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Losing the Shock Value - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The most dangerous thing that could happen in light of the mounting crises in our region is the loss of interest in them.

Let me ask you: does the news of a car bomb tearing through a crowded Baghdad street surprise you? Does it surprise you to hear the news of thousands of families in Gaza losing their monthly income or the outbreak of street warfare between the people of one of the world’s “poorest” countries, namely, Somalia? Even news of the opposition or the majority in Lebanon taking to the streets in protest is no longer a surprise!

I will not relate the news of the fall of Somalian cities one after another at the hands of militants of the “Islamic Courts,” (Africa’s version of Afghanistan’s Taliban), as such news is unsurprising. There was also a time when the news of a fierce clash between an Al Qaeda cell and Saudi security forces was part of this “unsurprising family” of news.

The extensive and prompt media coverage that takes place almost simultaneously as these events unfold, and even before these events develop, has become a key element of “accustoming” the viewer and diminishes the element of surprise – the kind of surprise that generates concern, observation and reflection.

The plague of any event is the loss of interest in it. For example, if a child breaks a glass, everyone around would turn their attention towards him. If it happens again and again, the interest and concern shown towards him would gradually decrease until the matter becomes one of two different scenes; one of noise and trouble and the other of people not paying any attention to the child’s “actions”. From time to time, some individual may take notice of the child if he carries on acting in the same way or if he comes up with a “new idea”, for example, giving the impression that he wants to destroy the television. At that point, he would receive limited attention.

Take the example of Lebanon. All of us – I mean on the popular level – were interested in what was happening there and concerned with its opposing trends. The Lebanese event topped others and this made it, or is in the process of making it an issue of public opinion in the real sense of the word. Thus, decision-makers turned their attention towards the issue and became involved, and, according to the Lebanese minister of justice, “too many cooks” have entered the kitchen, from the Sudanese and Algerian envoys to the verbal message given by the Yemeni president, of course along with the “real” players in the region, whether for one camp or another.

However, when the Lebanese went too far, interest waned and the size of a Lebanese news item shrank gradually until everything was back to the way it was.

The same has happened with Iraqi news since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime on April 9, 2003, and when Baghdad’s sky was lit by large missiles. The events were covered by Aljazeera and Al Arabiya rather than by CNN, as the case was during the war for the liberation of Kuwait. The Arab viewer demonstrated much interest in the events and this had various outcomes. This interest also caused a number of innocents to become victims, whether the Iraqis whose voices were muzzled by the “forever roaring” Arab public, or some unfortunate youths who rushed to Iraq to fight, for example the young Saudi Ahmad al Shaya, who was less than twenty years of age when he drove a truck rigged with explosives to bomb the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. He was lucky to survive the explosion, sustaining serious burns. If terrorist acts carried out by “the Lions of the Peninsula” had continued in Kuwait and had not been limited to the operations in Midan Hawalli, Umm al Hayman and Mubarak al Kabeer, the news of terrorism in Kuwait would have also joined this “unsurprising family” of news.

So where is the problem?!

Have we lost all humanitarian feeling? Is the Arab viewer insensitive or easily bored? Has he reconciled with the state of devastation, destruction and death and the “disintegration” of states, with anything now possible in accordance to Hegelian law that states what minds can perceive is attainable in reality?

Or, is it that the Arab can only interact according to a specific formula that lies in either a direct, decisive solution, like that of Ahmad al Shaya, or in desensitizing oneself and nothing in between?

Alternatively, does the problem relate to those who appear on the television screens rather than those who sit in front of it, that is, the event makers rather than the observers especially as these never-ending “ordeals” are so frequent that we could have a competition and call it, “catastrophe of the week/ the month/ the year,” the latter of which requires more blood, devastation and escalation in order to surpass the catastrophe of the year before.

In other words, does the problem lie in the devastation, infighting, stubbornness, bloody clashes and the game of rubbing each other’s noses in matters? Has this become the only way to solve the problems in our Arab and Muslim worlds? Consequently, if this is the reality and the truth, why is there any surprise? Primarily, this has been the adopted solution for Arabs for a very long time, and it is simply the case that it is gaining wider coverage!

Or, perhaps the problem lies in that all this Arab “ado” is much about nothing, exemplified perfectly by the Arab League. There is friction and sparks fly when there is no lubricating oil applied to the rusty joints. The Arab’s lubricating oils are ineffective despite them being the world’s top exporters of the precious commodity!

In fact there is no clear answer. All that is written above is merely a quick review of this unusual condition that is represented by a lack of surprise and insensitivity towards the current havoc; it is not an answer, or even an attempt to answer or to explain this condition. It is simply a reference to it, a remote one at that.

If I was to express my views on how to explain this, I would say that all this friction and devastation, disintegration of states and the emergence of other entities that are outside of the official Arab political structure – such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Islamic Courts in Somalia – is a symptom of a disease. Such disease – of course besides the defects of the structural culture, which I have always stressed – is very clearly the failure of the modern Arab state and the political stratum surrounding it to create a successful model that inspires everyone to join and compete “within,” rather than resorting to these absurd, suicidal courses through Nasrallah’s turban, Haniyeh’s cloak or Akef’s fists.

Yes, there are numerous details in each and every case, whether regarding Hezbollah, Hamas or the Brotherhood in Egypt, and there are “explanatory features” of every model. However, what we refer to here is a general view of the entire scene and those who appear in it, since it is not a coincidence or a stroke of luck that this rise in the number of political suicidal groups occurs as Fatah is disintegrating in Palestine and the regime is suffering in Egypt.

As we know, there is a vacuum, so everyone, whoever and from wherever they are, seeks to fill this vacuum.

The Arab viewer is a “viewer who saw and learnt nothing,” from the nature of its history to its governing culture and reality, which is shrouded in acting and maneuvering from the opposition and the majority.

Until the viewer can see clearly and lift the veil from above his eyes, allowing him to see the light of “vision,” they will never cease to surprise and be surprised!

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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