With features that spoke of hope and not conviction, the Italian journalist Giovanna Botteri, commenting on insurgents in Iraq, including those loyal to Abu Musab al Zarqawi and other extremists, said, “I do not believe the issue is related to extremism and fundamentalism. Undoubtedly, the issue is political.”
Her comments were made at a recently held conference in Beirut, where she and other Italian journalists discussed the seemingly eternally problematic relationship between the west and the Muslim world and the resonance of such confusion in the media.
Botteri appeared genuinely interested in understanding the motives behind a number of practices in Iraq, Palestine and the Middle East as a whole. She is now studying Arabic and the Quran and has been reading about history and politics. The Italian journalist, who has covered the war in Bosnia and Iraq, couldn’t hide the fact that she needed to understand the complexities faced by western correspondents who travel to the region to cover the latest developments in Iraq. These complexities include the interactions between societies and the outright rejection of western journalists by certain individuals who accuse them of being infidels and spies.
Her colleagues expressed their absolute belief that the west, or at least its political establishment, was responsible for the double standards and the great political mistakes committed against the Arab and Muslim worlds. Yet, in spite of this, the violence practices of some groups appeared incomprehensible to the journalists.
In their opinion, delving deep into Muslim and Arab societies and communicating with different groups was vitally important. However, they believed that the language barrier and society’s suspicion would hinder direct contact. Accordingly, the intricacies of these societies would remain unavailable to journalists who are interested in a more in-depth coverage.
Undoubtedly, discussions such as the one outlined above have taken place during other meetings between Arab and western journalists. But, what was notable in the case of the Italian journalists is the combination of a genuine interest in getting to know the Arab world and the absolute inability to fully understand it, irrespective of what they read of how hard they try.
This attempt at understanding the other and communicating with it should inform us, Arabs and Muslim journalists, that the west needs to understand and know us better, as much as we need to understand it, with all its individuals and groups, far from the dominant perception of a western world united in its desire to control and conspire against us.