bear in mind the Bourguiba statement you just
saw when you watch this
…. That is
a gathering of leading establishment media in Egypt home Sisi convened as a presidential
candidate shortly after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and a lot of people many liberals at
the time were supportive of Sisi and that kind of talk is what gave them their grounds
for optimism and all over the world a Arab world I think people were looking to see whether
Sisi would act on these ideas now why did he focus on media when he mentioned also religious
establishment schools the family if you watch the extended clip he explains his rationale
it is not easy to reimagine the type of control over the flow of information and indoctrination
that a Bourguiba would have been able to achieve 50 years ago and media in an environment where
the school system is cleric the religious establishment is exceptionally rigid is the
most fluid and dynamic tool of inculcation it is also the play the venue that you can
use to skip across borders and reach into parts of Egypt and parts of parts of the broader
region where it’s not possible to deploy a cultural initiative on the ground due to
the instability so media indeed has a special role to play can a state come together and
partner with motivated actors within its own society to begin to inculcate a constructive
message in a systemic way we’ll come back to the question of Egypt a little bit later
but I’m going to say a few words about Morocco in order to provide a sterling example of
where the answer might be yes in that country after triple suicide bombings in Casablanca
in 2003 a newly minted King taken over in 1999 from his father pledged to pursue a holistic
strategy to rollback extremist ideologies in his borders through a security clampdown
on mosque indoctrination through economic initiatives through schools and indeed through
the media he had in his corner a very strong and promising institutional capacity in his
Ministry of Islamic Affairs where the reigning reading of Islam is one that rather seamlessly
links Moroccan nationalism or I should say the royalist idea about Moroccan nationalism
with the experience of religion it has Sufi traditions that are recognized a kind of a
quietest mystical strand and other very useful religious teachings and tropes that can help
challenge an extremist ideology so when he set out to launch a media campaign to counter
the likes of the religious broadcasting we saw earlier this evening he took 12 really
talented people from the Islamic Affairs Ministry and sent them to France for various types
of training and creative role playing over the space of a year to begin to conceive of
a satellite channel of his own a religious affairs channel that could be some kind of
an antidote to the likes of the jihadist and Shiite Islamist programming you saw earlier
they did it by way of focusing on certain themes reclaiming a sense of place that is
Morocco its cities a sense of a unified Moroccan destiny that is independent of any trans state
ideology reclaiming what is particular peculiar and special about the experience of Islam
in Morocco its distinctive style of Quran recitation, the accent the the Sufi traditions,
the role of women would become a prominent theme in this broadcast and the role of the
family in speaking to young people who are being urged by extremists to detach themselves
from family this would be a broadcast that asked the family to come together around Islam
one little illustrative example of what came out of this effort is a program loosely based
on American Idol but for Quran’ic chanting and at that Quran’ic chanting by Moroccan
girls and as you’ll see from this clip which ties together those themes that I just mentioned
it’s really not about the competition …
Oh so this colorful and charming little program encapsulate the theme of the family theme
of locality the theme of girls and they need to make them prominent I might add that another
interesting contrast between this clip and what you saw of the Shiite and Sunni extremist
television is that it’s not built around a cult of personality it’s not a single
figure telling you what to do and how to think who is at the center of this there is a panel
of judges there’s a host they’re all standing aside so that young ladies can show show off
their talents there’s an institution here nor are they reacting to extremists preaching
by inciting back the way that the two faiths are inciting at each other in a cycle of mutual
exacerbation they are ignoring those messages in a sense and telling their own story on
their own terms so this is a remarkable achievement and it’s extremely popular in Morocco together
with its radio sister broadcast it’s the kind of thing that happens when you have a
strong state institution backing the venture it’s not easy for three or four people to
get together and create a channel like this even with unlimited funds there are other
countries where liberally motivated actors have successfully engaged the state in efforts
not necessarily of a religious nature but in sort of reaching outside of the religious
discussion to talk about women’s issues and other matters through comedy and entertainment
Saudi public television has been a venue for a remarkable program it had a 17-year run
that at a much darker time in Saudi Arabia was subtly challenging clerical hegemony over
the public space in that kingdom the program was called a posh montage which roughly translates
