With al Jazeera from Egypt

We remember our first plane ride, our first day of school, our first use of the telephone, our first demonstration.  Our first this, our first that.  For me, there was, rather late in life, my first encounter with al Jazeera–in Jordan, in my parents’ apartment.

I was visiting my mother, and one afternoon, reclining on the living room couch, I was  fiddling with the remote, when I stumbled on al Jazeera, and I stayed glued to my couch for the entire afternoon and evening.  For the remainder of my stay in Jordan, all I really wanted to do was turn on al Jazeera, for hours and hours and hours.  Since that fateful day, whenever I return to Jordan, the first thing I do is turn on al Jazeera, sit back, and watch and listen to the best broadcast system in the world, as I did during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon–and for 33 days!

I am no television junkie, my preferences always veering toward radio first, and then newspapers.  I am restless as a worm, as the saying goes in Armenian, but on that summer day in the late 1990s, when al Jazeera Arabic was in its infancy, my feet had turned to clay, and I was, for all practical purposes, hooked.  And in the last few days, as Egypt has errupted in anti-government demonstrations,  al Jazeera has proven a formidable force–more so, the original Arabic but also al Jazeera English.  The former is available in the US via cable and satellite.  Al Jazeera English, which was launched in 2006, is largely unavailable in the US except on the internet and youtube–the unspeakable shame of a media landscape that prides itself on “freedom of expression” and the free flow of ideas.

But it is  al Jazeera Arabic that held my undivided attention for those weeks and months of my stays in Jordan.  First, there is the language:  A language lives and flourishes when its users have a vital relationship to it, when people can think with and through it.  And al Jazeera has a dizzying repertory of public affairs programs where the beauty of Arabic also reveals its capacity of precision and clarity.  In fact, al Jazeera is one extended collective conversation in Arabic, spanning across countries, classes, dialects, and political concerns.  Azmi Bishara has written about the unifying power of the Arabic language, and for me, nothing was more telling that afternoon when I stumbled on al Jazeera than the power of the common language to open a space for such a collective thought.

Second, there is the content: Of course not all of al Jazeera is outstanding; not all its positions are to everyone’s liking.  But often, and more than often, al Jazeera takes the Arabic of discourse seriously, combining clarity with respect for the spoken word, something which is painfully absent from so many of our talk show programs.( The category is telling: talk show.)  And in doing so, it also often takes its content seriously.  This fact flies in the face of those who have said (they’re mostly of the orientalist ilk) that Arabic is the language of inflation and praise and hyperbole, as though Arabic were the language of vacuousness.  If anything, al Jazeera’s content is too dense, too much, too immediate, especially when al Jazeera covers crisis, which it does very well.

Much has been written about the power of al Jazeera.  Some have seen it as a subversive force, the mouthpiece of this or that leader or organization.  This criticism may also be at the root of the censorship of al Jazeera English from our television screens. But these pronouncements spring largely from  an inability (or unwillingness) to imagine an alternative to what is dished out to us day in and day out, to truly cross our narrow boundaries and enter another culture, another region through the paths and portals of the culture’s own, homegrown battles–for justice, freedom, and humanity.  If and when al Jazeera–even al Jazeera English which is more mainstream–becomes easily available to larger sectors of viewers–I say when because it is bound to happen.  Times are changing tectonically–it  will surely  pose a challenge to our media here, a challenge which will be hard to ignore.  Which will only make our media take note, and try to do better, perhaps.

At the moment, and this is a moment of huge import not only in the Middle East but the entire world, al Jazeera is simply the best. Again.


About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
This entry was posted in Languages and readings, Ordinary places and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to With al Jazeera from Egypt

  1. Diala says:

    Taline…please see my fb posts…we are beyond AlJazeera…
    Diala Majed via Nadine Toukan
    An American company is helping restrict free speech in Egypt. Tell Congress to investigate.
    Free Press has discovered that an American company has sold Egypt Deep Packet Inspection equipment that can be used to help the regime track, target and crush political dissent over the Internet and mobile phones. Tell Congress to investigate this immediately…
    38 minutes ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · Share.Write a comment….
    .Diala Majed via Nawal Kattan
    يا مصر هانت تميم البرغوثي مظاهرات جمعة الشهداء
    38 minutes ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · Share.Write a comment….
    .Remove PostDiala Majed
    quoted from acquaintance with direct information
    “Israeli military planes now delivering ammunition, rubber bullets tear gas etc to Egypt …too late stop this nonsense before more blood is shed, Mubarak just go!”
    59 minutes ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · View feedback (1)Hide feedback (1)

    Donna K.Khorsheed I’m going to share…
    56 minutes ago · LikeUnlike.Write a comment…..Diala Majed via Nadine Toukan
    Covering himself with his demands and dreams in Tahrir square… on Twitpic
    about an hour ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · Share.Write a comment….
    .Diala Majed via Rania Atalla
    Three lessons Arab leaders can’t ignore | Marwan Muasher | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
    Marwan Muasher: It’s easy to apoint at high prices and unemployment for the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. But at their heart is the quality of governance
    about an hour ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · View feedback (1)Hide feedback (1) · Share.

    Diala Majed The second point that everyone needs to realise is that no country is safe – all Arab countries are under threat
    about an hour ago · LikeUnlike.Write a comment…..Diala Majed
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ThvBJMzmSZI FOR REALITY WATCH THIS

    The Most AMAZING video on the internet #Egypt #jan25
    Credits to Tamer Shaaban who made this video Important message to youtube and people who flag this video : If it gets flagged or removed , it will be uploaded 10 more times _____________________________________________________________ Created by Tamer Shaaban. Another Egyptian who’s had enough..
    about an hour ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · Share.Write a comment….
    Remove Post”oh boy…for Hamas…read IDF” on Khairi Janbek’s status..Diala Majed
    January 25th « Qunfuz
    The day the revolution started. In the second film Waseem Wagdi, an Egyptian protesting outside the embassy in London, says it all, beautifully…
    about an hour ago · Custom: loading… ·LikeUnlike · Comment · Share

  2. Diala says:

    Khairi Janbek
    ‎7.29pm.. I have just recieved a repot on my thingy called computer, stating that the Egyptian police are no longer patrolling the gaza-Egypt borders, and that hamas personnel are crossing into Egypt. That’s the report. Now for more seriosu things…Still waiting for my revolutionary Pizza to materialise…..
    Saturday at 20:32 ·LikeUnlike · Comment

    2 people like this..
    Nidal Saudi I heard that on the news but Gaza guys kept the borders under control
    Saturday at 20:41 · LikeUnlike.Zein Ghanma Please!!!!!!!!! How revolutionary can a pizza get??!! You can do better than that!!!!!!!!
    Saturday at 20:58 · LikeUnlike.Khairi Janbek I did, a diet of kuntucky, burgers, kebabs, and now pizza……all the way to hell but no cakes…just a flimsy tangarine…so disappointing zee..)))
    Saturday at 21:24 · LikeUnlike.Diala Majed oh boy…for Hamas…read IDF
    42 minutes ago · LikeUnlike.Diala Majed or as they call them in Palestine Al Musta’arabeen…they look more Arab than Arabs do

  3. Diala says:

    i wish i was in the sanctity and sanctuary of Harvard Square now….

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