of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held its ninth conference in
Doha, the Qatari capital, during November 2001. Members decided
to establish an Islamic English-language satellite television
channel. The main aim of such an initiative is apparently to
educate the West about "real Islam," in light of the
events of September 11, 2001. The TV channel is scheduled to
go on air by 2004.
would not have been made if 9/11 had never occurred. The researcher
believes that the decision was fuelled by moral panic rather
than by objective perspectives, particularly with regard to
the presumed role played by Muslims in the atrocities. This
article argues that a single rationale should not be the sole
source for defining the Islamic world to a Western-targeted
inauguration in 1969 the OIC has had a reputation for bureaucracy,
complacency, and negative performance in dealing with Islamic
issues. Given this legacy, many argue that the proposal to establish
an Islamic English-language satellite television system will
face added difficulties in meeting the deadline for the channel
to go on air in 2004.
is nonetheless mainly concerned with one particular mechanism
proposed by the OIC, i.e., the English-language broadcasts aimed
specifically at American and other Western audiences. The stated
goal: raising audience awareness about "real Islam"
through globally-televised programming. The long-term goal behind
such an initiative presumably is to distance Islam from the
horrific images of 9/11. There has been what I call a "moral
panic" in which Muslims feel on the defensive and are seeking
new forms of outreach because of continuing misunderstanding
of the Islamic world in the United States and other key countries.
QUESTION OF "REAL ISLAM"
notions, the definition of "real Islam" is problematic
and controversial because there are so many differences amongst
Muslims. Additionally, a legitimate question has to arise in
this context as to whether or not the West is willing to learn
about Islam, given the fact that the OIC has never carried out
a survey in the West to find out.
There are also some generic arguments about which genres this
new channel should use to "educate" its targeted Western
audience: news, actualities, programs designed to portray how
Islam deals with topics such as adultery and theft, plus fictional
entertainment offerings and other features (Muhammed 2001, 2-4).
For example, all moral viewpoints could be reviewed, analyzed,
and critically dealt with in uncensored talk show programs.
THE QUESTION OF MORALITY
believes though that such a contentious long-term goal is typically
based on very inadequate evidence fuelled by moral panic, especially
judgments and stereotypes held by certain clerics within the
OIC, whose perception of the West is extremely poor. Having
said that, there are Muslims and Westerners alike who tend to
reject the moral judgment on which some people base their views
in regard to the relationship between Islam and the West. When
properly understood, Islam is a religion but also a comprehensive
way of life.
maintaining fixed moral judgments of each other's culture is
bound to lead to a complexity of moral decisions and would consequently
barricade any possible compromise that may appear on the horizon.
Hence, it is extremely urgent for both Muslims and Westerners
to realize that international relationships with each other
in terms of economics, politics, security, and culture cannot
be based only on moral considerations, but must also take into
account common interests. For Muslims to be liked by the West
(to cite one example) is completely irrelevant, because it is
not a prerequisite condition in dealing with the West. One should
not just reject another nation's products based on moral conclusions.
There is no point in rejecting, for instance, American goods
simply because they are American and you do not like certain
American values and certain ways in which Americans might behave.
On the other
hand, morality within the Arabic-Islamic contexts is an absolutely
central issue to approaching the West and the converse almost
equally true. Moral issues cannot be disentangled from political
and philosophical questions which have their roots deeply ingrained
in the days of Al-Andalus or medieval times. Every culture needs
its own indigenous cultural production to fulfill the needs
of its people for stories about themselves. It is important
to maintain indigenous production to ensure that domestic cohesiveness
does not disappear as a prevention of foreign products over-dominating
markets. Much the same argument is made in Arab countries in
the film industry in particular and increasingly in television.
Unfortunately, the Muslim regimes that already fund Islamic
satellite television services (either directly or indirectly
through people with whom they share the same interests) have
undoubtedly failed Muslims miserably, most notably in regard
to the concept of "social justice" (e.g., Amer, 2002;
Abdulhaleem, 2002; Rushdi, 2002).
concern, especially based on observations of Muslims living
in the West, indicates that even after 9/11, how one is viewed
does not seem to be based on whether or not one has intimate
Western friends. Pro-American Muslims feel as threatened and
suspected as do Islamicist radicals, even though there is no
rational reason to lump them together ideologically. The failure
by both cultures to nurture and protect a positive relationship
between Muslims and Westerners outside the boundary of moral
stereotypes is the equivalent of a human cultural holocaust.
A key challenge for Arab and Muslim societies (among others)
is how to find a negotiated cultural balance between, and synthesis
of, Western social and media values and Islamic history and
culture (Al-Hail, 1995, 425-429). The OIC, by proposing the
creation of an Islamic satellite TV channel, in effect not only
challenges the West, but (should it wish to) the dominance of
authoritarian notions put forward by today's dominant Arabic
Islamic oligarchies and dictatorships.
and critical questions are bound to arise in due course as to
who is actually going to finance such a global satellite television
operation. Will the 57 members equally fund the project given,
the high cost of setting up and running such a scheme and the
harsh economic conditions through which the whole world is going?
State of Qatar, the country which hosted the last summit of
the OIC and whose Emir proposed the television station and set
a dead line for it to go on air in 2004, be willing to harbor
the channel and pay for its operating and running costs? It
sounded and looked this way during the conference. None of the
rich members of the OIC was apparently enthusiastic about embarking
on such a huge project. Since its establishment in 1969, the
OIC has a record of implementing specific media and educational
projects in theory but failing in practice. There are a number
of other concerns and problematic queries behind such reservations.
