La parodia dell’ISIS firmata Iraq

Riposto qui la mia ultima analisi (almeno per quest’anno) della copertura mediatica in lingua araba del fenomeno ISIS (Da’ash in arabo) che ho curato in questi ultimi mesi, con il prezioso aiuto di Qais Fares, per Arab Media Report.

I capitoli precedenti hanno trattato i media siriani, quelli panarabi, e quelli libanesi, sempre in relazione all’argomento ISIS.

E forse il più sorprendente è proprio questo capitolo iracheno, per il modo in cui un paese che è afflitto da anni dalla piaga del terrorismo (e dell’occupazione militare) reagisce ad organizzazioni come Da’ash: provando a prenderle in giro.

La parodia dell’Isil in onda su Al-Iraqiyya

La scena si apre con Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, l’autoproclamato “califfo” di Isil ( Da’ash nel suo acronimo arabo), che calorosamente saluta i “miscredenti” (kuffar). Un giovane che indossa una t-shirt con lo stemma della bandiera inglese gli si avvicina e timidamente osserva: “signore, ci sono alcuni mezzi di comunicazione che criticano il suo stato dicendo che voi non concedete libertà ai cittadini”. “E chi lo dice?”, risponde il califfo in un marcato dialetto iracheno. Poi incalza, ridendo: “Noi siamo lo stato al mondo che permette maggiore libertà e maggiore democrazia ai suoi cittadini! E se non ci credi, vai a vedere con i tuoi occhi come muoiono e come si fanno saltare in aria liberamente!”. “E che mi dici del resto della popolazione?”, ha il coraggio di chiedere il giovane. Così il califfo si convince che è arrivato il momento di fare un restyling all’immagine internazionale di Da’ash. “Chiamiamo i media amici”, ordina ai suoi fedeli, e immediatamente veniamo catapultati dentro un programma televisivo il cui nome fa il verso a “Controcorrente”, lo show di punta di Al-Jazeera che mette a confronto due opinioni diametralmente opposte. Ma qui più che di un confronto ad armi pari si tratta di un trattamento di favore per il rappresentante del califfo che, al termine della puntata, finisce per impugnare la sciabola e trascinare il suo avversario fuori dallo studio televisivo per quella che si indovina essere un’esecuzione.

Con questa doppia parodia dell’Isil e di Al-Jazeera – considerata da molti un modo per sostenere l’organizzazione jihadista – si chiude la venticinquesima puntata della serie tv Dawlat al-khurafa (Lo stato fittizio) prodotta dalla televisione di stato irachena Al-Iraqiyya. Un budget di oltre 6000 mila dollari (cifra record per una serie televisiva irachena), il programma a episodi (musalsal, in arabo) affronta con ironia il tema dell’autoproclamato “stato islamico”: argomento che tocca da molto vicino la popolazione irachena, dopo che l’organizzazione è arrivata quasi alle porte di Baghdad e controlla tuttora una fetta strategica del territorio del paese, compresa la città di Mosul. “Dobbiamo fargli vedere che non abbiamo paura”, ha dichiarato Ali al-Qassem, il regista di Dawlat al-khurafa.

 

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Non è la prima volta che l’industria televisiva irachena, in particolare quella di fiction, affronta argomenti delicati – e rischiosi per l’incolumità di chi ne parla pubblicamente – come quello dell’autoproclamato califfato islamico. Dopo l’invasione statunitense del 2003, e il caos generale in cui è precipitato il paese, registi, attori e scrittori televisivi hanno approfittato dei più ampi margini di libertà espressiva per raccontare pubblicamente temi come l’estremismo islamico, la crescente minaccia del settarismo, la presenza militare occidentale sul territorio iracheno e le violazioni di diritti umani perpetrate dagli alleati nei confronti della popolazione civile. La seconda metà degli anni 2000 è stata un fiorire di serie televisive che affrontavano con coraggio questi argomenti: una per tutte, Fobia Baghdad (2007), il racconto allucinante di una classe media irachena che perde il suo peso politico e culturale, e che si estingue nella violenza quotidiana di intimidazioni, rapimenti, assassini.

Questa volta il salto è evidente: il “califfo” appare nelle sembianze reali di Al-Baghadi, note al mondo intero dal giorno del suo sermone pubblico a Mosul. Le bandiere nere sono quelle dell’Isil; la situazione, seppure raccontata in chiave ironica, è quella assolutamente realistica di un villaggio iracheno che deve vivere forzatamente dentro un “califfato” dove tutto è proibito e ogni cosa è violenza. Persino una partita di calcio. Nella puntata ventisei vediamo i seguaci di Al-Baghdadi convincere il califfo della necessità di ospitare la coppa del mondo dentro il califfato. E così seguiamo una squadra di giocatori di fama mondiale (ci sono anche Del Piero e Messi) mentre sbarca dentro lo “stato fittizio” e comincia a giocare contro i dawa’ash (membri di Da’ash), vestiti di nero integrale, con barbe lunghe e sciabole a portata di mano. Naturalmente la vittoria, a colpi di lame e minacce, va alla squadra del califfo, mentre un Cesare Maldini “arabo” commenta amareggiato: “così i terroristi vincono anche sul campo di calcio, usando la violenza”.

