Dec 11, 2005

control room

I watched Control Room this weekend. It's a documentary about Al Jazeera during the second attack on Iraq. One of the more powerful documentaries I've ever seen. You don't actually see what Al Jazeera broadcast during the war. You see discussions of the people behind the network. All of the people you see talking come off as very educated and thoughtful. There isn't the overwhelming taint of biased agendas that you would have expected based on western reports. This could be due to the fact that what they show on TV is different than what they think. I'm sure the producers at CNN aren't as simple minded as what they show on TV. At any rate it's illuminating to hear them talk. It's worth a rental.

However, there is one participant who stands out from the rest. A Samir Khader - the senior producer for Al Jazeera. He is an incredible combination of intelligence and charm. The kind of guy you would want to chat politics with over a coffee. As I watched him with his balding pate and his constant cigarette in hand and his quote-worthy statements, one after the other, he reminded me, both in form and in intellect, of Jean Paul Sartre. It isn't surprising then that you learn (see Special Features) that after being born in Baghdad, he left (when the Baath party came to power) and earned a scholarship studying in France. He's got something of a French intellectual in him. Also surprising was his early interest in mathematics and science, which he studied. It wasn't until the 70s that he discovered politics and, in his own words, realized he was damn good at it. He is good at it. He knows exactly what is going on.

Being an Iraqi there's a bittersweet pallor on his face. Coming from a place ruled by Saddam after he left the country and understanding what is about to happen (it is filmed during the invasion) have left their mark on him. We learn later, surprisingly, that he dearly loves America. His dream is to send his kids to school in the U.S. He would take a job at Fox. All of his friends illegally found their way to the U.S. but he, always being one to obey the law, ironically has never set foot on U.S. soil. He clearly views the U.S. as a country of opportunities. In his words "A big country", "Multi-racial", "Where no one will tell you such and such and such.", "If I were an American I would support [the U.S. Administration]". And there is a little twinkle in his eye and some statements in the special features that suggest he wishes the U.S. would tackle the dictatorship problem in all of the Middle East. What an interesting study in contrasts. A view dramatically at odds which how Al Jazeera is portrayed.

Listen to his words on the mission of Al Jazeera and how he truly wants to bring the Middle East into the modern world (the sincerity in his words permeates everything he says):
The message of Al Jazeera is educational, to educate the Arab masses on something called democracy. Respect of the other opinion. The free debate. Really free debate. No taboos. Nothing is called taboo. Everything should be dealt with intelligently and with openness. And to try to use these things to shake up these rigid societies. To awaken them. Tell them, "wake up wake up. There is a world around you. Something is happening in the world. You are still sleeping. Wake up." This is the message of Al Jazeera.
Much of the impact of his words is lost on paper (or web). His delivery is powerful. It's worth watching just for him. Here are some more quotes.

On propaganda:
You cannot wage a war without rumors. Without media. Without propaganda. Any military planner that plans for a war... if he doesn't put media propaganda at the top of his agenda. He's a bad military planner.
On the death of Tarek Ayyoub (a news reporter killed by U.S. forces):
(with sadness in his eyes) Everybody was crying. In the newsroom. You can see their tears coming down. Except me. I managed to stay firm and not to cry. Because it's too easy. For me, that was a crime that should be avenged. Or at least investigated.
On the meaning of the U.S. attack on his reporters:
The first objective of sending these missiles on the offices of Al Jazeera is to tell Al Jazeera, "You're not siding 100% with us against Saddam Hussein so we are going to punish you. We are sending these missiles on you to kill. To kill people. Okay? We have received the message. We acknowledge the receipt of this message. We are a tiny channel in a tiny country. What can we do? We just shut up and try to go on and do our job. That's it.
On the aftermath:
History tells us that human beings have short memories. Who thinks now in the United States about what happened in Somalia in 1993? Nobody. Who thinks about what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina? Nobody thinks about that. History is written by the victors. All that will be left from this war are just scripts and some history books. And that's it. Life will continue.
There is one single thing that will be left. Victory. And that's it. People like victory. They don't like justifications. You don't have to justify. Once you are victorious that's it.
He also comments on the aptitude of the Bush administration in controlling the media during the war. He speaks favorably. But it strikes me that they had a potent ally in many at Al Jazeera. And that they created an enemy where there wasn't one. I guess that is par for the course for this administration.

1 comment:

mummsy said...

CNN is not to be trusted. Do not forget they were adhereing to Saddam's instructions in order to be in Iraq during the first Gulf War. CNN would sell the soul of its first born to get the story. And Ted Turner, wants to rewrite the 10 commandments. That's a problem.