Al Jazeera in America

In light of Al Jazeera’s recent debut in the United States, I figured I’d talk about my thoughts on this brilliant news network.I learned about this news network a number of years ago, but I didn’t start using it seriously until I found their app on the Android Market. I have since stopped using their app (if you need a news app, I highly recommend Huff Post), but I’ll be watching them on TV as much as possible now. I recommend you all read Al Jazeera’s saga as a news network on Wikipedia. They are a provocative news network that is unafraid to say what it needs to of who it wants to. But they are also “unbiased, fact-based, [with] in-depth news.” Their record proves it.

Al Jazeera was born in 1996 straight out of Qatari government funds. I will grant that the network is biased in favor of Qatar, but then again, what news network isn’t biased somehow? The network argues it is not, of course, but with the chairman of the news network being apart of the royal family, I won’t believe. Its original Arabic motto was “the opinion and the other opinion.” It immediately drew criticism – from boycotting to official government censorship – when it put Israelis speaking Hebrew on live TV in the Arab world. This was never done before, and the network had officially made its mark on the history of journalism.

Just two years after beginning, Al Jazeera filmed Operation Desert Fox when no one else would. Just a year later, it became the most popular Arab news network in the region, without Saudi funding. That’s a pretty big accomplishment. in 2001, it received footage from Osama Bin Laden, and it aired the footage. People use this as grounds to criticize Al Jazeera, but imagine if the world never knew who committed the 9/11 attacks ? CNN and many other Western news outlets showed the footage too…after it received it from Al Jazeera. When war broke out in Afghanistan, they already had a station up and running in Kabul that dared to film what would go on during the war.

But of course the United States couldn’t stand that. Their station in Kabul was bombed (luckily know one was hurt), and according to the then managing director Mohammed Jassim al-Ali, “This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office, they know we are broadcasting from there.” But perhaps I am speculating too much. Then again, the United States also fired on their office in Baghdad, killing one of their journalists and injuring a cameraman. The Qatari government provided the United States a map of Baghdad with the location of their office, but I guess they “forgot”. After all, the United States has a habit of killing brave journalists.

But true journalism prevailed. The network has continued to film war footage – whether it is the United States or the Taliban doing the bombing. The network has continued to film war footage in Syria, showing the public what is really going on, graphic content and all. The world deserves to know.

The network has been amid controversy since their founding, as every good news outlet ought too. Former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell wanted it shut down, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it’s quite unbiased. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is “delighted” it’s come to the West.

They’ve aired Jews and Bin Laden, Tony Blair and the Taliban. They’ve been censored in Palestine for being pro-Israeli, and sanctioned in Israel for favoring Hamas. China threw them out of Beijing, and Saudi Arabia made their own media to fight back. Iraq bans them every once in a while, and Spain threw one of their journalists in jail for seven years.

What are their motives, therir views, true opinions? Who knows. But they are provocative, insightful, and they certainly make me think. And that’s what media ought to be. They are the fifth most influential global brand in the world, and their story has only just begun.

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What the Mainstream is – and isn’t

The Google Dictionary defines mainstream as “the ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts.” In conventional use, this definition of mainstream works, but we can get confused and use the term improperly.

The use of the word “mainstream” implies it to be in the middle. That’s the mental picture we get, anyway, and this middle requires two extreme ends. But that delivers the wrong impression: go out on the street and ask people if they like “extreme views”. Be they Tea Party or hard line Socialist, they’ll likely say no. This connotation of “extreme” is not helping anyone. What is extreme in America is commonplace in Europe. What is commonplace in Europe is liberal trash in Singapore. Extreme is bad, follow the majority! Follow the masses. So the saying goes.

Now let’s pretend we’re all in school…in the hood. Most of your classmates have smoked pot or sniffed crack, at least once or twice before. That’s mainstream for you. Extreme isn’t being a nerd or a suck up…it’s not smoking pot. Not doing something that the mainstream does suddenly makes you extreme – and that’s ok.

Back to reality. When we hear the media’s rambling of the mainstream, we must caution ourselves, especially when its from a region of the world other than our own. When we hear of the notorious “radical” Hugo Chavez, remember that Venezuela elected him. Many times. Peacefully. Fairly. The socialists of Venezuela are mainstream. Radicals are us, intruders who want to provide them with some sort of weird foreign capitalist concept.  When we scream and cry about the world being radical because they are different, we think we are mainstream. And we aren’t, not always. When the UN voted for Palestine to become a nonvoting member of the chamber- effectively a semi-nation (whatever the hell that means) – we were the radicals. Only 8 radical extremist countries voted no to the proposition, and we were one of those countries. And to say we are wrong because we are extreme is, well, wrong.

To call the mainstream as who agrees with us is flawed logic. To say that following the middle is the best idea is ludicrous. Our progression as a species could not have happened without radicals: from the left and the right. To turn people down because they have widely varying opinions from ours is stupid, a word I will use more and more as I write. Our media pampers our flawed logic in this regard. CNN wouldn’t dare interview a communist on live prime time television – only on mini editorials that you’ll never find on the front page. Let alone Fox. This is despite the hundreds of millions of communists out there, who have opinions we must think about. The danger of not doing so is losing sight of values another part of the world may have that we don’t. That leads to bigotry, hatred, and ignorance. We must learn to embrace differences and learn them where they are, lest we confuse our values for the world’s. “Learn, even unto China”, the Islamic Prophet Muhammad once said. There is no reason to not do so.