Insomma, Dawlat al-khurafa è una serie tv coraggiosa che usa strumenti come ironia e satira feroce di fronte a situazioni che non sono affatto lontane dal quotidiano degli iracheni, anzi costituiscono ormai una minaccia reale ad un paese già devastato da anni di guerra e caos. Certo criticare Da’ash con ogni mezzo, e cercare di alienargli il sostegno che pure l’organizzazione pare sia riuscita a raccogliere fra alcune frange tribali sunnite, rientra nella missione della televisione di stato, Al-Iraqiyya, produttrice di Dawlat al-khurafa, che naturalmente deve rappresentare la posizione di “unità nazionale” di fronte alla crisi generata dall’avanzata dell’Isil. Anche gli espliciti riferimenti ad Al-Jazeera in Dawlat al-khurafa, dove una feroce parodia dei suoi programmi suggerisce la collusione della rete qatarina con l’estremismo islamico, va nella direzione di denunciare coloro che lavorano, anche mediaticamente, a minare l’unità nazionale.

Non è un mistero, infatti, che il canale di stanza a Doha sia schierato contro l’ex premier sciita Nouri Al-Maliki e, in generale, contro l’influenza sciita – iraniana – sul governo iracheno. Nella puntata del programma Hadith al-thawra (Conversazione sulla rivoluzione) dello scorso 23 novembre, la presentatrice del famoso show di Al-Jazeera incalzava Harlan Ullman, ex consulente della Difesa Usa, chiedendo spiegazioni del perché l’amministrazione statunitense avesse ignorato le tribù sunnite irachene quando “per oltre due anni si sono sollevate pacificamente, chiedendo di porre fine alle ingiustizie perpetrate dal governo Maliki”. Ullman rispondeva riconoscendo gli errori della strategia Usa: “senza gli sheikh della provincia di Anbar e senza la cooperazione sunnita in generale, sconfiggere ed estirpare lo Stato Islamico risulterebbe molto difficile”. Poi ammetteva come l’amministrazione di Barack Obama avesse sottovalutato il pericolo Isil all’epoca del ritiro delle truppe Usa dall’Iraq, e precisava come il governo Maliki avesse commesso “errori molto gravi che devono essere ora superati”.

Maliki e il suo mandante iraniano non sono mai stati ben visti da Al-Jazeera che, sulla questione irachena, si è da sempre fatta portavoce dell’asse “sunnita” appoggiato dal Qatar. L’ossessione della formazione di una cordata Washington-Tehran che si consolidi nella comune battaglia contro Isil è presente trasversalmente nei palinsesti di Al-Jazeera: uno spinoso argomento che viene spesso dibattuto nei talk show della rete, riflettendo la paura di Qatar (e Arabia Saudita) di perdere l’egemonia sul Golfo arabo, nonché i favori dell’alleato Usa. Nella puntata del programma Fil ‘umq (In profondità) trasmessa lo scorso 15 settembre con il titolo esplicito “L’alleanza segreta fra Washington e Tehran contro lo Stato Islamico” (come già sottolineato in una nostra precedente analisi, Al-Jazeera si riferisce a Isil usando l’espressione “l’organizzazione (nota come) stato”, spesso omettendo anche l’aggettivo “islamico”), il giornalista saudita Ali al-Dhufairi accusava l’Iran non solo di intromettersi negli affari della Siria, sostenendo militarmente il regime di Bashar al-Asad, ma anche di interferire pesantemente con il governo iracheno. D’altra parte non mancavano le polemiche contro gli Stati Uniti, colpevoli di fare da apripista all’ingerenza iraniana nella regione con la scusa di combattere “quella che viene vista come un’organizzazione terroristica”, Isil.

Oltre alla spiccata componente anti-iraniana, un altro elemento che emerge nell’analisi dei programmi di Al-Jazeera sul tema Iraq e Isil è una sorta di tacita giustificazione – proprio alla luce dell’ingerenza iraniana a sostegno delle milizie sciite nel paese – nei confronti di quella parte sunnita della popolazione irachena che avrebbe scelto di unirsi a Da’ash o, comunque, di non ostacolarne l’avanzata. Nell’episodio di Ma wara’ al-khabar (Cosa c’è dietro la notizia) dello scorso 27 novembre intitolata “Segnali di progresso dell’organizzazione (nota come) “stato” a Kirkuk e Ramadi”, veniva sottolineato come le aree marcatamente sunnite di queste province avrebbero cominciato a sostenere Isil anche nella sua conquista di territorio. Sfortunatamente, sottolineava uno degli ospiti del programma, Da’ash sarebbe diventato un modello per i sunniti, nella mancanza più totale di orientamento su quale soggetto sia più adatto a rappresentare i sunniti iracheni. Un altro ospite sottolineava come i sunniti di queste province fossero stati massacrati dalle milizie sciite che avrebbero distrutto anche i loro luoghi di culto, facendo divampare il già mal sopito odio settario; mentre i peshmerga sarebbero stati più clementi, pur non avendo anch’essi compreso a pieno la situazione. Ciò avrebbe generato terreno fertile per l’avanzata dell’Isil nell’area, sostenuta tacitamente – anche se non militarmente – dalle tribù sunnite che avrebbero trovato “chi combatte per conto loro”.

