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This time... Some Thoughts on Journalism! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In the last few days, developments in that most noble of professions, journalism, have caught my attention. I will speak briefly about these events and focus on issues closer to home.

In Kuwait, journalists celebrated as parliament approved the new press law. The new law, as described to the colleague Ahmad Issa by a follower of Kuwaiti affairs, would pave the way for the licensing of new publications and bar the government from suspending newspapers without a judicial order.

Last week, the Friends of Ahmad Bahaaeddin Association, launched a collection of the writings of the late Egyptian journalist and created a website that features his best work, over half a century, in addition to information about his life and private pictures.

Sanaa al Baisi, an Egyptian journalist, wrote a touching article in Al Ahram newspaper entitled “Professor Bahaa”. She spoke about her experience working under him when he was Editor-in-Chief of “Akhbar Al Youm”. She described him as a timid but stubborn journalist and discussed his complex relationship with the Free Officers who led Egypt’s 1952 revolution. Bahaaeddin did not consider it his duty to act as their mouthpiece, but at the same time, he was not their enemy. He belonged to the revolution and shared its dreams of justice and honor. This ambiguous relationship drove Gamal Abdel Nasser to ask Bahaaeddin jokingly, “I wish I could know who you’re really with!”

As for the Kuwaiti press, it has an illustrious history in the Gulf region that goes back to 1928, when the writer Abdul Aziz al Rashid established the magazine “Al Kuwait”. Kuwaiti publications were edited locally but printed in either Iraq or Egypt and then re-distributed in Kuwait . As luck would have it, al Rashid sought refuge in Bahrain almost a century ago, after being pressured by one of the Sheikhs because of his writings and links with a reformist sheikh. His grandson, Information Minister Anas al Rashid, has returned with the new press law to allow the Kuwaiti press room to breathe.

On a more personal note, I would like to discuss the wounds of rejection, framing and stereotyping. Any “worried” writer who is emotionally involved in his articles is observed by three watchful eyes: a political eye, a religious eye and a social eye. Every time he turns towards one, the others suffer until he settles on one of two options: either he satisfies one or he ignores all three. Unable to do so, all that is left for him is to recall what Imam Al Shafey told his student, “Pleasing people is an unattainable goal.”

These wicked whispers fill the soul of any writer who has decided to begin writing an article, especially the sort who believes writing is an organic part of him, and not the one who writes in search of livelihood, ready to switch from one side to the other. What does the writer do then? Does he specialize in what attracts him the most or what frightens him more? Does he decide to become a “living martyr”, carrying his cross on his shoulders, awaiting someone to crucify him?

Both choices are harmful; the first hurts the soul but the second hurts both body and soul. No one celebrates pain, even if the Sufis have claimed so, unless it is spiritual masochism!

In truth, what matters most to the writer, and the intellectual in general, is turning his vision into reality and bringing to fruition his ideas. He cares about fighting what he believes are “harmful” ideas, traditions and situations. He is not concerned with hollow screams of heroism or the praise received during late-night gatherings. The tribute might deceive you at first, it leaves you empty handed. they return to their daily concerns, one day applauding you and the next day criticizing you, but you return to your “war”, if we are to call it such, alone with your thoughts.

The intoxication of praise plays tricks with feeble minds!

The one who decides to stay put, and at the same time influence society, ought to continue trying to affect change through his opinions and motives, as well as his belonging to his land, people and society. He should utter what is allowed on the sidelines and raise the standards of the marginal, until it becomes the backbone. This is his journalistic limit and his supervisor, at any time and in any place.

The real writer or journalist is not concerned with becoming a hero. I speak here from personal experience: It is far safer to appear before oneself. At times, you hear people say, “Why aren’t you speaking out more frankly? Who pays you? You are being exploited by some sides. Do you actually believe what you say? Why don’t you mention this or that?” One might hear or read such words from individuals with dissenting views.

Your only defense is to indicate that you only speak about matters that you are well-versed in; among the issues I am knowledgeable about is political Islam, its changes, effects, alliances, and ideological mechanisms, in addition to the general psychology that motivates it and its strategies and allies, both provisional and permanent. In my estimation, my contributions on this topic benefit the reader. I have revealed changes to this political current, examined its effect on our daily lives and observed it closer.

I honestly and truly believe that some of the public and politicians are careless with regards to the ravages made by Islamist political parties to Muslims worldwide. This is a most important subject with a long history that goes back to when Arabs and Muslims failed to reform Islam and rid it of the historical interpretations that clung to it, carrying with it the fingerprints of people across the centuries. Great scholars and intellectuals have failed to resolve this problem. Many tried to find a formula that is at ease with Islamic thought and Fiqh but they soon stopped, after politicized and vengeful individuals protested. That, however, is a different story. Away from this recklessness, which could be caused by ignorance or disregard, what assuages the soul is that you say what you believe in and consider accurate; you have no effect over them.

Some people refuse to believe that you are expressing your opinion and proclaim, “You are being exploited.”But by whom? They reply, “The secular camp want to use you for their own gains!” Others believe it is the government or the Americans who are taking advantage of you, in order to realize the Greater Middle East initiative, or Clinton’s initiative or even Liz Cheney’s!

The problem with all these hypotheses is that they fail to remember the writer is a rational human being who can use his brains to good effect. He is a person with his own thoughts and longings, who laughs and cries and a person who writes the best of what his mind and soul have to offer. Some consider his work important whilst others see it as insignificant and evil. Others ask, “Who is he?”

He is aware of what is likely and what is impossible and believes it is his right to claim he loves his country, without shouting, praise or ruckus. He believes he belongs to his Islamic culture and civilization, without being categorized under this political group or the other. In sum, he only writes what he believes in.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I have shared with you the thoughts and worries of someone who comments on the latest political developments, the contemplations of someone who believes he is trying, like others around him, to safeguard the value of written words, amid a market where ideas and words are openly bought and sold.

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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