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Faisal J. Abbas

Faisal J. Abbas

Posted: August 3, 2010 01:48 PM

It would only be logical to assume that us Arabs hate everything the United States stand for when Americans regularly watch scenes of Anti-USA protests happening in Arab Capital cities.

This assumption is very likely to be even further believed when you hear of the regular 'boycott' waves of Americans products and imports, which still do occur from time to time.

However, I have a feeling that in reality, we all know the reality!

If we are talking about the masses then the fact of the matter is simple: For long years the majority opposed foreign policy (particularly the absolute support for Israel and the war in Iraq).

Yet whenever it came to consumption habits, the whole argument becomes a completely different one: We Arabs LOVE our American products, sometimes maybe even more than Americans themselves.

2010-07-26-feedexcheers.jpg
(a mock up of how a hypothetical ad for a journalism franchise would look like - image by: Faisal J. Abbas)

In fact, the very same people who burn American flags at protests would probably be heavy smokers of Marlboro's, drinkers of Coke, wearers Levi's, watchers of Hollywood films and listeners to American pop music, regardless of their political position.

And we are not just consumers; we are HEAVY consumers ... in fact, according to Fast Food Nation, when a McDonald's opened for the first time in Kuwait (in 1994), the line of cars waiting at the drive-through window extended for seven miles. Around the same time, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca set new sales records for the chain, earning $200,000 in a single week during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

However, what I think says it all is a regional ad campaign for General Motors which people who lived in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries in the late nineties would remember, one ad for GMC position the Suburban as a member of the family (with a man adding the name of this adored vehicle to his family tree), whilst a series of Chevrollet ads always ended with the line 'Kayf Ne'esh Min Gher Caprice?' (How can we live without a Caprice?).

Now if you are starting to wonder where all this is going and whether I am actually building an argument for or against consumerism and globalization, allow me to say that my only concern with the above is the following:

I am beginning to honestly be convinced that our dependence on imports is actually affecting our mental abilities... here is why:

Recently, one of America's most prominent and respected newspapers, The Washington Post, published a fantastic investigative series under the title "Top Secret America." The three-part series is a project that took nearly two years in the making that describes the huge national security build-up in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Obviously, the feedback was enormous, with praise, if not envy, coming from fellow American editors and journalists who probably wished they had published this fantastic piece of work in their own papers.

Of course, this type of 'wishful thinking' coming from an American editor would probably be acceptable.

Technically speaking: There is nothing -- except hard work and the willingness to take the plunge -- that would prevent this American editor to have reached the same results.

However, the seriously worrying reaction I am referring to came from some Arab journalists who have praised the work accomplished, noting the courage it took to uncover all these secrets about how the American 'system' works.

Excuse me! aren't we talking about one of the worlds most established newspapers (which in particular has the uncovering of 'Watergate' under its belt)? and I may add that this particular paper exists in one of the most democratic countries (where the constitution itself gives journalists the freedom to say as they wish).

So doesn't all this praise sound a bit ironic when it comes from an Arab journalist who isn't free to write what s/he actually wants to say!

Here is what I think: The Washington Post or any other serious American newspaper shouldn't be thanked for what it has done, it should be asked what is next? I hate to break the news to some people, but... HELLOOO, this is why they are called NEWSpapers.

The second point is: I just think that many of us Arab journalists are not in a position which allows us to even comment on this achievement by the Post. This would be like praising a democratic country for having a free-election when a writer should be writing about the absence of democracy in his/her own country.

I can't help but to recall an incident which I witnessed a few years ago when veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk was launching a book at The Front Line Club for journalists in London.

During a busy Q&A session, a particular reporter from a London based pan-Arab daily took her time saying how much she admired Fisk's work, before asking him what he thought would happen to the region in five years.

Fisk, not known to be a person who takes nonsense lightly, first replied saying that he had forgotten his crystal ball at home, before complaining in public that the newspaper which this journalist worked for (which has a massive operation in Beirut) only reports what Fisk had reported a day earlier for The Independent (he was referring to the coverage of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri at the time).

"Instead of asking these typical questions, why doesn't your paper do a proper job and get us to quote you rather than the other way around?' he questioned and ended the conversation.

I would ask the same question to those who are now praising the Washington Post for doing its job, why can't you do something similar yourself?

Of course, it would be difficult to work on such a project in the majority of Arab countries when the majority of those who dared challenge the 'Moukhabarat' (the generic name of Arab intelligence services) traditionally paid a heavy price, sometimes with their own lives.

Given that recent events in the Arab World have shown that at some point you can't even comment on sports freely, I seriously doubt we will be seeing a Washington Post style "Top Secret Middle East" project coming out any time soon.

I must admit, serious American journalism is one product that I wish could be franchised!

 

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