Una pericolosa situazione di crescente odio settario che si registrava già nell’estate scorsa, quando una delle guide dell’Islam sunnita, l’egiziano Youssef Qaradawi (ex volto del programma di Al-Jazeera, Sharia wal hayat, Sharia e vita, ora condannato dall’Egitto ) da anni in esilio in Qatar, avrebbe detto apertamente in un tweet del 23 giugno: “I sunniti vengono oppressi particolarmente in #Iraq e #Da’ash non è emerso in un vuoto come alcuni fantasticano”. Dall’altra parte, proprio per fare fronte al settarismo in risalita, i media iracheni, compresi quelli privati, in generale fanno quadrato attorno all’idea di “unità nazionale”, sostenendo la lotta contro Isil guidata dall’esercito iracheno, l’unica forza legittimata a portare avanti la battaglia per sconfiggere l’organizzazione terroristica. Una posizione, questa, che accomuna sia la televisione privata di matrice liberale Al-Sumaria, che Al-Baghdadia, canale satellitare di stanza al Cairo di proprietà di un imprenditore iracheno sciita, entrambi sostenitrici dell’esercito iracheno come elemento di unità nazionale nella lotta contro Isil.

La spaccatura dell’unità nazionale avverrebbe invece sui territori del pop. Recentemente, in una puntata del talent show di punta dell’intrattenimento panarabo, Arab Idol, trasmesso dal gruppo saudita MBC, è stato eliminato Ammar al-Kufi, il concorrente proveniente dal Kurdistan iracheno. Questa volta la mancanza di sostegno non sarebbe da attribuire alla giuria come era successo l’anno scorso quando uno dei suoi membri, la cantante emiratina Ahlam, si era rifiutata di indicare una delle concorrenti come proveniente dal Kurdistan, sottolineando che sempre di “Iraq” si trattava. Quest’anno la stessa Ahlam, forse per riparare al gesto di cattivo gusto dell’edizione precedente, aveva addirittura duettato con Al-Kufi, a cui era stato concesso di esibirsi in lingua curda in uno degli show panarabi per eccellenza.

L’eliminazione di Al-Kufi dallo show sarebbe questa volta dovuta al mancato supporto dei suoi connazionali iracheni. Un articolo redatto lo scorso novembre dall’agenzia irachena NINA news sottolineava il paradosso che un concorrente iracheno in un così popolare show panarabo non venisse appoggiato apertamente dai suoi connazionali, essendo forse proprio la sua identità curda l’elemento discriminante.

In un pericoloso momento in cui all’interno del paese incalza la guerra settaria – della quale Isil approfitta per rafforzarsi facendo leva sul tacito appoggio di una parte delle tribù sunnite – persino la musica pop non è territorio innocente e si trasforma nel campo di battaglia di nazionalismi e settarismi.

 

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ISIL (ISIS/IS/Daesh) and western media: accidental allies?

Here below my latest opinion piece for Al Jazeera English. As for the name issue (well, Al Jazeera has a policy which is to call it ISIL), I’ve drafted my thoughts here on this blog.

ISIL and western media: Accidental allies?

ISIL’s alleged influence on social networking sites might be the result of western hype.

Last updated: 25 Sep 2014 09:02
Hardly a day goes by without reading articles on how smart and tech-savvy – yet barbarian – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is. Typing the word “ISIL” alongside “social media”, “internet” or “media strategy” into a search engine reveals the gloomy yet fascinating world of those online jihadists who seem to be savvy enough to master, together with Kalashnikovs and knives, the modern language of the participatory Web 2.0.

Countless articles have thoroughly dissected last June’s #AllEyesonISIS Twitter campaign, launched to prove the groups’ alleged grassroots online support. Media professionals have emphasised these jihadists’ sophisticated knowledge of contemporary social networking sites, which became clear when they managed to build an Android app available for public downloading. The same was evident when they quickly migrated from Twitter to Diaspora, an online networking site, once the San Francisco-based organisation decided to shut down several of their accounts.

Western media fills its airtime and webspace with analyses of why the group provokes both repulsion and fascination among a wide audience.

ISIL obsession

The obsession with ISIL and its alleged social media success is more apparent in the West. Listening to Arabic media leads to an unexpected discovery. Quite a different framework, in fact, is employed by Arabic-speaking outlets when dealing with ISIL and its fighters.

While in the Arab media, ISIL is depicted as a western post-colonial creation, in international, English-speaking outlets, the organisation is described as a bunch of tech-savvy barbarians who inspire repulsion but also a sort of fascination for their activities in the cyber world and on the ground.