to you either get it or you don’t and I think you’re all going to get the meaning
of this clip a very short skit about but sighs yeah it’s it is a great show was a great
show what happens when a policeman and his sidekick respond to a robbery by contemporary Saudi standards
this is a fairly gentle comedy skit but in its time I think about 15 years ago 13 years
ago this was so controversial that it barely made its way onto the airwaves and it inspired
death threats to everyone who was involved in the writing and production of this the
skit and it wasn’t the only one of its kind this program was relentless a book has since
been written called the battles of Tosh montage about the struggle within the information
ministry in Saudi Arabia at one point for every tense skits that the writers submitted
to sense four would be rejected but over time through persistence they managed to work the
sensors over to challenge to to be persistent and things that were once forbidden would
later be resubmitted and accepted and in retrospect over this remarkable 18 months in which Saudi
Arabia has seen rescinding of the ban on women’s driving the stripping of the authority of
the religious police to make arrests now the advent of the cinema in Saudi Arabia and other
social reforms that have been welcomed by the population women in particular credit
this program with having nudged the public discussion forward with having challenged
ingrained ideas by exposing them to ridicule it was one of many initiatives that were happening
on Saudi Arabia in the media for certainly the past 13 years another way that liberals
in Saudi Arabia sought to use media was through the news and turning news into a series of
teachable moments and turning news analysis into a kind of liberal exhortation when a
decision would be made by the royal family which in liberals judgment was a positive
step they would seek to build on it push on it and try to urge the public to call for
more such reforms one example was in 2014 when the late King Abdullah instituted this
was at the time in the Muslim Brotherhood was to to be a designated a terrorist organization
by Saudi Arabia and other countries he ordered surveillance of teachers and who might be
indoctrinating for the Brotherhood in the sanctity of their relationship with schoolchildren
Mansour nagae done who is formerly a hard-line religious leader himself and who evolved over
time into a prominent liberal actor in Saudi Arabia was asked to comment on this new decision
and watch him describe his views watch him push beyond the Brotherhood to talk about
other groups that he would also like to see in the kingdom’s sights and push beyond
targeting an enemy to advocating for an alternative reading alternative set of ideas about what
it means to be Saudi. [clip]
…silly attack that was also a gutsy statement to make in 2014 it’s
still a little ahead of its time in Saudi Arabia but progress that has been made since
this period and the Saudi discussion of what it means to be a Saudi nationalist the notion
of a more inclusive Saudi identity that well that recognizes the Shiite minority as a legitimate
and authentic faith-based community testify to certainly the acknowledgement of the importance
of this approach if you’re trying to hold the country together and the pent up demand
among liberally minded Saudis for these ideals the examples I’ve shown you just now all
relate in some way to a state institution whether it be the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic
Affairs, Saudi Public Television, a semi-government venture which is Al-Arabiya or [I] should
say not controlled by the government but dominated by the royal family of Saudi Arabia. There are also independent initiatives that
happen without the blessing of a given government by liberals who seek to introduce new ideas
that they don’t believe their government will readily propagate itself but in bringing
them via the internet and through other means bend over backwards to avoid crossing the
government in hopes that over time they can build support for their ideas and see it find
a way into government. And so this is where we will return to Egypt
and encounter a young man named Aslam Hussein who was part of a team of a group of people
called Tahrir Academy who do online learning to try to pioneer new types of curricula that
they hope will eventually be embraced by Egyptian schools. Earlier we talked about critical thinking
and the idea that all kinds of dramatic irony and internal contradiction could be obviated
if young people were exposed to the tools of critical thinking to reason their way through
disputes and hatred so one learning module Tahrir Academy intended to instill critical
thinking in viewers so I thought I’d give you a little flavor for that as well. [clip]
Then I mean that is a very popular it’s this is a you know two minute distillation
of a long lecture series that is very popular in Egypt hundreds of thousands of people have
watched the series it speaks to some kind of a demand it speaks to the the fact that
these efforts are finding a receptive ear and that there is potential if you take stock
of all of these clips that I shared with you this evening for liberal actors working either
in cooperation with amenable States or at least not finding themselves imprisoned by
those states are able to begin to make a dent in the public discussion now as we move toward
