Recently, I appeared as a guest on the program ‘The Opposite Direction,’ for the Qatari television network Aljazeera. This was the second time that I had featured on the channel since it was launched ten years ago. My first experience with the network followed the London bombings when I encountered the nationalist clamor that had glorified terrorism, the cause of the deaths of more than fifty people from various backgrounds and religions.
I agreed to participate in the program after discussing the content with the programs editor, based on the idea that I would be a neutral British commentator. I am not Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Iranian or Israeli. I realized that here was an emerging opportunity to endorse an Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement by convincing both parties to alter their fixed ideas, namely, the “victory of resistance” on the Lebanese side and the controversy of the benefits of war in Israel.
The dangers of the propaganda were the same brand of Ahmed Said and his political rhetoric coincided with the disastrous elimination of freedoms and wars that have created numerous problems that still exist.
The program’s editor stated that the other guest on the show who I did not know at the time would suggest that Israel is beginning to diminish through Hezbollah’s army and the Muslim Brotherhood movement and would label the armies that do not fight the Jewish state as “the scum of the earth” and as “groups of stray dogs.”
I had witnessed a combined phenomenon: the terrorism of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbles and the clamor of the mouthpiece of war, Ahmed Said. The final component to the mixture was the hullabaloo of the Iraqi Baathist propaganda minister during Saddam Hussein’s rule, Mohammed Saeed al Sahhaf who emphasized the escape of the “American cowards,” while he alone confronted American soldiers the same day that Saddam Hussein fled American troops who had entered Baghdad.
Almost the entire hour-long program was seized by this phenomenon. Even during the twelve minutes of the program that I was allocated, I failed to complete a sentence, as each attempt would last around ten seconds. My participation fell victim to the loud interruptions of others.
In one of the few sentences that I managed begin; I highlighted the necessity of considering the losses of civilians, the casualties and the siege on Lebanon when evaluating the price of “victory that would put an end to Israel.” This sentence however was soon transformed, thanks to the constant interruption into “support for the Zionist entity of Israel.”
In the absence of libel laws in a place of broadcasting, I was subjected to being called a “coward” and was further considered a “Zionist.” The programs editor failed to explain to viewers that Zionism means Jewish nationalism or that it is equivalent to the Arab Baathist Socialist movement. Logically, I cannot be a Zionist as it is like describing an Australian liberal as an Arab Baathist (i.e. nationalist) or calling the Dalai Lama “Hajj Dalai.”
Unsuccessfully, I tried to put forward my basic controversial points, which were the following:
– Differentiating between those who undermine the sovereignty of the Lebanese state by arming religious militias and those who offer billions of dollars to support the Lebanese economy and the reconstruction of Lebanon.
– Two questions for President Bashar al Assad:
1- Based on his support for the right of “resistance” to extend beyond the state, would any Syrian party be allowed to go to the occupied Golan Heights without authorization from the Baath party even to launch missiles that it had obtained from another country towards Israel?
2- During his reign and that of his father, why was not one bullet fired to “liberate” the Golan Heights for 33 years?
– Provoking Israelis with propaganda regarding their elimination from the region would obstruct peaceful settlement and lead to a regional war especially since the Palestinians have signed peace agreements.
However, the continuous shouting and interruptions prohibited me from presenting my fundamental points as intended.
A study into visual media had warned me of the absurdity of participating in these kinds of programs and likened it to an orchestra playing at a busy bus station.
The study reminded me that I have taken part in news and current affairs programs for the BBC or other western networks 130 times more than on Arab satellite channels and this is a representation of the difference of “etiquette” between the two.
An Egyptian-American commentator warned me against the nature of the program stating that it would be very different to other experiences that I have had on official Arab television channels such as Kuwait, Al Arabiya or Saudi TV. The editors and presenters on these channels are impartial and stick to the program’s agenda. Furthermore, guests are well mannered and respect others when they are talking and respect the viewers’ mentality.
The experience however resulted in a number of important lessons:
Firstly, the method of trying to set up a “trap” for the other party and the support of the combined phenomenon by condoning the interruptions and insulting remarks is worth studying as a new method of propaganda that is supported by technology and which may cause Goebbles and Ahmed Said to be envious if they were alive today.
Secondly, by presenting the show to specialists of psychiatry and behavior, and by studying the tactic used that is “constant interruption” associated with demagoguery and the terrorism of the Nazi SS, we may be able to illustrate a psychiatric map of nationalists who hate peace. We can then introduce them to emotional persuasion showing them that the poor are the ones who make the most “sacrifices,” in cases of permanent war. Such a study is important for intellectuals in countries such as Lebanon and Iraq to be able to identify at an early stage the methods used to fuel sectarian conflict, racism and to drag countries into adventures with destructive consequences.
Thirdly, the study of nationalist speech of the Goebbles, Sahhafs or Ahmed Saids and their method of selecting unsuitable information in order to deceive the public into thinking that they have “conducted research,” when it is impossible to verify the validity of the claim. This is important to reveal to the Lebanese nation those “who claim to fight when they really are asleep,” (to use the words of Nizar Qabbani) and to reveal the identities of those who struggle only through their empty speeches that are delivered after war in order to ignite sectarian and ethnic differences amongst the Lebanese. It is also important to be aware of attempts to place a wedge between Lebanon and the nations that have offered practical assistance in times of need by giving medicine, aid and millions of dollars to support the Lebanese currency and to rebuild the country in addition to providing diplomatic activity in order to achieve a ceasefire.
Fourthly, the demagogical control of media segments that attract a childish “admiration” from a vast number of people in the region and calls for the expansion of war and the mediation of evil is a valid method to “win over millions of viewers.”
Finally, I would like to highlight a thought that has been on my mind for a while and that is the impossibility of the coexistence of democracy, liberalism and legality with the fascist model of Arab Baathism and nationalism that imposes “Arabism” on other races and ethnicities in the region. This model only accepts its own chauvinistic Nazi vision and imposes its totalitarian dictatorship whilst there is no place for freedom of the individual, pluralism or even civilized conversation with others.
The repetition of the combined phenomenon, raising Goebbles from his grave through the image of Ahmed Said or Mohammed al Sahhaf or whoever follows their paths, is attributed to the role of the media, the short experience of which does not suit its massive funding and fails to obtain such experience in a competitive free market. This phenomenon uses fascist totalitarianism and threatens to eliminate what features remain of democracy and peace in the region. This phenomenon may be the cause of another war such as that through which Lebanon has survived in which civilians from both sides; most notably women and children, have paid the highest price.