First of all, parody and irony are common on Facebook and other social networking posts that talk about ISIL. This sort of takfiri dark humour, which points to an extremist doctrine of casting others as apostates, is widely documented in Arab media, while almost ignored by its western counterpart.

A few weeks ago, a well-known satirical Palestinian TV series, “Watan ala watar” (Country on a string), came to the attention of international media forpoking fun at ISIL.

Most likely, this happened because the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an organisation cofounded by a former Israeli military intelligence officer and based in Washington DC, had translated the clip into English and distributed it on the internet.

The excerpt shows an ISIL checkpoint where two Arab citizens, a Lebanese and a Jordanian, are stopped and executed by the fighters. Soon after, an Israeli passing by is warmly greeted and allowed to go on. This reflects a common feeling among Arab audiences: ISIL targets Arabs much more than it targets Israel or the western world.

Recently, several young Arab voices on social networking sites protested the obsessive attention given by an outraged international community to thebeheading of James Foley and Steven Sotloff after so few paid attention to ISIL’s beheading of two Lebanese soldiers and a Syrian journalist, Bassam Rayes.

Outrage on social media

Secondly, news features and op-eds produced by Arab media often read the rise of ISIL within a post-colonial framework. Several Arab analysts connect the rise of jihadist networks and sectarian groups to the imposition of borders by the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916, which they argue resulted in entrenching sectarianism and fragmentation in the region.

Despotic regimes supported by colonial powers in order to maintain the status quo further subjugated citizens in the region through authoritarianism, and an education based on fear and the glorification of the leader’s sole authority. Within this context, civil society did not have any vital space to grow and organise itself in the shape of social movements or parties.

The “Arab Spring” was the first opportunity in decades for the people to reclaim their dignity and move Arab societies forward. However, this spontaneous movement was crushed, partly because former colonial powers had no interest in seeing a post Sykes-Picot Arab world shaped by the Arabs themselves. In an op-ed, which was recently translated into English, a prominent Syrian journalist writes: “Our entire region has been violated by those near and far in order to carry out whatever they want under the pretext of combating terrorism.”

So while in the Arab media, ISIL is depicted as a western post-colonial creation, in international, English-speaking outlets, the organisation is described as a bunch of tech-savvy barbarians who inspire repulsion but also a sort of fascination for their activites in the cyber world and on the ground.

Western hype

However, a recent study on ISIL’s activity on Twitter authored by Shiraz Maher and Joseph Carter has shown that only 50 users accounted for 20 percent of their tweets. This suggests that the organisation’s alleged influence on social networking sites might be the result of a western hype generated by the schizophrenia of our own media system, which is concerned by the threat of terrorism but simultaneously fascinated by a mediated violence that can be easily accessed via every portable device and consumed at home on HD TV screens.

A decade ago, our biggest mediated fear was a man named Osama Bin Laden who used to make his media appearances using a long shot, filmed with a fixed camera, in a simple setting with only a Kalashnikov for his background prop.

More than 10 years have now passed. The long shot has been replaced by fancy fade work, contemporary editing techniques and HD cameras. It seems that ISIL does not need TV channels anymore to spread its violent message.

Today, it has on its side the architecture of the participatory web and the viral circulation of content boosted by social media. And a very special – probably unintentional – ally: western media, drawn in by ISIL’s paradoxically hideous allure.

Donatella Della Ratta is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen focusing her research on the Syrian TV industry. She has authored two monographs on Arab media, and curated chapters on Syrian media and politics in several collective books.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

 

 

 

Creative Commons celebrates CC Iftar 2012 with a special thought for CC Syria`s Bassel Khartabil

This post was out today on Creative Commons` blog. My thoughts, our thoughts as Creative Commons Arab world community, go to Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, CC lead in Syria. Together, back in 2010, we started the CC Iftar project across the Arab region. Bassel is a passionate person,  always ready to help others. In a number of projects we have done together to support open source and the open web he has always been ready to help the others, share ideas, thoughts, resources. We all miss him a lot and hope he will be released soon.

THE ARAB CC COMMUNITY CELEBRATES WITH CC IFTARS

Last week, Muslims all over the world celebrated Eid al-fitr, a festivity which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, dedicated to fasting and praying. Since 2010, Arab world–based Creative Commons communities have celebrated Ramadan by organizing “Creative Commons Iftars” (CC Iftar) across the region.

A CC Iftar is a social event where people gather to celebrate the breaking of the fast, socialize, and talk about innovation, creativity, and the open web. CC Iftars are built around the spirit of sharing which lies at the basis of Creative Commons’ vision, and which people in Ramadan celebrate by breaking the fast together, partaking food, and giving to others.

This year, Creative Commons Arab communities have organized and celebrated CC Iftars in four Arab countries: Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco, and Iraq. CC Iftar Doha kicked off in the Qatari capital on August 13 at K108, a restaurant that redistributes its proceeds to charities working on issues such as unprivileged children’s education. Guests at the CC Iftar Doha were asked to share their ideas about inspiration and the outcome was crafted into a collaborative art project.

