Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Arab Media

Here's another clip from MEMRI-TV to add to the "Al-Jazeera isn't what you think it is" file. In it, Iraqi author Najm Wali argues that the Arabs must pursue normalization with Israel if they are to have a future.
Najm Wali: I believe that normalization [of relations with Israel] is a cultural necessity for us, and it is the answer to all those who talk about a clash of civilizations. It is a historical necessity for us Arabs in particular, because it will take us to a new stage – a stage that will transcend the eternal conflict with Israel, and in which we will form new relations with the world. The eternal conflict with Israel has brought us nothing but material losses and loss of human life, as well as a chronic sense of defeat. The common Arab citizen feels that he is being defeated by this tiny country, Israel, which numbers only six or seven million, while the Arab world numbers 300 million.

The way to deal with this feeling should be through normalization. As you said at the beginning of this show, this is what the Islamic countries understood, long before the Arabs. The historical ties of Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia with Israel have gone beyond mere normalization. Turkey, Syria's partner and the mediator in the indirect talks [with Israel], has a strategic, military alliance with Israel. But I'm sad to say that the notion that prevails in the public discourse is that normalization is a trap for us, a deception. This notion will lead us to more defeats and battles, and the loss of more human lives. Look at other Islamic states, like Indonesia and Turkey. Not only are these countries international powers, which are even accepted as mediators, but they are also economic powers. Like the "Asian Tigers," they did not involve themselves in a daily conflict with a small country. This question has constantly made me wonder, even as a little boy: Why is this tiny state able to defeat us, even though we are 300 million? The problem lies with us. We have to think for ourselves, and build...

Interviewer: So the solution to this problem is normalization with this country?

Najm Wali: In my opinion, normalization is the first solution, so we can devote ourselves to economic prosperity. Economy is the problem in the world today.

Interviewer: Egypt normalized its relations with Israel some 25 years ago or more.

Najm Wali: And indeed, it regained the Sinai.

Interviewer: What has Egypt achieved since the normalization?

Najm Wali: Let's ask a different question: How many casualties has Egypt suffered since normalization? Egypt has not suffered casualties like it did in the past. [...] What I am saying is that this nation has to coexist in peace.

Interviewer: The Islamic nation?

Najm Wali: Yes, and especially the Arab nation, which is part of the Islamic nation. I consider it a historical necessity. In addition, peaceful coexistence – let's put aside the issue of Zionism... The Jews are no foreigners here. They've lived in the region for many years, throughout Islamic history. Even in terms of race, ethnicity, and history – they are our cousins. They lived for many years in the Arab Peninsula, in Iraq, and everywhere. We have to benefit from their experience in building a state.
I simply cannot imagine a scenario in which CNN or Fox News would give airtime to someone who would challenge America's fundamental image of itself the way this Najm Wali has challenged the Arabs. The willingness of the Arab media to give soapboxes to the most incredibly contrarian positions displays an admirable faith in the principle of free and open debate. I think we often overlook how significant this really is, particularly in the political context of the Arab world.

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