winding down and eventually to taking your questions I want to discuss with you what
all of this means for the United States for American policy toward the region there is a formidable commitment
on the part of various American institutions and some of our allies in Europe to media
development work here in the US we have a group the International Center for journalists
which is concerned with training young and Arab journalists as well as others all over
the world with the best practices of investigative reporting to afflict the comfortable and comfort
the afflicted to uncover government corruption report on human rights abuse to also provide
technical equipment that journalists need in doing that kind of work there are journalists
advaithic advocacy groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists and both the training
and the advocacy activities have their parallels in Europe. The Deutsche Welle Academy is doing similar
type of training. The BBC has a group like that as well the
underlying premise of these ventures is that the free exchange of ideas brings freedom. Now it is undoubtedly true the converse is
undoubtedly true that by that the curtailment of the free exchange of ideas is the definition
of a of an impediment to freedom but does the free exchange of ideas necessarily bring
freedom? I will show you one more clip from the whistle
channel that Iraqi Shiite Iran-backed satellite channel that we saw early on this evening
and we’ll talk about it and we’ll reevaluate that premise in light of it. [clip]
…Reuters with Iraq that Eco ID so when she had bass is the talk show host who read that
statement and it was a successful little monologue because Ned Parker fled Iraq hours later in
2015 he had the good fortune to be an American citizen and had a place to flee to but most
targets of media intimidation by the media properties controlled by rogue states and
trans state actors are local voices with nowhere to run and so one challenge to the premise
that the free exchange of ideas brings freedom is that when rogue states use media to intimidate
their critics the media can itself be a an impediment to freedom so there are several
problematic assumptions that many of the media development organizations based in the West
regard as axiomatic the first is that in focusing on the uncovering of let’s just say we’ll
put it this way in training their energy on investigative reporting against government
abuses which is to be sure a vital function in any society and certainly in the hour they
are nonetheless reducing the struggle for free expression to a confrontation between
free or democratic journalists and autocratic establishments when in reality there are other
challenges to free expression as well that include foreign governments like Iran trans
state actors with their own media properties and so on and indeed the society itself in
the sense that a traditional society can exercise its own form of organic censorship on a voice
that it perceives to be divergent and so a broadening of the spectrum of confrontation
is perhaps called for the second assumption that is problematic in Western media development
programs is the difficulty in finding media to engage that is truly free that is if the
ICFJ calls a training session in a given Arab country who shows up people who may in some
cases represent themselves to be free journalists democratic journalists but may actually identify
with a given militia or movement that is quite anti-democratic do you provide technical equipment
to such a person if that is what if it’s a staffer form we saw is that person to be
given the same advantages that a liberally minded public voice should grant that’s
another question that needs to be asked and it’s an especially important one in light
of some of the choices that some of the Western institutions have made. I’ll give you one example rust it’s an
online news service extraordinarily popular that was launched in Egypt with support from
Deutsche Welle Academy and when several its principals were arrested by the CC government
and probably tortured the Committee to Protect Journalists did what it knows how to do with
its communicates and public advocacy campaigns to get them out of prison rest owes a lot
to Western institutions problem is that rust if you examine its content and you look at
its board you see that it speaks in large part for a hard-line faction of the Muslim
Brotherhood you see that it has been a kind of a clearinghouse whereby brotherhood figures
that are for armed activism are taking credit for terrorist operations and exhorting people
to follow in the footsteps of those violent actors they’re promoting conspiracy theories
they’re also attempting to denigrate their opponents however valid some of their criticisms
may be of President Sisi in saying that well he’s the son of Moroccan Jewish woman which
in its cultural context is intended to be an insult these sorts of cheap tricks of denigration
and stigmatization do not encourage a democratic ethos in Egypt they play instead to the worst
traits of bigotry that have been long ingrained so it raises the question as to whether you
want to equip a group like that now some may say well isn’t everything you just said
also true about Egyptian state media don’t they incite against Islamists and call for
their death don’t they also spout conspiracy theories and for that matter say that the
