Journal of Arab and Muslim Media

Research
Volume 1 Number 1 2007
The Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research is a new refereed academic pub-
lication dedicated to the study of communication, culture and society in the
Arab and Muslim world. It aims to lead the debate about the rapid changes in
media and society in that part of the world. This journal is also interested in
diasporic media like satellite TV, radio and new media especially in Europe
and North America. The journal serves a large international community of
academics, researchers, students, journalists, policy makers and other mem-
bers of the public in the West as well as the Arab and Muslim countries.
We welcome contributions on but not restricted to the following themes:
1. Communication and development in the Arab region
2. Media and the Construction of public opinion
3. Media and social change in the Arab and Muslim world
4. Media coverage of wars and conflicts in the region
5. New media, culture and society in the Arab and Muslim World
6. Arab/Muslim youth, identity and the media
7. Media and women empowerment
8. Diasporic media and diasporic audiences
9. Global media and its impact on local cultures
10. Blogging and the changing face of journalism practice
11. Reality TV and the tabloidisation of Arab media
12. Pan-Arab Satellite TV and audience research
13. Media, subcultures, and resistance in the Arab and Muslim countries
Features
In addition to academic refereed papers the journal includes:
• Reports from academic conferences and symposia, organised both in
the Arab and Muslim countries and in the West, and which are related
to the topics of concern to the journal.
• Book, film and internet reviews.
• Interview section with scholars, broadcasters as well as policy makers.
The Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research is published three times per year by Intellect,
The Mill, Parnall Road, Bristol, BS16 3JG, UK. The current subscription rates are £33
(personal) and £210 (institutional). Postage is free within the UK, £9 for the rest of Europe
and £12 elsewhere. Advertising enquiries should be addressed to:
marketing@intellectbooks.com
© 2007 Intellect Ltd. Authorisation to photocopy items for internal or personal use or the
internal or personal use of specific clients is granted by Intellect Ltd for libraries and other
users registered with the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) in the UK or the Copyright
Clearance Center (CCC) Transactional Reporting Service in the USA provided that the base
fee is paid directly to the relevant organisation.
Editor
Noureddine Miladi
School of Social Sciences
The University
of Northampton
Park Campus, Boughton
Green Road
Northampton NN2 7AL
United Kingdom
Tel:
+44 (0) 1604 892104
E-mail:
noureddine.miladi
@northampton.ac.uk
ISSN 1752-6299
Printed and bound in
Great Britain by
4edge, UK.
JAMMR_1.1_00_FM.qxd 12/19/07 7:32 PM Page 1
Editorial Board
Marie Gillespie – The Open University, UK
Noha Mellor – University of East London, UK
Gareth Stanton – Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
Basyouni Hamada – Cairo University, Egypt
Hamed Quisay – Zayed University, Dubai, UAE
Ahmed Ali Al-Mashaikhi – Sultan Kabus University, Oman
Mohammed Ayish – University of Sharjah, UAE
Soek-Fang Sim – Macalester College, USA
Ibrahim M. Saleh – American University in Cairo, Egypt
Mohammed Ibahrine – Al-Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco
Adel Jendli – Zayed University in Dubai, UAE
Orayb Najjar – Northern Illinois University, Illinois
Naila Nabil Hamdi – American University in Cairo, Egypt
Gregory Kent – Roehampton University, UK
Wail Ismail AbdelBari – University of Sharjah, UAE
Mohammad Sahid Ullah – Chittagong University, Bangladesh
Khaled Al-Hroub – Cambridge Arab Media Project, UK
Bala Muhammad – Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
Amin Alhassan – York University, Canada
International Advisory Board
Philip Seib – University of Southern California, USA
Magi Al-Helwani Hussein – Cairo University, Egypt
Marc Lynch – George Washington University, USA
Sulieman Salem Saleh – Cairo University, Egypt
Christopher Tulloch – International University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain
Steve Tatham – UK Defence Academy, MOD, UK
Mohammed Zayani – American University of Sharjah, UAE
Magda Bagnied – Cairo University, Egypt
Nurbaiduri Ruslan – International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
Richard Jackson – University of Manchester, UK
Douglas Boyd – University of Kentucky, USA
Fatma Alloo – Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), Tanzania
Naser Al-Manea – Safe Route PR, Leeds, UK
Lena Jayussi – Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE
Faridah Ibrahim – Universiti Kebangsaan Malay, Malaysia
Mohammad A. Siddiqi – Western Illinois University, USA
Hemant Joshi – Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India
Bouziane Zaid – Al-Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco
Leon Barkho – Jönköping University, Sweden
Philip Cass – Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Makram Khoury – Cambridge University, UK
Said Shehata – London Metropolitan University, UK
Frank B. Kalupa – James Madison University, VA
Javad Mottaghi – Asian-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development, Malaysia
Sabah Mahmoudi – Institute of Press & Information Sciences, Manouba, Tunisia
Yasmin Ibrahim – University of Brighton, UK
Ali Alkarni – King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Ivor Gaber – University of Bedfordshire, UK
Abdulrahman Al-Habib – King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Fahad bin AbdeAziz Kheraiji – King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Mustapha El-Mourabit – Al-Jazeera Centre for Research and Documentation, Qatar
JAMMR_1.1_00_FM.qxd 12/18/07 3:29 PM Page 2
Submissions
The Journal of Arab and Muslim Media
Research welcomes contributions from
around the world about the above
mentioned areas of enquiry. Manuscripts
to be considered for publication should
be submitted electronically, via e-mail, to
the Editor. Each manuscript should be
no more than 8000 words in main text
and 150 words in abstract. Review
articles should be between 1500–2000
words and interviews should approxi-
mately be 3000 words. All submissions
will be blind-refereed.
Articles should be original and not be
under consideration by any other
publication. They should be written in a
clear and concise style. All submissions
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Margins should be at least 2.5cm all
round and pagination should be
continuous. Full articles and all
correspondence with respect to any
aspect of editorial policy should always be
addressed to the Editor.
Refereeing
The Journal of Arab and Muslim Media
Research is an academic journal and
always refereed. Articles are sent to two
or three scholars with relevant experience
and expertise for comment. Anonymity is
accorded to authors and referees.
Opinion
The views expressed in the Journal of
Arab and Muslim Media Research are
those of the respective authors, and do
not necessarily coincide with those of the
Editor or Editorial and Advisory Board.
