As an American tax-payer I cannot question Newsweek 's policies on which news it publishes. I do not pay a single penny from my own pocket to Newsweek unless I decide to purchase their magazine. However, I have every right to question the government-sponsored Al-Hurra TV channel. It is Al-Hurra 's duty to refute allegations that the US targets the religion of Islam and to assure that the US has no policy of disrespect toward Islam or the Qur 'an.
The management of Al-Hurra might be able to deceive the White House and the State Department with feeble excuses, claiming it is still at an early stage to play an effective role; or that not all Muslims speak the Arabic language; or that the problem lies in the US foreign policy itself and not in the advocacy efforts for this policy. Furthermore, Al-Hurra could probably hire a polling agency to show an alleged progress in the Arab region. It could even claim that the reasons behind its failure lie in the fact it is an American TV station, a good enough reason for Arab viewers to tune out.
Yet while all of the above excuses of Al-Hurra might be good enough to fool the White House, they cannot deceive someone like me: an American of Arab heritage that has lived in both seemingly different cultures. I believe that if Al-Hurra focused its efforts to excel at a professional level it would not have needed to resort to public relations efforts or the art of deception to rationalize failure to policy makers. Al-Hurra managers need to spend more time addressing current events such as the Newsweek story (arguably the single-most important issue on the Arab-Islamic street these days), instead of spending so much time talking about successes that are not concrete and visible.
It should be apparent to anyone anywhere in the world that a government who provides its detainees with prayer rugs and copies of the Holy Qur 'an, and even "Miswak " (a traditional toothbrush from the roots of a tree recommended by the prophet Muhammad) on the first day of their arrival at Guantanomo Bay can not possibly have a policy that targets the religion of Islam. The Newsweek story alleges that one of the copies of the Qur 'an provided to the detainees was desecrated. It is clear that if some acts of disrespect occurred, they represent individual acts and not a policy of the US government.
The government that sends its representatives to attend the opening ceremony of the largest mosque in North America (built to benefit the Muslim community in the Detroit area) cannot possibly be planning to target Islam and disrespect Muslims. It says a lot about Al-Hurra that it ignored such an important event that the Arab and Islamic worlds need to see. Arabs and Muslims must see such displays of respect of faiths as we have seen in the opening of the new mosque, in addition to hundreds of other mosques -- many of which were built after the events of September 11th. This administration, whether we agree with its policies or not, is leading a war against terrorism; it is in its own interest to gain the support of Muslims in this war. The administration is aware of this important point and it does not deliberately seek the enmity of Muslims. This critical factor is still missing from the screens of Al-Hurra.
No one in the Arab world has written about this background surrounding the issue at hand in spite of the huge amount of money that the State Department spends on the American "allies " in the region as part of its efforts of public diplomacy. There is only one exception that I am aware of: that of Mr. Abdur-Rahman Ar-Rashed, the director of Al-Arabiyah news channel. Mr. Ar-Rashed courageously wrote an article in Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He asserted to his readers that the protests were fueled not by the published article in Newsweek, but rather by the readiness of certain political forces to exploit the story with political manipulation.
It is interesting to know that Mr. Ar-Rashed has studied in the United States and thus is in a position to understand both American and Islamic cultures equally well. His measured opinions are a far better alternative to the ridiculous editorials and political commentaries that the Arab public reads in Arab governments ' media or sees on the Al-Hurra channel.
The dramatic events that ensued after the publication of the Newsweek article provide us Muslims, American or not, with the opportunity for reflection, soul-searching and self-criticism. Does the story really justify the violence and bloodshed that ensued? Assuming the story is true that a sick-minded individual employed by the US Defense Department has desecrated the Holy Qur 'an and showed disrespect to our religion is the answer the killing of innocent people and the violent acts that followed?
Newsweek 's report consisted of one brief article about Guantanomo Bay, a line and a half of which reported an alleged desecration of the Holy Qur 'an. Yet, Al-Hurra could not address and explain to its Arab viewers what happened. How can we expect Al-Hurra to improve the image of the US and advocate for US policies in the region?
In my opinion, US policies in the Arab world do not need to change. Rather, there is a need to change the language of interpretation and advocacy for such policies. Correct Modern Standard Arabic needs to be used and not Lebanese dialect only. The Arab world is an important segment of the Islamic world and successful efforts in their midst will reflect well among other Muslims.
It interesting to know that the Arab governments who are America 's allies in the region encourage their people to be hostile to the US more than the unfriendly regimes in the region. This is done to serve their political goals, one of which is to offer an outlet for the people to vent their anger that is fueled by their governments ' failures. Another goal is to send an indirect message to the American government that the existing regimes are the best among bad alternatives and that democracy in the Arab world would bring to power regimes that are hostile to the US. Therefore, existing regimes use this method to extend their stay in power and to curb American advocacy for democracy in the region.
Notwithstanding my critical views of Al-Hurra, I am against the calls for its closure and against the view that it is a waste of money. As a journalist first, American second, and Arab third, I believe that the waste is due to the way the idea is being implemented and not due to the idea itself, which is a good one. The United States needs more than one Arabic TV channel, more than one newspaper, and more than one website on the net. The United States is not a super power when it comes to conveying the perspectives and values of its people and government. It has no voice in Arabic or its voice in Arabic is weak and devoid of meaning. This country needs to have an Arabic Fox News that confronts hostile and opposing views and doesn't hide behind fashion and cooking programs.