TV has become a mirror for the debates going on in
coffee shops, offices and homes across the Middle
East. War is the topic de jour and most of what we're
seeing and hearing does not really work to increase
understanding -- either the guests or the hosts don't
allow it. After all, mayhem is their aim, to make the
talk show as exciting as can be.
Punditry -- the
ability to succinctly spin your views
for a larger audience -- is gaining ground as the
medium of choice for getting new voices into the
spectrum. The talk shows most often host journalists,
who by virtue of their proximity to the events,
qualify as analysts as well.
We look at two different talk shows -- one Arabic,
the other English. What they reveal about the crisis
at hand, is the need for greater understanding between
societies and peoples around the world.
On ART Al-Alamiya's Al-Biyoot Asrar (Houses of
Secrets) this week, the topic was "Why Arabs Hate the
US". Hosts Soheir Gouda and Ragaa Ibrahim conducted a
fast-paced and often grating look at the topic, with
the help of guests including writers Osama Anwar
Okasha and Essam Zakaria, journalists Mona
Abdel-Fatah, and Hassan El-Alfy, and researcher Reda
The audience was
composed of teens and
twenty-somethings -- for the show was also meant to
find out if chasing the American dream was still a
priority on these young people's minds after the
world-rocking events of September 11.
As Reda Hilal, a researcher at Al-Ahram's Political
and Strategic Studies Center, begins to seriously
delve into a practical discussion of the "American
dream" -- describing its fundamental properties of
freedom and equality -- the host cuts him off with a
blunt, "That's not happening now."
She means, of
course, that Arabs are being denied
those very same things -- in the US itself.
"It's a state of war, that's why," Hilal says.
Mona Abdel-Fatah, a long time Washington
correspondent for Al-Akhbar, says it's understandable
that Americans mistreated Arabs after September 11.
She says Arabs would have done the same thing to
Americans if the situation was reversed.
The conversation switches into a debate about The
American Dream versus American Imperialism. Osama
Anwar Okasha, the TV scriptwriter, says the US is not
a country but a state of being, overtaking the entire
Hassan El-Alfy, a
newspaper editor who lived in the US
then came back to Egypt, says the American dream
("hulm") has become the American fanstasy ("wahm").
other words, mostly unattainable.
It will remain as such, says Essam Zakaria, a writer,
until Arabs are clearer about whether or not they
fully agree with US principles like freedom, equality,
promotions based on good work, etc -- all the good
Western traits that seem to get left behind by the
hamburgers and jeans.
He admits that
the US might not be perfect in all
these regards -- "let's say they're at 50 per cent --
but the Arab world -- we're minus 50 per cent."
The comment is taken in stride. After all, these are
the secrets of the houses being revealed here.
The goal is still to find out why people hate the US.
The host says its because the US is racist -- the most
recent example being the US-Israeli walkout from the
Durban Conference on racism. Arabs complain about
this, Hilal interjects, while they are themselves
But, the host
says, Italian PM Berlosconi's recent
comment about Islamic civilization being inferior
truly represents what Westerners think of Arabs and
that this then, is the chance to
change this impression.
They ask the audience if they are still interested in
moving to the States.
The response is mostly muted, not many seem interested
But even if
they're not going to the States it seems
almost given that the States will soon be coming to
them. The guests all give final thoughts, mostly
optimistic calls for better work ethics, more
equality, and stronger dreams. "Let's change the
American dream to a universal dream," one of them