Checks before any submission
stage
Contributors must check that each of
the following been supplied to the editor
for each and every article:
• Article Title
• Author Name
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and e-mail addresses need to be
included at the head of the article.
Reviews require a full reference for
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Bibliography
This journal requires the use of Harvard
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Western Conceptions of the Orient,
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—— (1994), Culture and Imperialism,
London: Vintage.
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Notes for Contributors
JAMMR_1.1_00_FM.qxd 12/18/07 3:29 PM Page 3
Editorial
Noureddine Miladi 5
Articles
Unpacking the discursive and social links in BBC, CNN
and Al-Jazeera’s Middle East reporting
Leon Barkho 11
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel
and The West Wing
Philip Cass 31
Reverse glocalization? Marketing a Turkish cola in
the shadow of a giant
Christine L. Ogan, Filiz Çiçek and Yesim Kaptan 47
The US media, Camp David and the Oslo
‘peace process’
Andrew Piner 63
What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic identity
in contemporary Sweden
Corina Lacatus 79
Book Reviews
New Media and the New Middle East, Philip Seib (ed.), (2007)
Olivia Allison 93
Reading the Mohammed Cartoons Controversy:
An International Analysis of Press Discourses on Free Speech and Political
Spin, Risto Kunelius, Elizabeth Eide, Oliver Hahn and Roland
Schroeder (eds.), (2007)
Shabana Syed 98
Contents
JAMMR_1.1_00_FM.qxd 12/19/07 11:16 AM Page 4
Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Editorial. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.5/2
Editorial
Noureddine Miladi
For several decades public opinion in the Arab and Islamic world has been
of strategic importance to the western powers due to its huge oil and gas
resources, in addition to other cultural and political interests. Arab audi-
ences have been at the receiving end of foreign Arabic-speaking radio
broadcasting such as Radio Monte-Carlo Arabic service, Radio France
Internationale, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America,
Radio Moscow and the German Deutsche Welle Radio. As recently as
1999, ‘Arabic [remained] second only to English as an international
broadcasting language’ (Boyd, 1999: 5). However, the phenomenal mush-
rooming of Arab independent satellite TV channels in the region and the
mass production of reasonably cheap satellite dishes and decoders have
transformed the relationship between Arab audiences and western media.
Suddenly state-owned television channels have also found themselves
grappling with very fierce competition in catering for viewers’ appetite for
more accurate and comprehensive news and information.
Given this reality, there has been a growing concern recently about
commercial/’independent’ Arab satellite TV, headed by the Al-Jazeera
channel, and its potential in mobilizing the public, and power in taking
audiences away from state broadcasters who are perceived as obstacles to
the free flow of information. One would have expected a radical change in
Arab state broadcasting because of the pressure from satellite TV, which is
winning ground day by day. Yet compared to the transformation taking
place in other developing countries, very little improvement in the freedom
of expression and objective reporting has taken place in Arab state broad-
casting. The main changes seen in state broadcasters’ practices have not
been to open up to opposing opinions, or to decrease their biased stance in
favour of ruling parties, but an intensification of their entertainment pro-
grammes in a multitude of genres. Most of such channels are still not
viewed as sites of public debates or sources of information about national
and global affairs, but sources of non-stop entertainment. Genres like con-
tinuous musical performances, sitcoms, soaps and game-shows remain
dominant in the schedule of most state television channels in the region.
Although Arab viewers have little input into the content of satellite TV,
many broadcasters have found it appropriate to maintain active links with
the transnational Arab community. The popularity of Direct Broadcasting
via Satellite (DBS) systems amongst diasporic communities, for instance,
in Europe has become a symbol of community self-assertion. Unlike
Internet services, which is still restricted to the affluent and educated
among these communities, satellite TV services have been more popular
and adopted by people from different strata of society. Such an opportunity
5 JAMMR 1 (1) pp. 5–9 © Intellect Ltd 2007
JAMMR_1.1_01_edt_Miladi.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 5
has provided Arab audiences with the ability to assess and criticize their
political leaders. This obvious impact of the non-stop news cycle is to push
politicians towards increasing their PR work and increasing their effi-
ciency in dealing with the media. For the first time, Arab governments
have found themselves engaged in an endless process of responses to satel-
lite TV and new media’s challenging messages.
Another important feature of this evolving media sphere has been the
growing sense of a pan-Arab solidarity; a rising transnational support to
various causes of concern in the Arab/Muslim world. Satellite TV has
brought the sufferings of Palestinian people, the war in Afghanistan, the
plight of people in Kashmir, Bangladesh, Sudan and the war on Iraq into
people’s homes. A common Arab understanding of these causes is being
shaped up thanks to the continuous investigative journalism, and 24-hour
rolling news programmes of pan-Arab satellite TV. Local and distant
events, like the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) have been transformed into
mass experiences lived by tens of millions of viewers around the world.
Images from war zones have penetrated people’s private spheres and linked
the local to the regional and international. In light of the slow communi-
cation process in the Arab world, only satellite TV has managed to build
such bridges between this pan-Arab sphere.
Although this constant emphasis on issues of concern to Arab audi-
ences does not normally generate immediate responses, it seems to have
left its marks on people’s frustrations and reactions as reflected in many
TV discussion programmes. Thanks to new technologies, the concept of
diaspora no longer means a small ghettoized migrant community in a for-
eign country. Diaspora has evolved into a supportive body to transnational
causes. Former homes do not mean the same anymore. Instead, the new
meaning of a home has come to signify a global pan-Arab community
connected through global communication means where diaspora commu-
nities contribute to the welfare of the ‘home-countries’.
Therefore, after decades of western domination on the global informa-
tion flow, the Arab region has become less reliant and trusting of what
comes from western media at least in term of news and current affairs
programmes. Al-Jazeera catapulted pan-Arab media into the international
spotlight. A challenge to the well-established western tradition of journal-
ism has been posed by Al-Jazeera and other Arab channels due to its dar-
ing reporting of wars and conflicts. Through their peculiar coverage of the
war in Afghanistan, the Palestinian–Israeli conflict and the invasion of
Iraq Arab media unquestionably took over the Arab street. For the first
time, western media have lost not only their credibility in the Arab world
but the fight for the Arab and Muslims hearts and minds. The increasing
interest in public opinion in the Arab and Muslim world from western
powers comes in this atmosphere of a changing world of information
flows. The launch of Arabic services funded by the governments of France,
the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Germany and Russia
raises legitimate questions about the real intentions of such endeavours.