The day after, August 14, it was CC’s Tunisian community’s turn to join the CC Iftar project, with the first CC Iftar hosted in the country. Since the third Arab regional meeting “Sharing the Spring” was held in the Tunisian capital in summer 2011 to celebrate Arab youth’s blossoming innovation and creativity, Creative Commons Tunisia’s community — largely made up of photographers, cartoonists, musicians and techies — has been growing incredibly. Many community-led events, including the first CC Tunis Salon, have been hosted in the country. CC Tunis community gathered in the beautiful location of the Sidi bou Said park with home-cooked food (and lots of cats!) to discuss future projects to be held not only in the Tunisian capital but all across the country.

August 17 was our Moroccan community’s turn to host its first ever CC Iftar, with lots of people attending the gathering in Rabat. Morocco recently joined the broader CC Arab community by organizing Open Taqafa and the first Creative Commons Salon in Casablanca. The country has a vibrant artistic and musical scene, together with an high-skilled tech community, and many of these techies and artists are now joining their Arab peers’ efforts to bring more open and collaborative culture to the Arab world. CC Iftar Morocco was a big step in the direction of getting more regional cooperation over common open-culture-related projects.

On the very same day, CC’s Iraqi community was also organizing its first CC Iftar. Bloggers from the Iraqi network for social media (INSM) coming from different parts of the country gathered in Baghdad to celebrate openness and sharing with a wonderful CC chocolate cake. For those who were not able to attend the event physically, a skype session was held in order to join the celebrations virtually. Our CC team in Iraq has a Facebook page around which the community is gathering. Some of its members are regulars at CC Arab regional meetings and we hope to be able to hold CC events in Iraq more regularly, in order to familiarize the broader Arab community with the beauty and cultural richness of the country.

Despite the instability, violence, and political unrest still happening in many places in the region, the Arab world still has a strong will to move forward, create, and share. The community-driven enthusiasm and self-organization skills showed by the CC groups in Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Iraq prove this; hopefully next year new communities will be able to join and old communities will be able to come back to action.

As we conclude Eid al-fitr this year, our thoughts go out once again to Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, CC Syria public lead. Bassel was one of the promoters of the CC Iftar project back in 2010, when he hosted an iftar in Damascus to celebrate cultural cooperation and sharing in a remix project with CC Lebanon. Bassel has been detained by Syrian authorities since March 15th, 2012. A campaign has launched to ask for his release and the response of Creative Commons’ communities worldwide has been overwhelming. We encourage you to spread the word and follow updates on the campaign’s site freebassel.org and on Twitter @freebassel.

picture courtesy of Creative Commons Iraq — CC Iftar cake

Al Jazeera`s Wadah Khanfar quits after 8 years..a new course for the Qatari-based network?

picture by @NazQatar “Wadah is speaking to Al Jazeera employees”
On Tuesday 20th September, the following email reached every Al Jazeera`s employee desk:

  Dear Colleagues,

This month marks my eighth year at the helm of Al Jazeera. Having served as the organisations top executive since 2003, first as Managing Director and then as Director-General, I have decided to move on.

For sometime I have been discussing my desire to step down with the Chairman of the Board. He has kindly expressed understanding and has accepted my decision. Upon my appointment, the Chairman and I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader and we have agreed that this target has been met and that the organization is in a healthy position.

Today our network spans 25 channels that broadcast in Arabic and English, and will soon by broadcasting news in Turkish, Kiswahili and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Each and everyone of you have played a role in building this network into world-class media organization founded on mutual respect and integrity. Through your hard work and persistence, often in times of great adversity, we now reach millions of viewers across the world. This includes inroads into the most competitive media market in the world, the United States of America. This was no easy feat – not long ago, then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unfairly attacked our coverage of Iraq while today, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hails our news coverage. We were not weakened by Rumsfeld’s comments nor made complacent by Clintons’. Al Jazeera Al Jazeera is still-our independent and integral coverage has not changed.

From our first Arabic news broadcast in 1996 our audience recognized the distinctive and courageous editorial agenda that was marked by our promise of independence and our motto of “the opinion and the other opinion”.

When we launched in 1996 “media independence” was a contradiction in terms. State media was prevalent and was blatantly used for propaganda and misinformation. Within such an environment the public probably doubted that Al Jazeera would fulfill its promise of independent journalism. We managed to pleasantly surprise them by exceeding all expectations.

Authoritarian regimes were terrified at the birth of this new institution and they quickly went on the offensive. From trying to discredit our reportage and staff through disinformation to lodging official protests with the Qatari government. When this did not stop our reporting, they started harassing our correspondents, detaining our staff and closing our offices. The only way they could stop us was by jamming our satellite signal. Yet we remained steadfast in our editorial policy – in fact, each attempt to silence us further emboldened us and increased our resolve.

Al Jazeera gained the trust of its audience through consistently speaking
truth to power, and channeling peoples’ aspirations for dignity and freedom. Our
audience quickly saw that Al Jazeera was of them and their world – it was
not a foreign imposition nor did it seek to impose a partisan agenda. We were
trusted to be objective and to be the voice of the voiceless.