Muslim brother as a Jewish enterprise yes all of that is true but making that point
and drawing that equivalency is also a kind of admission that rust this network so staunchly
supported by Western actors is a kind of a mirror image of its worst opponents and not
the kind of free journalism that those institutions are meant to encourage another point is that
if you that there is a presumption about the Fourth Estate the idea that through investigative
reporting the exposure of wrongdoing will lead to its redress that is a kind of a projection
from a Western democratic environment in a country where the central government is too
weak to act or a tyrant is capable of ignoring public opprobrium it does not follow that
the exposure of wrongdoing will lead to its redress and if you simply expose wrongdoing
and no action is taken as a result you may have the unintended consequence of only compounding
social defeatism a feeling that nothing can be done so again not that it isn’t vital
to uncover corruption and report on human rights abuses but if you don’t also worry
about how to send a message that embolden s– the population rather than inspire them
to feel even more fatalistic then you aren’t necessarily moving the ball forward so if
you were to and I’ll say one more thing about this problem when I was in Cairo a few
years ago on the trip I met with Akram shaaban who is the BBC bureau chief bureau chief of
the BBC Arabic Service in Cairo obviously a practitioner of free journalism who enjoys
a mandate to follow the story wherever it leads and he says you know Joseph a lot of
Egyptians come to me and say that they wish that they could have my job but there are
so few jobs like it and they don’t want to go into state media Akram said I always
tell them no go into Egyptian television do the work and if you only have 20 percent of
the freedom you want push to make it 25 percent what he is saying when you think about it
is will fully participate in the manufacture of government propaganda most of the time
and become an advocate for free journalism some of the time the thing is that struggle
not the struggle between free journalism and unfree States but the struggle within the
unfree organizations is the the struggle of the mainstream of the media profession in
the Middle East because these are the hybrid and undemocratic media institutions that are
creating the content that most people are watching and so if you don’t have a recipe
to engage and support those actors then you are not reaching the majority of Arab publics
directly or indirectly now if we were then to devise an alternative approach it would
be an approach that is based not on criteria which undemocratic media failed to meet but
rather by the work that they actually do and the work that they do if the examples that
I’ve shown you today can be summed up is not the reporting of fact for public use but
rather the of facts hopefully fact to inculcate a set of values political sensibilities and
cultural values and so one way to evaluate an institution is on the merits of the values
that it is inculcating and on the possibility to negotiate over those values and build on
them if you think about the media in that sense you’re going way beyond journalism
because the inculcation of values is the comedy the Quran’ic chanting competition and some
of the other programs you’ve seen today attest it’s not just journalism it’s also
it may be children’s programming it may be soap operas and comedies you need to engage
the spectrum of media in that sense and you need to have a means by which to identify
our partners on the ground and a gentleman in the room asked what is expeditionary diplomacy
I’ve used the term to describe the kind of work I feel that would be needed to more
effectively promote liberal media in Arab countries it is the practice of having a cadre
of bicultural bilingual people deployed to Arab countries studying the informational
environment identify liberal actors determine their needs and devise a plan to help them
and what you will find if you engage in that practice is that there are a lot of actors
worth engaging that some of them have been granted a space in which to acts relatively
safely and securely and that they welcome outside support so those who say well what
about the kiss of death an ocean International partnership discredits a local actor no they
are prepared to stomach whatever insults or insinuations are made it for the benefits
of international engagement because they prefer it over the cost of isolation so this is a
kind of a radical departure from conventional views about media development in Arab countries
and I have been sort of living this process through quite a bit of media work in the region
over the past ten years and I wrote this book to sort of sum up the findings and boil down
the argument for an audience of concerned Americans and so I thank you again for the
chance. [Applause]
Thank you very much very you evaluate their work as you see it from every perspective
in this regard you mean would they want someone like me to evaluate what they’re doing or
have I done it or but would you would you be effective well I think that there is tremendous
potential for when you have a government or semi government institution that is tasked
with promoting a set of ideals which Americans embrace and which are shared by a great many
actors in the region to provide that support I think some of the things that would be needed