Another growing influence in the region is the Internet: a significant
escape from state censorship and a space of arguably uncensored inter-
connectivity, information exchange, resistance to mainstream media dis-
course and possible radicalization. Although access to the World Wide
6
Noureddine Miladi
JAMMR_1.1_01_edt_Miladi.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 6
Web is still slow in the region, it has been making steady progress among
the middle class. Various governments in the region have attempted to pre-
vent this ‘liberating’ force from ‘plaguing’ the flow of information. In spite
of this, the fast development of information technologies has helped
Internet users to break codes and bypass restrictions imposed by their gov-
ernments. During the late 1990s, uninterrupted access to the World Wide
Web made it possible for the Arab public to access not only newspapers
and censored material from around the world, but also to bypass the ban,
on satellite dishes. This meant that people could watch satellite TV on
their laptops with the click of a mouse wherever they were. Bloggers are
also in the increase and have succeeded in reaching out to the outside
world with their stimulating accounts of news reporting.
In this changing world of communication flow, and exciting field of
academic research, the Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research offers a
distinctive international platform for discussion and research about the
evolving scene in communication, culture and society in the Arab and
Muslim world that has been under-researched for a long time. This journal
is open to debates, research reports and reviews about this fascinating
development that is not only spanning the Arab region but in indeed the
rest of the world. By the Muslim/Islamic world we here refer to majority
Muslim countries. Thus what distinguishes this new journal is its wider
scope related to media, communication and culture in not only the
Muslim majority countries in Africa and Asia, but the 23 Arab countries
spanning two continents, with a combined population of some 325 mil-
lion people and the Arabic language forming a unifying feature. Here it
looks beyond the ‘Middle East’ as a political construct.
Apart from this, this journal will also be interested in diasporic media
like television, radio and the Internet especially in Europe and North
America. It looks at the thriving diasporic communication spaces. It will
be interested to know who their audiences are, how influential those
media outlets can be, how they are consumed and what impact do they
have on their audiences’ sense of identity and belonging. It is also inter-
ested in studies about minority media in the Arab and majority Muslim
countries like religious media outlets owned by Christian groups and other
minority cultures as forms of resistance and identity formation.
Finally, two points can be offered as part of the raison d’être for this
journal: first is the contention that the Arab region is under-researched
partly due to the lack of resources and partly due to government censor-
ship. Social science research is very much controlled by official bodies, and
serves their agenda. Funding is very much restricted to projects commis-
sioned by those bodies. With varying degrees, academic institutions have
hardly the freedom their counterparts enjoy in other parts of the world.
Even with the proliferation of television satellite channels since the begin-
ning of the 1990s, audience research has been marked by various finan-
cial limitations, but most of all by the lack of freedom in social science
research in most of the Arab countries. Critical studies in the field, which
may affect the political debates or offer an analytical academic view that
questions the role of the media in society, are not normally encouraged.
Arab satellite channels, I would argue, as well as the well-established
international broadcasters, such as the BBC, know little about their Arab
7
Editorial
JAMMR_1.1_01_edt_Miladi.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 7
viewers in the Arab and Muslim world. The interesting reality is that,
overall, the television industry knows very little about its viewers.
Something described by Lewis (1991: 21) as doomed to face the unknown:
Once it has passed out of the hands of the programme makers and onto the
screen, television passes into the world of the unknown. Programme makers
are the modern cultural equivalent of Dr Frankenstein: they have created a
monster that, once unleashed into the outside world, they can no longer
control or comprehend.
Second is that most audience research regarding Arab/Muslim media has
been conducted within the context of western paradigms. There hardly
exists comprehensive and diverse independent research concerning expo-
sure of Arab audiences to television or radio which takes into accounts the
variables of language, culture, religion and context. A significant short-
coming about the claims of communication studies achieved during the
past decades is ‘that western communication theories have been promoted
around the world as possessing a strong element of universalism’ (Ayish
2003: 79). The media effects tradition and the subsequent theories of
mass communication have yet to be seriously discussed and empirically
tested on audiences in the Arab and Muslim world.
Assuming that Arab audiences maintain a distinctive cultural frame-
work from their western counterparts, which by default makes them inter-
act with media content in a different manner, there has been a call to
draw on the notion of ‘Worldview’ as suggested by Mohammed Ayish
(2003) and the Islamic cultural theory as offered by Basyouni Hamada
(2001). In order to deconstruct the complex relationship between media
and society in that part of the world, Hamada suggests that the Arab-
Islamic concept of communication would perhaps be better understood in
the context of the political and cultural environment in which Arab media
and public opinion operate. Drawing on the work of Ball-Rokeach and
DeFleur, he argues that ‘classic sociology leads us to treat both media and
audiences as integral parts of a larger social system’ (Hamada 2001: 216).
Therefore, analysing the Arab-Islamic cultural theory and the long-term
cultural, religious and political environment to which Arab audiences are
exposed will help understand the distinctive construction of public opinion
that ultimately takes place. Based on this viewpoint, ‘media and audiences
thus would respond to the same social forces and look to each other for a
definition of those realities. Social realities portrayed by the media ensue
both from their connection to social structures and from their interaction
with audiences’ (Hamada 2001: 216).
References
Ayish, Mohammad (2001), ‘Changing Face of Arab Communications’, in Hafez
Kai (ed.), Mass Media, Politics and Society in the Middle East, Cresskill, NJ:
Hampton Press.
—— (2003), ‘Beyond Western Oriented Communication Theories: A Normative
Arab-Islamic Perspective’, in The Public, 10: 2, pp. 79–92.
Boyd, Douglas (1999), Broadcasting in the Arab World, Ames: Iowa State University
Press.
8
Noureddine Miladi
JAMMR_1.1_01_edt_Miladi.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 8
Hamada, Basyouni Ibrahim (2001), ‘Islamic Cultural Theory, Arab Media
Performance, and Public Opinion’, in Slavko Splichal (ed.), Public Opinion and
Democracy: Vox Populi-Vox Dei, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 215–39.
Lewis, Justin (2001), Constructing Public Opinion: How political elites do what they like
and why we seem to go along with it. New York: Columbia University Press.