It is through dedication and conviction of our staff that we have assumed a position of leadership in our industry. Even though we are a young organisation, in just 15 years our name is deeply associated with the very notion of news the world over. We are respected by our audience and hold the admiration of our peers.

Prior to assuming my role leading Al Jazeera, I served the channel as a correspondent in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. It was during this time that I realized the importance of a free press with the human being at the core of its agenda. Whether it is the impact of decisions made in a country’sSituation Room or a corporate boardroom, being in the field engrains in one the responsibility to tell the story from the perspective of those affected the most. It is this culture that I have endeavored to build and maintain over the years – an independent newsroom that respects its audience, understands their collective consciousness and reports for and to them with integrity.

It is this newsroom, our correspondents, producers, presenters, cameraman, editors and technicians who provided the world with integral and fearless coverage of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia and elsewhere. This newsroom that showed the world the first images of the Asian Tsunami and of the famine in Niger. In 2011 the eyes of the world watched the aspirations of millions unfold as our newsrooms broadcast, tweeted and published the events unfolding in the Liberation Squares from Sidi Bouzid to
Jissr Al-Shughur. The coverage of these revolutions is ongoing, and we continue to report the fight of the youth to achieve dignity and freedom from tyranny and dictatorship.

Contrary to the “common sense” imparted by the regimes political elite, the Arab public are not naïve demagogues or irrational believers. They are intelligent, politically astute and have a level of empathy that the political elite lack.  Our channel lives and dies by this audience and they will not forgive us if we deviate from the mission that we have lived for the past 15 years. This is perhaps the best guarantee that Al Jazeera will maintain its stellar record and lives up to its code of conduct. It is the mission for which Tariq Ayoub, and Rasheed Wali Ali Jaber gave their lives for, the mission which Tayseer Alouni and Sami Al Hajj spent years illegally detained and for which many of you were harassed. Between our audiences
expectation and your vigilance, I am confident that Al Jazeera will continue to report with integrity and courage.

I have been fortunate over the past eight years for having worked with successive Boards of Directors, each distinguished and committed to Al Jazeera. I am personally indebted to the Chairman of the Board, Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani, whose expertise and vision had a most profound affect onmaintaining the stability of Al Jazeera through turbulent times, while always focusing on its long-term vision of growth and excellence in
journalism.

Al Jazeera would never have accomplished its mission were it not for the support and commitment by the State of Qatar. Its people and leadership have not only provided financial backing but have endured great international pressure to ensure the independence and integrity of our newsroom and staff.

I am fortunate to have had eight years working with an outstanding group of professionals. Today Al Jazeera stands as a mature organisation and I am confident that the organisation will continue to maintain its trailblazing path. It is then with this remarkable cohort of journalists, a strong organisation and exceptional backing that I leave Al Jazeera.

My most profound gratitude to all of you and to the loyal audience of Al
Jazeera.

Sincerely,
Wadah Khanfar

(published by Foreign Policy`s Blake Hounshell)

A lot of surprise erupted from this statement and astonishment circulated everywhere, including Twitter, where Khanfar responded candidly: Entertained by all the rumors of why I have resigned. #whatdoyouthink? 🙂

Palestinian-born Wadah Khanfar has been leading Al Jazeera`s operation for 8 years. Before becoming the Director General of Al Jazeera Network, Khanfar has been working extensively on the field as a journalist and a news correspondent for the Qatari-based network, covering South Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. He was the Baghdad bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic channel at the time when he was chosen as the successor of Mohamed Jassim al Ali, who had managed the channel since its very beginning (except for a very brief interim).

Too many analogies with the current situation: Mohamed Jassim was a clever manager, who had been responsible for building the network from scratch. He was fired in 2003, after  beingnamed in documents procured by a British newspaper in Baghdad and which appeared to link him with Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service.

Many had insinuated that a “spy paper” would be also the direct cause for Khanfar`s unexpected stepping down from the network leadership at a time when it seemed to be more soldi than ever, also for its close link to the Arab spring movement.

“Wikileaks` effect: Al Jazeera drops top executive”, titles Middle East Online, referring to the cable that was disclosed last August 30.

“A cable sent by the American ambassador, Chase Untermeyer, and dated October 2005, describes an embassy official’s meeting with Al Jazeera’s news director, Wadah Khanfar. According to the cable, the official handed Mr. Khanfar copies of critical reports by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency on three months of Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war”, says the New York Times.

“In at least one instance, involving a report on the network’s Web site, Mr. Khanfar said in the cable that he had changed coverage at the American official’s request. He said he had removed two images depicting wounded children in a hospital and a woman with a badly wounded face”.  

In this framework, a leak about a couple of pictures removed by Khanfar at the request of American officials would have generated all this chaos and obliged him to step down at the peak of his leadership.

Same as in Mohamed Jassim`s case, the collusion with a foreign power -whether Iraqi or American- would have pushed Al Jazeera`s board -notably the Qatari EmirHamad bin Khalifa al Thani  who established the network in 1996 and owns it since then- to sack high level employees like Khanfar.

