Life is a Rabbit Pellet

Ramblings of a Zimbrindian's travels, life, and research.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Book Reviews : Al Jazeera (Miles) & A Painted House (Grisham)

I can borrow books from the library at the University of Tuebingen!! They said it wasn't normal, even for Max Planck Institute visitors, but that they would make an exception for my case. So I borrowed four books last Friday, and finished two over the weekend. With my sleep schedule, my weekend ended at 4am Monday morning, but that's another story. For now, the story is that I have two Amazon reviews up.

The first book was John Grisham's A Painted House, a well-written tale of a young kid who will (at 3-1 odds) become a lawyer two sequels from now.

The second was Al Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenges America by Hugh Miles. My review:

This book was written in 2003-4, and covers the time from Al Jazeera's beginnings in the 1990s to 2004, so it is very up-to-date. Miles' writing is clear and lucid, and I highly recommend this book.

There were many things here that I didn't know about Al Jazeera. I didn't know it was still running at a loss, that 120 of its initial staff came from the short-lived BBC Arabic service, that it had such a grassroots network of volunteer contacts among its viewers, that its staff had been killed by American forces, that it was banned from several Arab countries (and, for a while, by the Palestinian Authority) for criticizing their governments, that it almost interviewed Ariel Sharon, or that several of its loyal Arab viewers think it is American/Israeli-backed.

Given the impressive speed at which Mr Miles wrote this book, it is unsurprising that it has gaps. Questions could have been asked that were not. For example, I would have liked him to have asked whether al Jazeera would be in the black even without the Saudi advertising embargo, as the figures he provides indicate that it would not be. And there are much larger issues, such as why they decided not to show beheadings of Western-oriented hostages when they show horrific footage of nonArab-on-Arab violence from Israel, why they had to interview US Army Spokesman Josh Rushing outdoors rather than indoors, and so on. But time, pages, and one person's perspective (however broad), are finite.

Mr Miles is an Arabic-speaking British journalist who treats Al Jazeera like any other news organization. Of course, for any American who watches Fox (which includes other reviewers of this book), this is very biased. They should go to the English Al-Jazeera website, which I shall now visit more often. As one reviewer here has said, "a TV channel that offends EVERYBODY must be doing something right".

I should also add that I didn't know CNN discussed putting Arab Americans in internment camps after 9/11 (p363).

Now to comment on one of Amazon's featured reviews, which is from the Washington Post Review of Books. Why on earth did WP ask someone (Dennis Ross) who has been (and may still be) a Fox News analyst to comment on a book on a News Channel with a diametrically opposite perspective? I'm not asking for a Guardian reviewer, but at least one from the THES or New York Times. And of course, why did Amazon have to use this review?

For example, Ross asks "Why shouldn't it question what Arabs are doing to themselves, rather than just condemning what non-Arabs are doing to the region? Why doesn't it talk about the failings of education in the Arab world?" Good questions, but he clearly hasn't been to the AJ website, where he would find a special report on In Pursuit of Arab Reform or closely read the book he's reviewing, which describes Qatar - whose benevolent dictator bankrools Al Jazeera - as unusual amongst Arab countries in the high priority it places on education.

Another example: he asks "Why can't it seriously question what the intifada has cost Palestinians rather than glorifying suicide bombers as "martyrs"?" As I don't watch AJ, I don't know if there have been talk shows discussing this, but there probably have been several. As for 'martyr', Ross explains (p357) that that this is standard practice for Arab networks, and that American reporting has its own terminological biases - 90% of US news reports in 2001 used the word 'disputed' or 'contested' instead of 'occupied' to describe the West Bank and Gaza. And that's including the NYT.


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