Suggested citation
Miladi, N. (2007), ‘Editorial’, Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research 1: 1, pp. 5–9,
doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.5/2
Contributor details
Noureddine Miladi obtained an MA and Ph.D. in Communication from the
University of Westminster (UK) where he taught journalism and mass communi-
cation. His research interests are about Arab and diasporic media, satellite TV and
the construction of public opinion, media and war coverage, and new media and
social change. He is currently Lecturer in Media Studies and Sociology at the
University of Northampton (UK), founder of the Centre for Arab and Muslim Media
Research (http://www.cammro.com), and associate editor of the Journal of African
Media Studies. His works have been published in various journals and books: War
and the Media (edited by Daya Thussu and Des Freedman), Contemporary World
Television, (edited by John Sinclair), Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and
Question de Communication (in French).
He has appeared on various television and radio current-affairs programmes in
the United Kingdom and beyond. To name a few: BBC World Service, Al-Jazeera,
Sky News, Islam Channel, ChannelS, Al-Majd, Al-Hewar TV, CNN and CNBC
Arabia.
9
Editorial
JAMMR_1.1_01_edt_Miladi.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 9
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Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.11/1
Unpacking the discursive and social links
in BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera’s Middle East
reporting
Leon Barkho Jönköping University, Sweden
Abstract
To understand the language of journalism in relation to the moments of why and
how news is differently structured and patterned, English online stories tackling
the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, issued by the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera, were
critically analysed following Fowler and Fairclough’s seminal texts. The results of
the findings were discussed in interviews with the editors of the three interna-
tional networks in order to see what links these linguistic features have with the
interviewees’ social assumptions, ideologies and economic conditions. The article
finds first that the discourse within the news pyramid is composed of four major
layers: quoting, paraphrasing, background and comment. Second, it demonstrates that
there are marked differences in the discourse structures and layers that the three
networks employ in the production of the news stories they issue in English.
Third, Al-Jazeera English exhibits marked differences in the discursive features
and their social implications at the four layers of discourse to report the conflict
when compared with both the BBC and CNN. Fourth, the article shows that the
differences in linguistic patterns largely reflect and respond to each network’s
social and political assumptions and practices as well as economic conditions.
Introduction
In this article I mainly follow Fowler and Fairclough (Fairclough 1989,
1995, 1998; Fowler 1985, 1991; Fowler et al. 1979) to uncover whether
online hard news stories from the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera reveal what
journalists and their institutions call ‘impartiality and even-handedness’,
which from a journalistic code of ethics must be represented in the bal-
anced selection of structures like quotes, paraphrases, background infor-
mation, comment, choice of lexical items and grammatical structures,
among others. Journalists are supposed to have at their disposal the means
and devices that enable them to provide a balanced and factual account of
events through an even-handed representation of the sides to the dispute.
Why is it then that their selection is usually framed in a manner that legit-
imates the actions and deeds of one side at the expense of the other?
Using Halliday’s (1970, 1971, 1973) systemic and functional linguistics
as a guideline, pioneer critical linguists have shown how the presence or
absence of certain grammatical structures can be indicative of authority,
power and status (cf. Kress 1994; Kress and Hodge 1979; Bell 1991; Van Dijk
1988). The influence of Halliday is not confined to the functions of lexical or
11 JAMMR 1 (1) pp. 11–29 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
BBC
CNN
Al-Jazeera
Palestine
Israel
critical discourse
analysis
online news
JAMMR_1.1_02_art_Barkho.qxd 12/17/07 7:52 PM Page 11
syntactic structures. Critical linguists base much of their investigation of
media texts on Hallidayan linguistics’ emphasis on the generic or rather uni-
versal functions of language. Halliday (1971: 333) says that languages carry
out three main functions at the same time, which he calls ‘ideational’, ‘inter-
personal’ and ‘textual’. While critical analysts dwell at length on the first two
functions, they do not have much to say about the third.
And of the different media genres, prominent critical scholars have
given news, and particularly the hard type of it, the most attention. They
have demonstrated how language structures can be used to unravel the
social assumptions behind the news reports. In their analyses, they have
shown how the use of language can contribute to the construction of social
reality. Here the ideas of Foucault (1972, 1984) on how to derive meaning
from language play a vital role. Foucault believes language is not what one
arrives at by just attaching meaning to its structures. The meanings of
language structures hinge on their social associations and relations that
are prevalent among those exercising control, authority and power.
The ideas of Foucault mirror in the definition Fowler gives to discourse:
‘Discourse’ is speech or writing seen from the point of view of the beliefs, values
and categories which it embodies; these beliefs (etc.) constitute a way of look-
ing at the world or organization or representation of experience – ‘ideology’ in
the neutral, no-operative sense.
(cited in Hawthorn 1992: 48)
Media texts, whether spoken or written, have a social role. An under-
standing of the social world would be nearly impossible without language,
which is a product of the specific social, cultural and historical contexts
from which discourse emanates. Fairclough, building on Foucault and
Fowler, emphasizes the social and cultural dimension in his definition of
discourse: ‘Discourse analysis can be understood as an attempt to show
systematic links between texts, discourse practices and socio-cultural prac-
tices’ (Fairclough 1995: 16-17).
Fairclough has taken the discipline beyond the type of critical analysis
Fowler and his colleagues designed, especially in his most recent works
(Fairclough 2003, 2000; Chouliaraki and Fairclough 1999; and Fairclough
et al. 2004) in which he adopts a multidisciplinary critical discourse
analysis, drawing on the meta-theory of critical realism and its concep-
tions of the way language and discourse may unravel the patterns of social
reality (Sayer 1995, 1997; Danemark et al. 2002).
Four layers of hard news discourse: quoting, paraphrasing,
background and comment
The critical discourse approach here pays greater attention to the hitherto
rather overlooked third function of language, which Halliday (1971: 334)
calls ‘textual […] since it is concerned with the creation of text’. Here is a
list of the main features of this article’s approach:
1. The textual function of discourse is as important as the other two functions.
In the case of hard, written news the text normally starts with a ‘nucleus’
comprising the headline and a lead supported by ‘satellite’ paragraphs
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Leon Barkho
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ordered within what is traditionally called an inverted pyramid framework.
The discourse within this pyramid is of mainly four layers: quoting, para-
phrasing, background and comment.
2. Having identified the four layers of the inverted pyramid discourse, one
can move to unpack the news value of each layer, employing critical
linguistic tools.
3. It is essential to investigate the absence, presence or frequency of any of
the four layers of discourse within the hard news pyramid.
4. The four layers of discourse should be first examined separately when
applying Fowler’s (1993) analytic tools, namely those representing
Halliday’s (1971) ideational function of language – transitivity, trans-
formations, nominalizations and lexicalizations – and those represent-
ing the interpersonal function – modality and speech acts.