in order for for those institutions to achieve their potential first of all recognition of
how dynamic the landscape is that you have to be on the ground or have people on the
ground who are continuously evaluating the competitive landscape I mean I could have
gone on to tell you about other foreign actors not just Iran the Russian government is extremely
active in supporting its allies in media and other cultural platforms China is has some
exquisite information programs in Arabic today so you have to be ready to continuously reevaluate
your strategies and plans you have to know a lot about the people you’re working with
and you have to grant the people you send overseas the latitude to adjust their plans
according to the realities that they see around them I think that when the US government deploys
militarily those sorts of principles are very much in place where there’s a certain amount
of delegation of decision-making to the people are actually in the field whereas when we
craft our information programs there’s considerably less latitude granted to the actual implementers
I think another question that we would need to be asking more is the issue of neutrality
some information programs are and I’ve been talking around this issue today concerned
out of showing being abundantly careful not to take sides in any intra Arab dispute within
a given country not to appear to be siding with one ideological group over another and
the result may be that you are convening a gathering of people and the ones who show
up might include a few liberals as well as a whole bunch of people who are working with
an Iranian owned satellite channel or the likes of rust that was supported by the chabela
Academy so if we were to move to a stance where we are identifying thought partners
and trying to find out what we can do to help them visa vie their domestic competition I
think that too would make these efforts more effective I also thank you for this awesome
work English okay I have two questions criticism what I praises if you emphasize liberalism
and social modernization graduated the waters or electrical democracy that raises the question
station that’s the basis or possibly the point where I find some criticisms where you’ve
adopted out of mass media’s language of saying the Islamists are conservative conservatism
is not the antithesis of liberalism liberalism is John support bill said conservatives and
liberals are the two necessary polarities of a healthy society true if we were to describe
the Muslim Brotherhood as our mediator as progressive what they are fighting against
pro-western dictatorial regimes and it’s fighting against the global right the West’s
status and as conservative when they are oppressing women that is again fighting against what
is identify to the global right now we’re not describing the Muslim Brotherhood we’re
describing what our own bass beat did use as the enemy and which is the conservative
right we need a consistent description for the immigrants ism or I think that’s what
needs to be consistent not bifurcating them into totally description for them while keeping
the same so to the first question democracy versus some kind of a social liberalism that
is the distances itself from demands for political participation if you are engaging the kinds
of liberal actors whose clips you’ve seen today you’re talking to people who have
decided to strike a generational bargain with autocrats as I alluded to earlier they generally
further Democratic experiments to be likely to carry their countries in an illiberal direction
and would prefer to benefit from the stability that continuity provides even under an autocracy
in order to gradually inculcate social values that are among the underpinnings of a functional
democracy so I’m not saying that those who are advocating for democracy or those who
are insisting upon an unbridled definition of liberalism that necessarily includes political
liberalism should stop doing what they’re doing but I am arguing that the systemic approach
that other liberals in the region are taking is also promising and it should not be ignored
we shouldn’t just have one approach nor should we feel bound to you know to implement
projects only along one one strategic line we can be like other countries and try many
different approaches that might even sometimes run into cross purposes and see what which
one works there’s an expression in Arabic throw the fig at the wall if it doesn’t
stick at least sustain and I’m for throwing a lot of things at the wall with regard to
if I if I called Islamists conservatives than I miss spoke I try to avoid conflating those
two terms I used the term Islamists to mean refer to a political ideology informed by
ideas about Islam and not all Islamists are necessarily violent themselves and it’s
possible to construct a political ideology that is quite salubrious and is informed by
ideas about Islam but the ones that I’m talking about are in my judgment inherently
illiberal on the score of the kinds of values that the figures you’ve seen today are talking
about whether it be empowering women a notion that both sects Islamic sects should be regarded
equally in the eyes of the law an outlook of tolerance toward the other and so on so
that’s my my judgment queer I know that can we have two because this lady and Intifada
have both it’s a little good thank you very much just one who has spent 40 years working