Same as in 2003, there should be nothing so surprising about the fact that a channel like Al Jazeera has established a sort of “moukhabarati” relations in order to secure their news coverage . In a country like Iraq, and before the fall of Saddam Hussein, it was perfectly normal and therefore known and widely accepted that any news organization who wanted to work in the country should have established links and relations with the regime in a way or another. No relations, no news coverage. No news coverage, no work for the channel.

At the time, I was deeply in doubt about the main reasons behind  the sacking. I am still in doubt, indeed, right now when I hear things like that Wikileaks has toppled Al Jazeera. This sounds like admitting that we didnt know that Al Jazeera had links with the American government, which would be pretty naif. The US -led attack on Saddam Hussein`s Iraq in 2003 was started from the largest Middle East based US military base, which is in fact in Qatar.

In my book about Al Jazeera which was published in 2005 there is a whole chapter called: ” US or Saudi Arabia, who is the biggest enemy  of them all?”. At the time, Saudi Arabia certainly was, not sure if now. But the US has never been an “enemy” to Al Jazeera, despite what the average alleged anti-Americanism of the channel would let most of the people think.

I hardly believe that having a couple of pictures  removed from the website would  be enough to make clear that the US government has a say on Al Jazeera. I am sure US officials could have done something better to prove their power on the Qatari based network, and eventually required something bigger.

The all issue about Wikileaks and its cables is  something that in Italian we refer to as “il segreto di Pulcinella”, a secret that everybody knows about, while  pretending not to know.

Even the allegations made about Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin al-Thani (a member of the ruling royal family), i.e. Qataris might want to re-gain control over it after so many years, could be totally wrong. When Jassim al Ali was sacked, a former Palestinian news anchor, Adnan al Shareef, acted as general manager until they found the right replacement, which then happened to be Khanfar .Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin al-Thani could be just an interim director, while the right replacement is to be find.

So far there has been an alternation of Qataris (Mohamed Jassim al Ali and Ahmed bin Jassim al Thani) and Palestinians (al Shareef and Khanfar) at the direction general post at Al Jazeera. The fact that Jassim al Ali was a Qatari himself proves that so far Qataris have not been untouchable in the history of the alternation of power at Al Jazeera channel and they could even be sacked. This could diminish a little bit the worries of those who think that the take over of a Qatari -and member of the royal family- at Al Jazeera top management position would result in diminishing its credibility and reputation  (which are anyway already undermined by the way the channel has dealt or not dealt with the Bahrain file during the Arab spring).

Funny enough, I have to underline that Khanfar has released two TV interviews to explain the reason of his stepping down. Both of them, on Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English, carry exactly the same message: eight years are enough for a leader to accomplish his mission and his goals. The mission of Khanfar`s leadership would have been to turn Al Jazeera into a fully fledged international news network and this had eventually been accomplished, so it`s time to step down.

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In the Arabic “version” of the interview (released before the English one), there is also an addition irony in Khanfar`s words and a clear reference to the Arab spring movement: “eight years are enough for any person responsible, or leader or director to accomplish his goals” . Not only the use of the words “mas`uul , qayd, mudir” makes a clear reference to the symbols that “the people want to overthrow” in the Arab revolutions. News anchor Mohamed Krishane even starts to joke with Khanfar on the fact that Al Jazeera is with the people and has embraced the “vision of change” expressed by the Arab street.

 

 

The most relevant difference between the English and the Arabic interviews, though, lies in the direct statement and then in the question that the English anchor asks the former director general: “your replacement is a member of the Qatari ruling family..do you think this is gonna change something in Al Jazeera editorial policy?

This direct question in the Arabic version simply doesnt exist. No reference to Khanfar`s successor and his ties with the ruling family, and no mention of the royal family at all. Instead, Krishane formulates another statement which is absent from the English version:

” Some people think that this is the end of a phase or rather the beginning of the phase where there will be more openness towards different political point of views”. Without mentioning it, Krishane refers here to the alleged ideological proximity of Khanfar and many others from his staff (including Ayman Gaballah, who is also believed to have stepped down, although not confirmed yet) to the Muslim Brotherhood and the “inconvenience” this was provoking in international circles, especially in Washington.

But for me the most important part to be stressed on here is the difference between the style and the vocabulary used by the two channels, that proves that in the Arabic channel is still submitted to many of the non-written rules still valid for the Arab media in Arabic, like a sort of “apprehension” towards the ruling powers.

Having said that, and with all the issues that Al Jazeera Arabic`s coverage of the Arab Springs have raised, it is undeniable that under Khanfar`s direction the network has reached an immense amount of popularity and power all across the world. Only consider the situation Al Jazeera was in few years ago in the US and the current one, after “Demand Al Jazeera” campaign. Now Al Jazeera is an established network not only in the US, not only internationally (more channels will come soon, in Turkish, in Swahili, in Serbo-Croatian), but even in the social media sphere.

Khanfar was able to build a team of talented people, like Mohamed Nanabhay and Mooed Ahmed and all their staff, that would transport Al Jazeera in the social media environment turning it onto a powerful social media brand,too. This has culminated in Khanfar`s keynote last March at TED, the “must-be” of the innovation conferences worldwide.  Wadah has been always smart to delegate what he believed to be important to a team of dedicated talented people. And this is what happened to the New Media team. I think there is no other TV news network in the entire world which has such a good positioning in the new media world and social networks.