5. Each of the four layers of analysis besides its linguistic characteristics
has to be studied in terms of its social structures and social practices
(Fairclough, Jessop and Sayer 2004).
6. A critical analysis solely based on the choice of language to uncover the
social practices of discourse, though useful, is insufficient. To be thor-
ough, an analysis must not overlook the fact that news production is an
activity driven by the need to make a profit or exercise control or both.
7. Researchers are required to find a way to gauge the power that business
and political interests exercise on discourse. Prominent critical scholars
have urged in-depth interviews with senior editors though they have
not practised the method themselves (Hodge 1979). Interviews as a
social science method to interpret data have been found to be very use-
ful (cf. Noaks and Wincup 2004; Denzin and Lincoln 2006).
To shed some light on the business, and social dimensions of the discourse
practices of the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera, the author conducted in-depth
interviews with their editors and executives (see Appendix A). Some of the
interviewees were directly involved in the online news production of their
networks.
News from the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera
The three networks are tough competitors and vie for audiences in the
Arab world, home to more than 300 million people, and the world at
large. Their rivalry over influence in the region and beyond is growing.
The BBC and CNN already have Arabic online services. The BBC is soon to
launch its Arabic-language satellite news channel. Al-Jazeera already has
a 24-hour English satellite news service. Each is keen to carve a niche in
the others’ markets.
Online news discourse has several dimensions that no print newspaper
can match. It is so complex that a focus on one dimension inevitably leads to
the neglect of others. Today’s computers provide online journalists with an
incredible array of options regarding graphic formatting, typography (style
and size of print), insertion of photographs, video, drawings, cartoons, tables,
captions, links, etc. These ‘electronic’ or ‘digital’ options are of immense
significance for online news discourse and they interact dynamically with the
tools critical analysts choose to analyse language, its structures and their
relations to their social assumptions.
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Analysis
This study concentrates only on the English online news discourse of the
BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera as the inclusion of other digital dimensions
would have made it excessively long and complicated its methodological
approach. The source of discourse chosen for analysis is the hard political
news type in which the reporters of the 30 online stories – 10 from each
network (see Appendix B) – selected for analysis mainly rely on sources
from the two protagonists to turn the material they gather into a news
report. All the stories report heavy Palestinian casualties from Israeli
incursions into the Gaza Strip in the period following the capture of
Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit on 25 June 2006. The stories share the tra-
ditional inverted pyramid structure of news in which they start with
what journalists believe to be the most important (the headline and the
lead) and move on to back it up through satellite paragraphs. This entails
a patterned movement from the headline and lead paragraphs, through
episodes or statements by witnesses or commentators ranked in an
implicit order of priority (Van Dijk 1988).
The transformation of the material by the reporters into news dis-
course is carried out in four major ways or layers: (1) quoting, (2) para-
phrasing, (3) background and (4) comment. Of the four layers of hard
news discourse, journalists generally try to avoid adding ‘comment’ as far
as possible in a bid to show independence and impartiality. They ostensibly
refrain from expressing their opinion or attitude vis-à-vis the ongoing
struggle between the two protagonists. Opinions and attitudes are usually
expressed in opinion, leader or comment articles.
The analysis dwells on the four layers within the inverted pyramid
structure, their intertextual relations and the way they relate to the social
context beyond the pyramid’s parameters. The structures, whether gram-
matical, lexical or intertextual, will fail to provide proper understanding if
they are analysed in isolation from their social world. One way to analyse
the four layers is to examine what Fairclough (1995) calls the target dis-
course, a term he employs to see how media consume the discourse of
their sources.
How do the three networks exploit the four layers of discourse that are
normally available for reporters transforming material into hard political
news within the inverted pyramid framework? What social implications
can be discerned from their discursive patterns and structures? The
following sections examine the three networks separately, pointing out
how the three broadcasters divide their content along the four discourse
layers. The sections seek to find out the kind of language structures these
layers include and the social functions they perform.
The BBC
The BBC relies heavily on paraphrasing and background (see Table 1). Of
the 195 paragraphs in the ten stories selected for analysis (see Appendix B),
142 are paraphrases and 32 background information. There are only 12
quotations. There are 9 paragraphs that provide comment or opinion and
are framed in a way that legitimates the Israeli attacks as they transform
the official Israeli discourse into news:
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Leon Barkho
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(1) The attacks come at a time of extraordinary tension in Gaza with Israeli
troops mounting a two-week offensive following the capture of Corporal
Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants during a raid on an Israeli border post
on 25 June.
(2) The massive Israeli operation is aimed at releasing a captured soldier
and halting Palestinian attacks.
The two samples above are not the only indication of how the BBC article
reveals a trend of what Hall et al. (1978: 61) describe as a general tendency
in media of transforming ‘official viewpoint into public idiom’ as part of
the attempt of making official discourse more palatable to the public at
large. But shifting the official stance into public parlance is done to benefit
one side of the story (the Israelis). The Israeli attacks and often massive
military operations are in response to what the BBC normally describes as
militants, activists or Islamists. These expressions, which abound in BBC
discourse, are not inserted between inverted commas, indicating that the
BBC’s discursive patterns are closer to Israel’s official viewpoint and its
interpretation of events:
(1a) The raids come amid Israeli efforts to release a soldier captured by
Palestinian militants last month.
(2a) Israeli forces have made regular incursions into Gaza and the West
Bank following the capture of an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, in a
cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on 25 June.
Paragraphs (1) and (2), and (1a) and (2a) legitimate not only the reported
offensive but also previous attacks. Note the use of the simple present tense in
(1) and (1a) which is normally reserved to what Quirk et al. (1985) call habit-
ual actions and truths and note how what originally looks like a paraphrase
particularly in (2) and (2a) has been transformed into a statement of truth
with the verbs ‘is aimed’ and ‘have made’ indicating how the writer intrudes
into the event via what amounts to an evaluative comment by almost sanc-
tioning the Israeli operation. Had the writer opted for a paraphrase of (2), for
example, he or she might have mitigated the strong message the paragraph
delivers to suppress or eliminate one side of the conflict at the expense of the
other by revealing the agent or source and using a reporting verb:
(3) The Israelis say the massive operation is aimed at releasing a captured
soldier and halting Palestinian attacks. (Author’s rewrite of (2))
Nowhere does the BBC provide an unattributed context to the Pales-
tinians in order to explain why they resort to violence. Whenever there is
pro-Palestinian context, the source providing it is mentioned plus a
reporting verb:
(3a) For their part, groups like Hamas say that their attacks are a response
to Israeli military actions – not just attacks in Gaza – but raids, arrests and
killings in the occupied West Bank as well.
