A Difference in Discourse


Since 2001, I have had two periods where I read, thought and wrote about the Middle East a great deal. The first period started with the fall of the Twin Towers and our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Those events made me realize how very little I knew about the Middle East or Islam.  After considerable reading about both the region and Islam I began to see just how little we, as a society, know about either.  I decided to write and distribute (electronically) a weekly recap of the news as reported in the English language media in the Middle East.  Every country in the region has at least one English language news outlet, some have two or three.  Generally, they have existed since colonial days and are equal to comparable newspapers any place in the world. Except, they have a distinct advantage over the western media sources covering the same events; they speak two languages – the language of the region, Arabic and English.

Reading ten or more of those internet news sites a day kept me busy.  It also kept me informed on the region.  I found enough readers in the United States to make my effort worthwhile – not monetarily, but intellectually – and to keep me motivated.  I honestly felt I could contribute to the national dialogue by introducing alternative ways of viewing and discussing Middle Eastern news.  After eight years, I tired of the effort and the lack of any significant change in the thinking by any party either in the Middle East or in the west.  It is not a new trend and one that long-time observers have noted since the end of World War I.  Everyone’s position was, and is, locked in place and no one is willing to change their thinking. That was the first period of my interest in the region.

The second period began on December 17, 2010, when a young Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in hopelessness and to protest his treatment at the hands of the authorities.  Bouazizi was followed by several others who likewise set fire to themselves around the region; their acts set off a wave of protests across the region. The protests were collectively called the Arab Spring.  It seemed like a spring, a suddenly blossoming of hope and democracy everywhere you looked.  The lack of change was the reason I had given up writing on the Middle East in the first place and suddenly there was change and it was dramatic.  Of course, by now it is not viewed as a spring or a time of hope. There has been considerable change across the region, but none of the change has met the expectations of those early months of excitement and enthusiasm.  Regardless of how it looks today, the Arab Spring captured my imagination as much as it did the rest of the world. I went back to studying the Middle East and writing a blog, almost daily, on the events.  That period of intense interest waned also, but for different reasons.

Syria ended my enthusiasm and subdued my interest; I lost my naive belief in the Arab Spring and real change.  I also found I could not make sense of anything that was being reported regardless of where I found my news. Typical of the confusion for me was the girl blogging from Damascus.  It was in the beginning of the unrest in Syria, when the situation was still characterized by massive demonstrations on Friday after mosque and not the civil war we see today. In those days a young woman started to blog about events.  She was reporting from the ground, giving us a bird’s eye view of the fighting, the government and of the movement for democracy. It was exciting – and here I fell into the same trap most of the western media fell – only it was all fiction.  The “she” was in reality a “he” and lived not in Damascus, but London.

Every scrap of news was being reported by someone with an agenda and rarely, if ever, did it bare any resemblance to fact and truth.  And if it did, I was not capable of sorting out the difference.

And that is where things stand today; I do not understand what is happening in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan or Syria.  There is a lot of turmoil in the region.  Next week, for example, the duly elected president of Egypt is going to be tried for murder.  Mohammed Morsi was elected in the Arab Spring after the downfall of a 60-year old military dictatorship and now he is being tried by the current military dictatorship. Wow, talk about progress and change.  So, why write anything today?  A little bit of news from Gaza excited my interest.  Hamas has appointed a new English language spokesperson, a woman, Israa Al-Mudallal.  She is a girl really, only 23-years old, but full of enthusiasm.  “I will make the issues more human, and even if [Palestinian] officials do not understand this language, I know Western people will.” She added: “The West does not understand religious discourse the same way they do human discourse.”

The Palestinian Hamas movement has appointed its first female English-language spokesperson, as part of a new strategy to engage with Western media.  The new spokesperson, Israa Al-Mudallal, 23, a writer and a journalist, said: “I will address Western and Israeli media, and I will work on changing the media discourse and give a different picture of Palestine and Gaza.”  She added that she recognized that achieving her goals needed many years of hard work, promising to talk to the world from a humanitarian angle, not a religious one.  She said: “I will make the issues more human, and even if [Palestinian] officials do not understand this language, I know Western people will.” She added: “The West does not understand religious discourse the same way they do human discourse.”  Mudallal will be the first woman to work as a press representative for the Hamas government, which currently includes one female minister, Jamilah Al-Shanti, the Minster for Women’s Affairs. The Islamic movement also has a number of female deputies in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).  Mudallal, who has lived for some time in Britain and was educated in the city of Bradford in northern England, said that her experience of life in the UK has greatly improved her understanding of the West.  As well as following European and American media, Mudallal says she is also in the process of learning Hebrew, to enable her to follow Israeli media directly. She said: “I am learning everything about Israeli, Western and American media . . . and I spend a lot of time reading and watching different channels.” Asharq Al-Awsat, 11-2-13

I wrote all of this just to quote her, because she brings the kind of insight that I believe has been missing from the dialogue for the last hundred years.  For nearly a thousand years Islam and the west have been locked into different discourse; Islam in a religious discourse and the west in a humanist discourse.  We desperately need people who understand that.   If only some of the leaders of both sides listen to her, there might be a glimmer of hope yet and in a mostly hopeless situation.

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2 Responses to “A Difference in Discourse”


  1. 1 ritabest November 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I’m suspicious of Hamas and their intentions at best. Western messaging to humanize their cause with a subversive undercurrent of disruption and control.

    I’ve been doing my own reacher. Reading the English versions, and comments. I’m not convinced there is a desire to find a solution. There is always the desire to mandate, dictate and annihilate. Religion and culture are one and the same, especially in the Middle East.

    I think back to a conversation we had awhile back on the Muslim Brotherhood. You endorsed their legitimacy. I was will to give them the benefit – not any more. I’ve been read the literature and recruitment material. This is no reformist movement devote to improving Egypt or any Arab nation economically or politically.

    …While the Ikhwan say that they support democratic principles, one of the group’s stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution.”

    I’m have no INTEREST in, ACCEPTANCE of or room for DIALOG – when it comes to Sharia law or MB Islamic Egypt, America or anywhere else these buggers set their sight. None.

    Cheers, rite

    Rite

    Rita P. Best Sent from my iPhone Please excuse any typos.

    (775) 826-3084 rbest@humminbirdstudios.biz rita@ritapbest.com rpb_syn@me.com

    >

  2. 2 ritabest November 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    You know back in the day we used to call it propaganda. You seen this before my friend. Today it’s known as messaging. And the Toddler in Chief – well he’s the master propagandist.

    Rita P. Best Sent from my iPhone Please excuse any typos.

    (775) 826-3084 rbest@humminbirdstudios.biz rita@ritapbest.com rpb_syn@me.com

    >


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