We don`t know that much about Ahmed bin Jassim al Thani. He has a profile on Linkedin, but zero connections, which doesnt sound too promising if Al Jazeera aims to maintain the competitive advantage it has gained on new media.

In order to understand the real reasons behind the change at the top of Al Jazeera, we will have to wait a bit. For the moment, it might be an interim position, or might be a part of the “nationalization” of the work market, especially at the top positions, which is happening a bit everywhere in the Gulf. It might also be the desire to “hold” the Arab spring phenomena more tight and keep it “under the control” of the Qatari elite, in order not to become counter productive for Qatari ruling power.

The funniest explanation has been given by Syrian state news agency though.On Tuesday, Sana published a news item titled “Khanfar`s resignation due to accumulated mistakes on personal and professional level”, condemning Al Jazeera`s “fabricated” coverage about Syria.

Another evidence, according to Sana, after Beirut bureau chief Ghassan Bin Jeddo resigned, that Al Jazeera`s coverage of the Arab revolutions is biased and unreliable.

Al Jazeera adds new footage under Creative Commons

Al Jazeera has started to add more footage to its Creative Commons Al Jazeera online repository. The footage is about daily life in Iraq and it seems more will be added, concerning other countries, very soon.  The footage is availale under CC BY license, the most “lenient” CC license which allows people to download, share, remix, translate, even re-sell under the only condition of attributing the source.

Why the Arabs are lost in translation..

I would like to spend a few words in response to the blog post written by my friends at MeedanWhy Middle East social-web projects miss their target audience“.  You’ve touched one very weak point -maybe the weakest- concerning the state of the Arabic web: the language issue. The gap Arabic/English is there, and you’re right when you say that basically “when in Rome, do what the Romans do”. Anyway, the point is exactly here: what are the Romans (the Arabs) doing right now?

All the qualified training programmes -particularly in media field, but also in science, engineer, etc- all across the Arab world are.. in English! Go visit all the most important universities in the Arab world and you will see that the majority is offering courses and training in English. It’s not by chance that many foreigners that want to learn the Arabic language go to Syria. I had myself the privilege to experience both Syrian public university in Damascus -Faculty of Journalism- and the very qualified Syrian International Academy which gives the best and professional training in public relations and media related-issues..in Arabic (btw, thanks for the compliments about my Syrian Arabic, but it’s exactly for those reasons here above that I can speak, having learned it in a place where media training in Arabic is still strong).

It’s true,  social-web trainings such as the one we did with Royal Film Commission in Jordan would deserve to be done in Arabic, in order to include people from countries -like Iraq-where students are not so comfortable in English as they are in other countries like Lebanon or Jordan.  But I don’t think we missed our target audience. Joi Ito, the trainer and Creative Commons’ Ceo, speaks English and I don’t think a live translation would have been so effective as his words were, directly, to the students. There are “places” sometimes in human interaction where translation can’t go too much further, in order not to start to be literally “lost” in that translation.

We are thinking, next time, to offer a training in Arabic for Arabic speakers only, but it would be a different one. Arab trainers -or foreigners who speak enough good Arabic- should train the students, I personally don’t think translation can be effective in all the human interaction situations, and having even a live translation of such a workshop done by an English speaker would never be the same, cause something will be irreparably lost in translation.  Instead, we should maybe encourage Arabs and Arabic speakers to train in Arabic -despite of the difficulties of translating the web 2.0 into this beautiful language-  by tailoring the contents of the training itself directly for an Arabic-only speaking audience. Language has got a culture inside itself and, again, having followed journalism training in Arabic I think I can guess some of the nuances that will always be lost in translation.

Speaking about that, it’s very important to remind the work of organisations such as Social Media Exchange in Beirut and the Arab Digital Expression Foundation in Cairo that are putting lots of efforts in doing web 2.0 training directly in Arabic, with a different methodology and not only a different terminology due to the translation.

But, again, I guess the problem is bigger than it seems: how we can have more Arabs speaking Arabic and producing content in Arabic? How we can encourage this process? Is this only a matter of translation -or is it rather a matter of establishing the culture itself of training in Arabic, a culture that most of the Arab world itself lacks?

Jordan Media Institute, the soon-to-be-open media training school in Jordan, is putting together one of the few available journalism curricula in Arabic. Syrian International Academy has been doing this for many years now. Al Jazeera does have a very high level training in the media field and in Arabic, of course. But what about all the other existing universities all across the Arab world?

If the Arabs themselves consider Arabic to be the proper language only for literature and poetry, while media and journalism should be left to English, no translation in the world would ever been able to fill any gap.

Because, as I’ve heard in a theatre play while in Damascus:  “Without Al Jazeera and  the foreigners  desperately trying to learn the language, nobody would ever speak Arabic in the Arab world“.

Sadly, it was supposed to be a comedy.