Transforming (3a) from a paraphrase to a comment, by removing the
source and reporting verb, will clearly illustrate how loaded (1, 1a and 2)
are in their bid to turn the official Israeli discourse into statement of truth.
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Leon Barkho
16
(3b), which is the author’s rewrite of (3a), is similarly very loaded as it
turns specific Palestinian official discourse into public domain discourse.
But while the BBC grants Israel the discursive privilege of comment para-
graphs like these, Palestine is denied such discursive ‘luxury’. The discur-
sive policy of unattributed background comments is only available for the
Israelis. According to the BBC’s overarching editorial values (BBC 2007b)
of ‘accuracy, impartiality, balance and diversity of opinion’ they should be
available to the Palestinians, too. Thus one should expect an unattributed
version of (3a) to be also part of the BBC’s discursive patterns. In that case
the BBC should make an evaluative paragraph like (3b) part of its dis-
course. One wonders whether the broadcaster will accept a comment like
(3b) to balance those in favour of Israel:
(3b) The Palestinian attacks are a response to Israeli military actions – not
just attacks in Gaza – but raids, arrests and killings in the occupied West
Bank as well. (Author’s rewrite of (3a))
The BBC’s choice of certain lexical items to describe the Palestinians at the
discourse layers of background, comment and paraphrasing add some form
of what Fairclough (1989: 92) calls ‘naturalization’ to the Israeli actions
and bring them closer to the horizon of the Israeli official discourse. The
Palestinians are mainly militants and the targets of the Israeli attacks are
bomb-makers, or master bomb-makers, militant groups, etc. Occasionally the BBC
seems at a loss about what lexical item to choose to describe the state of
Corporal Gilad Shalit. Once he is kidnapped, another captured or seized. In at
least one occasion he is referred to as a captive Israeli soldier:
(4) The Israeli military says Mohammed Deif, a Hamas bomb-maker who
has topped Israel’s most wanted list for over 10 years, was injured in the
attack.
(5) The Israelis say he is a master bomb-maker who has been behind
numerous suicide bomb attacks in Israel.
The way Mr Deif is designated in the restrictive clause in (4), though part
of a paraphrase accrediting the Israeli military is apparently inserted by the
writer to express a viewpoint. And the fact that master bomb-maker in (5) is
not placed in single inverted commas could indicate that the broadcaster
accepts the Israeli designation. The function of such over-lexicalization
prevalent in the dominant layers of discourse, particularly paraphrasing
and background is most ‘ideational’, indicating that the BBC content reflects
the way it perceives the world of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict and
the way it creates it in written discourse.
There is occasionally a huge thematic discrepancy between the head-
line and the lead which traditionally are supposed to exhibit a coherent
thematic structure providing the gist of the story:
(6) Gaza air strike targets militant (Headline)
(7) At least six people have been killed and 15 injured in an Israeli strike on
a Gaza City house. (Lead)
The lead (7), printed in a larger font, is a classic example of what Fowler
(1991) calls transformation where the affected participants (those killed
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17
and injured) are given the subject or agent position in the passive sen-
tence while the participants performing the action (Israelis) are part of
the circumstance in the discourse. The reversal of the role of the partici-
pants in discourse is even clearer in the headline (6). The use of the
noun combination Gaza air strike as the agent participant hides those
launching the strike and the use of the politically loaded lexical item
militant without inverted commas ‘naturalizes’ the ideology of the agent
participant.
There are few quotations in BBC stories (see Table 1) to support leads
and in the story carrying the headline in (6) there is only one paraphrase
in the 21-paragraph story to back it up:
(8) According to Palestinian medical sources, the six dead included two
women and two children.
The paucity of full quotations is matched with the preponderance of par-
tial quotes, but many of these lack balance as they are inserted to support
one side:
(9) However, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out any
negotiations with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, calling the mili-
tant group a ‘terrorist bloody organization’.
There is no single word in double inverted commas from the Palestinian
side to counterbalance Olmert’s partial quote in the story. The BBC
rewrites the same story fourteen hours later. The update carries a different
headline and a different lead:
(10) Deaths mount in attacks on Gaza (headline of update)
(11) An Israeli air strike on the Gaza City home of a member of the
Palestinian militant group Hamas has killed nine members of the same
family. (Lead of update)
The headline leaves the identity of the agent participant unknown and the
only reference to the agent is ‘circumstantial’ wrapped in two preposi-
tional phrases in attacks on Gaza. The lead has a 17-word noun phrase all
belonging to the agent participant which though clearly identified An Israeli
air strike the head noun air strike is modified (tempered) by three preposi-
tional phrases and one of them includes an over-lexicalization where the
affected participant the Palestinian militant group Hamas is classified negatively
as a group with militant or aggressive ideology.
Unlike CNN and other commercial networks, British licence-fee payers
in effect subsidize the online service even for people outside Britain. Only
very recently (BBC 2007a) has the BBC moved to slightly commercialize
the service for users outside Britain with short commercials attached
to some video items. So the service is still not under intense competitive
conditions to maximize advertising revenues. Therefore, it may not
be appropriate to attribute the discourse characteristics to purely eco-
nomic conditions for the way the BBC covers the conflict. The discursive
features outlined above show that as far as the broadcaster is concerned
the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be treated equally due to the dispar-
ity in their social, economic, political, military and media conditions
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(Barkho, forthcoming). The discursive ‘inequality’ hides the ideological
character of discourse and as Fairclough (1989: 92) says, ‘The apparent
emptying of the ideological content of discourse is, paradoxically, a fun-
damental ideological effect.’
Richard Porter, Head of News, BBC World Service, attributes the choice
of discursive patterns to ‘professional journalists trying to balance the very
many demands they face at any one time.’ He goes on, ‘I don’t accept that
our decision to use (or not use) quote marks, or our choice of tenses, can
fairly be interpreted as the BBC accenting a particular point of view, or
acting as an agency for those in power.’ The BBC is apparently not con-
cerned with the lack of balance at the four discourse layers. Jerry
Timmins, BBC Head of Region, Africa and Middle East, says, ‘You cannot
balance every story internally. Balance comes over time.’ Regarding the
patterns and elements within the four discourse layers, the BBC has a glos-
sary of terminology (Israel and the Palestinians: Key terms 2006) on how
to report the conflict. Only the Middle East region has such a glossary.