in and with media in the US you can’t have that discussion without talking about the
disruptors of the Internet so I realize we’re talking about broadcast but what role do you
see in the Middle East with social media and the Internet actually we call it the Berlin
Wall so social media captured the world’s attention with respect to the Middle East
in how remarkably effective it would refer effectively it was used as a tool of mobilization
at that mobilization around a negative bringing down regimes the 140 word 140 character tweet
proved less helpful in enabling young people to debate what they wanted to build up because
when you start to talk about a positive agenda you need more space to articulate it and you
need the opportunity to speak at length and elaborate consistently over a period of time
and it’s not as easy to use social media to do that the other thing about social media
in Arab countries I feel that there’s been too much of a focus on the power of social
media to the exclusion of the power of broadcast media in particular because so much of the
Arab InfoSphere is populated like its Western equivalent with material from TV broadcast
and print so in other words you want to make a point in a tweet the quickest way to do
it is to tweet one of these clothes right and so a lot of what you find on Twitter and
on Facebook as in the US our clips from Arabic television or links to articles from Arabic
publications so the role of conventional media is very important and it becomes significant
for example when you’re talking about clamping down on extremism where the US has reached
a point where it there’s a consensus about the need to shut down jihadist indoctrination
via social media what about applying the logic the same logic to satellite channels that
are reaching a larger audience not only indirectly via social media but also they’re reaching
people who can’t read and don’t have access to a smartphone yes yes so it is something
to some of this point a lot of social media and the internet and internet-based media
in Arabic is serving as an intensifier of traditional media it is you know it is serving
to intensify a TV celebrities relationship with her public by giving a chance for interactivity
inside not to dispute or diminish the potential for web based independent media ventures to
actually build up an organic following and the Tahrir Academy clip about critical thinking
speaks to the value of independent you know highly motivated young people doing that and
not waiting for a conventional broadcast to take them on however I’m not prepared to
give up on the potential that some of these ventures dominated by Arab establishment that
our allies may yet do the region anyway one of the biggest bad news the US media dealing
with specific which started as an excellent broadcasting station which made a huge difference
which was the leader and was amazing success now this training at the bottom nobody watches
it alright and our taxpayers money is going down the drain listen billions of dollars
I think you I met with my congresswoman Barbara cops they told me if you had the hundred dollars
bills to do like you public you would make much more difference the reason why if you
notice all foreign based media broadcasting in Arabic they start with success and they
they start failing and failing them why because they start to go with the politically correct
within that they haven’t read you that how it started was broadcasting the message of
freedom and democracy against the dictatorship which is brutal against its own people and
this message before the Arab Spring was a very new long strong message and is to work
very well and Havana is basically with a lot of taste of Hezbollah ideas and Lebanese controlled
the Shia level is controlled media outlet supportive of the Iraqi government anybody
against the Iraq government cannot it is a totally it shows you how successful project
became a failure I upload Deutsche Welle TV for taking a position so what I’m trying
to say the United States or the Western the best thing they can offer is freedom liberalism
democracy ideas and that’s what we should promote it’s very simple and be blunt about
it don’t be shy about it one of the things I raised presently that he loved for the first
time for a program to criticize the idea that of course or Jerusalem is Holly for the Muslims
or present an alternative idea which was not presentable and how a few months ago that’s
what I’m trying to say critical thinking present the American ideas they all have the
best market the market the beliefs is hungry for such ideas outside the box outside. Thank you. Well the as you pointed out in mentioning
Alberto Fernandez. Hurra now has new leadership and I believe
that he would share your critique about Al rap for many years and the reforms that he’s
introducing that we’re going to see unfold in the coming months are meant to reestablish
ahora is more of an advocacy voice for a position and a set of principles unless a barometer
of conventional wisdom in our countries or that is what I understand to be the case and
has begun to manifest already online through manzara okra which is publishing new sort
of rather audacious editorials and so I think the hope is that some of that will also be
transforming the the content of the TV station I’m optimistic about positive change in
the hora and obviously the- the months to come will- will determine that.


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