Friday, November 23, 2001

Children of the stones. That’s what reporters call rock-throwing Palestinians on Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television station. In an atmosphere of distrust and hate, Al-Jazeera can be counted on to throw gasoline on the fire. Since September 11, the coverage of the attacks and America’s response has been almost uniformly positive for the Taliban and other Islamicist radicals, that is. In a region of the world where literacy is low and emotions run high, the impact of broadcast news is even greater than it is here; the voice of Al-Jazeera is something to be reckoned with.

Al-Jazeera is probably the widest-viewed television station in the Middle East. Its reporters take pride in their coverage, which would make the most biased U.S. broadcaster blush. When we hear diplomats wondering if American plans will pass muster on the “Pakistani street,” or “the Afghan street,” it’s the radicals displayed constantly on Al-Jazeera coverage who they mean. And what coverage it is. According to a recent New York Times article by Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins, Al-Jazeera’s coverage of September 11 and our war against terrorism have been entirely from the Taliban point of view. According to Al-Jazeera, our war is not a war against terror, but against what America “calls terror.”

For generations, many Palestinians and radical Islamicists across the Middle East have been schooled from childhood on the evils done against Islam by America and Israel. Where the schools leave off, the al Qaedas of the world and Al-Jazeera take over. We now have to deal with five or six terrorist-sponsoring nations in our war against the global terrorist network. Because the terrorists are motivated by religious fervor, making a lasting peace with them even after they are thoroughly defeated may not be possible unless the religious schools and figures of authority begin to preach peace instead of hatred.

In this new war, a peace with the Islamicist radicals can also be made only through religious channels. But even after that, the voice of Al Jazeera may not change. The clear answer is a “Voice of America” in the region.Broadcast in Arabic, Pashtun and whatever other languages, the message of prosperity, progress and peace must be made more familiar to the people than the voices of violence and hate. The president should make an American voice on television and radio a constant feature of life in the Middle East.

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