Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Friends and terrorism… the role of television on the cheap | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The recent terrorist attacks in London and the assassination of the Egyptian Ambassador in Iraq , as well as the Arab World’s reaction to both events highlight a state of affairs more problematic than terrorism, namely the increase in the number of terrorist sympathizers and the tendency for television on the cheap. Let me start off by saying I do not believe the death of the Egyptian diplomat was the responsibility of the government in Cairo , as claimed by the Editor of a newspaper which supports terrorism. It was a criminal act committed by a group of murderers with the implicit support of the media, particularly in Egypt , which celebrates Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden.

It saddens me to say, as an Egyptian, that, nowadays, in my country of origin, a group of writers, editors, and politicians, mostly over 50 years old, who regularly revive their ageing selves with political Viagra and curse the United States government and applaud the terrorists, not realizing that they are adding fuel to a fire that will soon engulf them. Their behavior, as well as that of the men they support, is akin to suicide.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001 on US cities, I have keenly observed the Egyptian media. I am unable, however, to name five writers who unequivocally condemn terrorism and not just on certain occasions. Some might tow the line in print yet, in person, their opinions are alarming. The average daily conversation in Cairo on the subject of terrorism is best described as mute. How is it possible that one can not find a single person who clearly says “no” to terrorism?

I am ware that many words will anger many who will immediately spring up to the defense of the media and question my knowledge of Egypt ’s own experience with terrorism in the 1990s. These men and women believe terrorism is seasonal and tribal; where were they when terrorism attacked the other tribe? My concern for Egypt increases day after day as I observe the country’s media, a frightening an horrific state of affairs.

I condemn the Egyptian media because I know it can withstand the brunt of my attacks. I will refrain from criticizing other terrorist stations that populate Arab satellite channels yet no one dare denounce, for fear of reprisal from the terrorist groups or the channels themselves. Let us, however, avoid putting all the blame on the shoulders of the owners of these television and radio stations.

Effectively, the terrorist discourse peddled by these stations is due to the propensity of television on the cheap. Many commentators erroneously believe the rise in fundamentalism is due to an increase in financial support. In truth, however, television on the cheap is to blame. The rise in the number of Arab satellite channels, with no regard to content, is one of the main reasons behind the growth of extremist sentiment.

If one is to compare the cost of a video clip by the famous Lebanese singer, Nancy Ajram, and the cost of a one-hour interview with a religious figure that supports the terrorists, one will notice the considerable difference in cost. A video clip might set the artist back twenty thousand dollars; an interview with a sheikh will cost no more than a tenth of that, assuming the interviewee accepts to be paid. The more economical option will therefore save the channel in the region of eighteen thousand dollars! Economically speaking, an hour of Nancy Ajram can be transformed into a hundred hours of interviews with sheikhs who support terrorism, or even two hundred hours with less known figures.

If the owner of the television channel or the government that supervises it want around the clock broadcasting but are unable to afford the cost of entertainment programs, the easy option would be to produce a low cost program. All one requires is a table, a microphone, a camera for the live broadcast, and someone with elementary knowledge of religion, all for the bargain price of a thousand dollars! Television on the cheap is therefore causing the rise in popularity of fundamentalist beliefs and not, as some might think the political or religious convictions of the station’s management. It is obvious that lectures of extremist religious thought are a thousand times cheaper than Nancy Ajram. The sheikhs will therefore continue to triumph over the singer, not because their voices are more pleasant, but because of economic realities: extremism is cheaper to produce and so fundamentalist is the winner.

Arab television channels, newspaper, and radio stations are responsible for the popularizing of al Zarqawi and legitimizing his language and logic. Television on the cheap is a factory that produces terrorism and its supporters. If the US and the Arab World want to fight terrorism, their priority should be to isolate terrorism from its supporters. Yet we continue to witness businessmen who trade with the West, regrettably, sympathetic to violence and extremism. Why has no one place an advertisement in any Arab newspaper? How can it be that the beneficiaries of US money, the owners of satellite channels, propagate terrorism? My message to the US and other Western powers is clear: start with your friends before you ask other to combat terrorism. Separate your friends from the terrorists!