Adam Curtis, BBC World Editor, News Interactive, says it is difficult to lay
down rules for the way the four discourse layers should be used.
CNN
The ten CNN stories (see appendix B) are composed of 215 paragraphs of
which 150 indirectly report sources and 33 are direct quotations. The
short paragraphs and sentences and the frequent use of paraphrasing and
quoting give CNN discourse some affinity with conversational language
whose ideological function, according to Fowler (1991: 57), ‘naturalizes
the terms in which reality is represented’. The remaining 32 paragraphs
provide background or comment, which is designed in a way to legitimate
the Israeli actions and show that the Palestinians are to blame (see Table 1).
There is nothing at the background or comment layers of discourse that
attempts to explain the context of violence on the Palestinian side, while
Israeli violent actions are amply clarified and more or less justified:
(12) The attack comes in the midst of increased Israeli strikes designed to
suppress rocket launches from Gaza.
(12a) The military campaign is aimed at securing Cpl. Gilad Shalit’s release
and ending Palestinian attacks against Israel.
(13) The popular Resistance Committees and Hamas are designated terrorist
organizations by the United States, the European Union and Israel.
(14) Islamic Jihad is also considered a terrorist group by the United States.
Paragraphs (12) and (12a) are a good example of how the broadcaster
transforms Tel Aviv’s official discourse into matter of fact through the
use of the simple present tense and the absence of attribution. The cir-
cumstance of the attack represented in the immediately following prepo-
sitional phrase and the reduced wh-clause in the passive in (12) is
designed to give a positive context to the Israeli actions while the
Palestinian actions are denied such treatment. (12) and (12a) transform
the official Israeli discourse in (15) into CNN discourse by transferring
the past tense came into a habit that looks ‘timeless’ through the use of
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Leon Barkho
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the present tense comes and the present passive form is aimed as well as
the removal of attribution:
(15) The attack came hours after Palestinian militants launched four rock-
ets from northern Gaza on Wednesday morning and hit the Israeli town of
Sderot, killing one woman and wounding a man, Israeli police and medical
sources said.
The absence of agent participant or attribution in the reduced clauses
Israeli strikes designed to and is aimed at in (12) and (12a) shows that the
writer or the network shares the Israeli viewpoint of why the strikes are
launched. The reduced clauses modify and qualify the main noun phrases
Israeli strikes in (12) and The military campaign in (12a). Note the difference
in meaning in (16) and (17) when the subject or agent participant (source)
as well as the reporting verb is introduced by adding the emphasized bits to
(12) and (12a):
(16) The attack comes in the midst of increased Israeli strikes which Israel
says are designed to suppress rocket launches from Gaza. (Author’s rewrite
of (12))
(17) The military campaign, Israel says, is aimed at securing Cpl. Gilad
Shalit’s release and ending Palestinian attacks against Israel. (Author’s
rewrite of (12a))
Paragraphs (13) and (14) bring the affected participants to the initial or sub-
ject position of the sentence pushing the agent participants into the circum-
stance part. The transformation highlights that these groups fall under the
category of ‘terrorists’ and that is the most important part the reader must
know and the fact that they are only called so by certain countries is rather
irrelevant. Bringing the agent participants to the beginning and introducing
a reporting verb (e.g. ‘say’) and placing ‘terrorists’ inside inverted commas
would drastically shift the focus of (13) and (14) as in (18) and (19):
(18) The United States, the European Union and Israel say the popular
Resistance Committees and Hamas are ‘terrorist’ organizations. (Author’s
rewrite of (13))
(19) The United States says Islamic Jihad is also a ‘terrorist’ group.
(Author’s rewrite of (14))
CNN pursues a distinctive discursive policy with regard to headlines. Attributed
headlines are a characteristic of CNN headline discourse but without single or
double inverted commas (20a and 20c). The headline may be followed by a
smaller print size, but usually longer, secondary headline that gives a bit more
information (20d). But (20) and (20a) at least put the Israeli strikes into what
can be described as a ‘rational’ context by clearly expressing the cause that
prompted Israel to launch them. The adjective deadly used twice in the same
story to describe the launch of rockets by Palestinians and the loaded word
terrorist in fact legitimate the Israeli action while the context prompting the
Palestinians to fire crude missiles is not mentioned rendering their actions
‘irrational’. In (20b) the victims or objects of attack occupy the initial or the-
matic position in the headline while the perpetrators or agents are the
circumstance of the prepositional phrase by Israeli sniper fire.
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(20) Israeli air strikes follow deadly rocket launch from Gaza (headline)
(20a) Israel: Palestinian terrorist target hit in Gaza (headline)
(20b) Palestinian girl, 12, killed by Israeli sniper fire (headline)
(20c) Palestinians: Israelis kill 19 in Gaza (headline)
(20d) Israel hits Gaza with new strikes (headline)
At least 8 Palestinians dead, 16 wounded in Gaza attacks (secondary
headline)
While CNN deploys lexical items that make Palestinian actions rather
unacceptable, e.g. deadly in (20) and (22) and terrorist in (20a), Israeli
actions are not described negatively. For example, the killing of 18
Palestinians – mainly women and children (21) has no adjective to modify the
noun phrase a barrage of artillery fire but the Israeli interpretation or context
immediately follows Israel blamed the misfire on a ‘technical failure’ with the
word misfire not placed between inverted commas indicating that CNN
goes with the Israeli viewpoint. The only discursive layer available for the
Palestinians to have their say is quoting as in (21a):
(21) Israel was hit with a global backlash of harsh statements last week
after a barrage of artillery fire into the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun
resulted in the death of 18 Palestinians – mainly women and children.
Israel blamed the misfire on a ‘technical failure’.
(21a) ‘The occupation hasn’t stopped attacking Palestinians before or after
Beit Hanoun, so we say resistance is a right of Palestinians,’ Hamas
spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told The Associated Press.
(22) Israel earlier condemned the deadly Wednesday morning rocket strike
on Sderot.
Of course there are more samples in the CNN pieces that attempt to legiti-
mate Israel’s official discourse. Besides reporting that the United States and
Israel view these Palestinian groups as terrorists, the discourse at the four
layers of writing describes the Palestinians as militants and occasionally as
terrorists. Appellations like these give the impression that Palestinians in
general are ‘aggressive’. CNN’s lexis is almost an echo of Israeli official
discourse. Throughout Corporal Gilad Shalit is described as an abducted or
kidnapped soldier and the Israeli army is given the official Israeli designation
Israel Defense Forces or IDF.