For example, which kind of Islam should be represented through
television? Should it be the Sunni, the Wahhabi, the Shiite
or another of the various divisions within Islam such as the
Ahmadis, the Ibadis, the Sufis, the Zeidis, the Alawis, or the
Druze, and so on? Islamic countries differ dramatically in terms
of ideology and interests vis-à-vis the West. Hence,
finding a form of content balance, which seems very difficult,
surely will arise as a difficult dilemma.
countries, certainly Saudi Arabia among them, would see such
a television station as a tool for further division amongst
Muslims. The possible split comes not just through education
and information forums, but more importantly, when it comes
to dialogue and communication with the West through live call-in
programs. Governmental funding would unquestionably weaken the
channel's autonomy and independence, and consequently threaten
speaking, viewers world-wide take these satellite channels for
granted. There are so many of choices that many are not taken
seriously most of the time. Moreover, even if available in the
US or Europe via satellite or cable, there is no guarantee anyone
these difficulties, one can accept that people do acquire guidance
from television on many issues, including how to deal with each
other in personal relationships. When viewers see someone behaving
in a way they think is attractive and effective in reconciling
a couple or dealing with a child, that is probably more influential
in their lives than something bizarre or cruel or unpleasant,
unless they are already disturbed people. Despite the huge number
of murders depicted on television, most people do not turn into
does, however, also accept Halloran, Brown, and Chaney's (1970)
notion that television makes us more fearful because people
have such wide access now to stories about the awful things
that happen in the world. Even though such bad events have always
happened, knowing about them tends to make viewers more fearful
to go out in the streets, frightened of traveling, of letting
their kids go out, etc. Perception is worse than reality because
the reality of media is more concentrated in terms of negativity.
From this short discussion of the role of television in the
lives of people, a fundamental question arises: "What kind
of advice would the proposed Islamic satellite television give
to its Western audience?" Despite the efforts of vested
interests to conceal, deny and confuse, everyday occurrences
since September 11 seem to give a clear picture of at least
a "presumed" growing hostility against Islam.
It was relatively
easy to make "moral panic" statements to justify the
financing of such a TV channel targeting Western audiences.
However, more research is necessary into the genuine causes
of concern that predate the destruction of the World Trade Center.
It remains to be seen whether OIC's possession of a new satellite
service would narrow the psychological gap between two cultures
whose relationship has historically always been subjected to
emotions and moral judgments.
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
must be placed on the necessity to carry out further research
into comparative cultural areas of study between Islamic culture
and Western culture. Although there are many forms of materialistic
co-operation between Islamic and Western countries, there are
too few attempts on both sides to understand each other's culture.
Further research by Ph.D. students seconded to Western Universities
from Islamic countries should emphasize the need for conducting
cultural comparative research between their countries and the
West by the use of qualitative methodologies, especially interviewing.
This is an appropriate strategy of social science research for
obtaining first hand knowledge in the area under examination.
From experience, this approach helps to narrow the cultural
gap between the Muslim researcher and his/her interviewees and
giving into rhetoric and assertion (Buckingham, 1990), further
research, backed by concrete evidence, is needed into the role
of mass media. Islamic countries' own media should carry out
frequent audience research to make sure that its programs cover
all sections of society. This procedure would lead, among other
things, to minimizing the phenomenon of alienation faced by
certain groups such as the well-educated and women. Islamic
media should also promote the role of women in Islamic-oriented
programs as well as other types of shows. In addition, the media
should stop portraying women as merely domesticated and highlight
their successes working as professionals, civil servants, and
institutions in Islamic countries should adopt practical methods
to content-analyze exported media's products not so much for
the sake of protection as for the sake of being aware of the
contents of these products. They should subsidize, support,
and sponsor the ideas of Muslim actors and actresses to produce
indigenous productions of media that reflect the Islamic and
Arabic culture and make these forms of production exportable
to the West. Foreign-targeted Islamic programs should be produced
and presented on TV according to the best techniques of television.
For example, to reach children, cartoon personalities such as
Tom & Jerry could be used for teaching about Islam today.
educational policy makers should also consider introducing media
education into schools. Regardless of the high cost which training
teachers of media studies could entail, the long term outcomes
of such an investment are worth it. In fact, the principles
of media education are similar to those grounded in the Holy
Qur'an and the revelation to motivate people to become conscious
and critical of what they watch, read, and listen to. Doing
so domestically will inevitably narrow gender inequalities and
raise the level of cultural awareness. Ultimately, this will
also help lessen points of contention in both Islamic and Western
cultures that have been maintained only because of cultural
misunderstanding and stereotyping on both sides.
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Theory and Practice
Amer, Ghanim. "The Islamic Satellite Television" in
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Buckingham, David. Watching Media Learning. London and
New York: Falmer Press, 1990.
Halloran, J. D., Brown R. L.; and Chaney, D. C. Television
and Delinquency. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press,
Muhammed, Ayish I. "American-Style Journalism and Arab
World Television: An Exploratory Study of News Selection at
Six Arab World Satellite Television Channels" in
Transnational Broadcasting Studies (Cairo, Egypt), No.
6 (Spring-Summer 2001), 3-5 (tbsjournal.arabmediasociety.com).
Rushdi, Jehan. "The Future of Islamic Satellite Television"
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Al-Hail has taught Mass Communications at Qatar University
and elsewhere in the United States, Europe, and the Arab World.
He is a consultant to Qatar Radio & TV Corporation.