This week’s new readings approach the War on Terror from a new perspective. They provide an all-encompassing understanding of the Arab perspective, both domestic and abroad, as one reading provides an analysis of the Arab news source, Al-Jazeera, while the other demonstrates the Arab-American perspective in the wake of the September 11th attacks. These readings work together to hep our understanding of the motives behind Arab-based rhetoric, especially since the beginning of the War on Terror.
The first reading, “The War on Terror through Arab-American Eyes: The Arab-American Press as a Rhetorical Counterpublic” by David Kaufer and Amal Mohammed Al-Malki, explores the theories of counterpublics as a tool to analyze the rhetoric of Arab-American press before and after 9/11. In order to conduct this analysis, Kaufer and Al-Malki established a collection of 113 articles from Arab American News, the oldest and largest circulating Arab-American news publication. The newspaper proves to be the perfect source for analysis of Arab-American sentiments as its home, Dearborn, Michigan, is the most densely concentrated Arab population in America. The core of Kaufer and Al-Malki’s work is the notion of a rhetorical counterpublic. to understand a counterpublic, they employ the work of Habermas along with other rhetorical scholars, to establish the public sphere as being “constituted through access to free-flowing information and the ability to transform this access into raised consciousness and identity” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 49). While the public sphere essentially represents the dominant narrative and arena for discussion in society, this concept of a counterpublic is used to “signify structured dissensus within a public sphere” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 49). For their analysis of Arab American News, Squires’ typology of counterpublics is crucial. The reading establishes that Arab American News meets the criteria of the first typology, enclaves, which opens “‘safe spaces’ whereby members of a counterpublic can keep their in-group attitudes under wraps in favor of assimilative discourse presented to the outside” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 51). This is exemplified by the Arab-American reliance on visual spectacle to prove their loyalty and ‘Americanness.’ In addition, many stories run by the publication went out of their way to condemn the attacks of 9/11, further reinforcing their assimilation with the American mainstream. Arab American News also meet the criteria for the second typology, satellites, which are “defined by their interest in maintaining separation and distinctness from the dominant public while deepening their internal cohesiveness” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 51). As a satellite counterpublic, Arab American News published stories that criticized American policy, yet they are sure to remain on the side of respectful dissent, never crossing into open opposition. The third of Squires’ typologies, which Arab American News did not fulfill, is the resistant counterpublic, in which members “openly refuse to abide by the official scripts and sanctioned discourse of the dominant public. They seek confrontation with the dominant public in an effort to change it” (Kaufer & Al-Malki, 51). Arab American News proved to form both enclaved and satellite counter publics with members that were proud Americans who also harbored pride in their membership of the Arab community which was not afraid to criticize American foreign policy in a respectful manner.
The second new reading for this week, “Challenger or lackey? The politics of news on Al-Jazeera” by Naomi Sakr, examines the development and evolution of the Arab publication, Al-Jazeera. The Qatar-based news media channel had been in business for just 5 years when the US responded to the September 11th attacks with bombings of Afghanistan. As the world turned its attention to the Middle East over the coming years, Al-Jazeera was in a unique position as they had already an established presence in the region. With access to footage and sources that were greatly desired by Western news sources, Al-Jazeera quickly rose in notoriety. In this reading, Sakr employs a three-fold thesis to take a deeper look at the evolution of Al-Jazeera and its mission. First she examines the idea that Al-Jazeera seeks to challenge Western media sources. but concludes that, “in light of the obstacles it faced in North America, Europe and the Middle East, it would seem that headlines about Al-Jazeera ‘taking on the world’ put an unjustifiably positive spin on actual events” (Sakr, 123). Thesis two discusses the view point that Al-Jazeera exists to serve the West, rather than challenge it. According to this perspective, “US hegemony is maintained through the preservation of corrupt and inert Arab dictatorships that depend on US military backing for their survival. Media liberalization in these circumstances is seen as deception, giving a false impression that political reform is under way so as to distract attention from deep structures of political repression in individual Arab states” (Sakr, 123). Sakr goes on to explain how the extensive coverage of US elections by Al-Jazeera can be interpreted as it reinforcing the American mission toward a global democracy. Sakr’s third thesis describes Al-Jazeera “an Arab force in Arab politics” (Sakr, 127). She concludes that, “from its initial purpose of delivering news in Arabic according to criteria of newsworthiness widely accepted in the West, Al-Jazeera’s role was adjusted to include promoting certain values and reporting the ‘other side of the story’ from that covered by dominant news medias” (Sakr, 129).
Each of the new readings from this week discuss an Arab news publication that provides a voice for the Arab population, giving a platform for their perspective in a world in which Western news media dominates the public sphere. I found the Kaufer and Al-Malki reading to be especially compelling considering last year’s travel ban and the Trump administration’s rhetoric overall. We are now over 15 years removed from the events of 9/11, and the War on Terror still rages on with Muslims and Arab-Americans continuing to face discrimination. From government action to societal views to entertainment media portrayal, Muslims and Arab-Americans face an uphill battle in America. In what ways has the perception and treatment of Arab-Americans in society changed over the last 10 or so years? Has their condition improved? If so, is this improvement significant enough?