CNN’s discursive strategy, according to Caroline Faraj, Editor-in-Chief,
CNN online, is not to describe people, but events and then leave it to the
audiences to attach the label they want to the participants in the story. ‘This
is not a place for us to put our own ideas or observations,’ she says. She sees
little difference in the social assumptions of a headline or lead in which the
agent is hidden or is part of the circumstance or clearly identified in its
‘normal’ subject position. Kevin Flower, CNN Bureau Chief, Jerusalem,
believes the global reach of CNN makes it necessary to use terms that are
‘understandable’ to its English-speaking audiences particularly in America
and is aware that many English words coined to express sensitive Arabic
terminology are inaccurate. Both agree that it is extremely difficult to
balance a story internally with regard to the four layers of discourse.
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Al-Jazeera
The ten Al-Jazeera pieces (see appendix B) designated for analysis include
157 paragraphs of which 112 are paraphrases and 17 direct quotations (see
Table 1). There are 28 paragraphs that provide context in the form of back-
ground and comment which, as we shall see, tilt towards the Palestinian side
of the conflict. One major linguistic feature of Al-Jazeera’s paraphrasing and
background layers of discourse is the active voice in which the Israelis by
name or otherwise are normally specified as the agent participants:
(23) Israeli tanks have killed at least 18 Palestinians in Gaza, including
sleeping women and children …
(24) … tank shells struck and demolished at least four houses in the attack.
(25) Israeli troops shot dead four armed Palestinians and a civilian early on
Wednesday …
(26) Soldiers killed eight Palestinians in separate incidents in Gaza on
Tuesday.
The affected participants occupy their object position in the above para-
graphs while in the BBC and CNN stories they normally are given the sub-
ject position with the agent participant either removed or part of the
circumstance. Seldom is there an attempt by Al-Jazeera to hide the agency
in the headline (27, 27a, 27b). Unlike the BBC headlines (6 and 10), the
perpetrators of the act and the victims are clearly identified. Palestinian vic-
tims are positively modified by an adjective sleeping in (27) and the Israeli
act negatively modified by deadly in (27b), the adjective CNN (20 and 22)
uses twice to negatively describe a Palestinian act:
(27) Israeli tank fire kills sleeping families
(27a) Israel kills women at mosque
(27b) Israel launches deadly Gaza attacks
Al-Jazeera paraphrasing and quoting, mainly citing Palestinian eyewitnesses
and officials, make the discourse the closest to conversation among the three
networks. One striking feature of Al-Jazeera’s quotations is their immediacy,
urgency and personalization. First pronoun, whether singular and plural,
with their subject and object forms, dominate these quotations:
(28) ‘We saw legs, we saw heads, we saw hands scattered …’
(29) ‘I saw people coming out […] I started screaming.’
(30) ‘We are going to fight …’
(31) ‘We are going to launch our rockets, our martyrs are going to sacrifice
their life …’
The quotations are most probably aimed at Arabs, Muslims or Palestinian
sympathizers who are well versed in English. That is at least what one can
surmise from their inter-personalization; the quotations speak directly to
readers in an obvious bid to rally their support and sympathy.
There are fewer background paragraphs in Al-Jazeera than in the BBC
and CNN (see Table 1). The broadcaster puts the violence on the part of
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Palestinians into context (33a and 33b), though it also tries not to over-
look the Israeli interpretation of events (33c). The discursive feature of
these background paragraphs, some of which border on comment, is the
presence of source and reporting verb which the BBC and CNN overlook in
their discursive practice:
(32) Israeli troops completed their largest military operation in Gaza in a
year on Tuesday after killing 60 fighters and civilians in a week-long incur-
sion in the Beit Hanoun area that Israel said was designed to stop rocket
attacks on Israeli cities.
(33) Israel had pulled its forces out of Gaza last year after a 38-year occu-
pation, however it has repeatedly raided the territory since one of its sol-
diers was captured there in June.
(33a) Palestinian fighters say the launching of missiles into Israel is a
response to continued Israeli army assaults against Palestinians in the
occupied territories.
(33b) Israel has bombed metal workshops in the past, alleging that they
produce rockets fired at Israel.
(33c) The assault is one of the biggest since Israel launched an offensive in
Gaza to try to force the release of the captured soldier and halt the rocket fire.
Al-Jazeera’s quotations and paraphrases shift the official Palestinian dis-
course into public language while, as we have seen, the BBC and CNN
attempt the opposite. Compare, for example, the wh-clause in (32), which
Al-Jazeera employs to identify the subject and reporting verb and distance
itself from the official Israeli parlance, with (2) and (12) where the wh-
clause is reduced to omit the subject and the reporting verb, transforming
the discourse from background into comment or opinion.
Al-Jazeera’s lexis likewise toes the Palestinian line by avoiding attempts
by the BBC and CNN to over-lexicalize and recontextualize the Palestinian
context. Words like militant, activist and terrorist do not surface in describ-
ing Palestinian groups and their members or those who are killed or
injured in the conflict with Israel. They are described as fighters or simply
armed Palestinians and civilians.
But it is worth noting that Al-Jazeera’s English online service refrains
from using ‘emotional’ words like ‘martyr’ and its derivatives for the
Palestinians who fall in fighting Israel at the three discourse layers of para-
phrasing, background and comment. Here, Al-Jazeera departs from its
reporting in Arabic where vocabulary with emotive and historical context
is employed widely (Barkho 2006). However, such words still surface in
Al-Jazeera quotations, which of course even the BBC and CNN cannot
avoid if they opted to cite:
(34) ‘Our martyrs are going to sacrifice their lives …’
(35) ‘All of us are martyrs in waiting.’
The choice of vocabulary and other language structures in Al-Jazeera ‘nat-
uralizes’ the Palestinian side by bringing it to what the network sees as the
horizon within which the understanding of the target discourse occurs.
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The ‘ideational and interpersonal functions’ particularly at the quoting
and paraphrasing layers of discourse are geared towards a particular rep-
resentation.
Two important issues need clarification at this point. The first concerns
the differences in language Al-Jazeera employs in its English and Arabic
broadcasting. The second relates to whether the BBC and CNN are pre-
pared to use a different terminology like Al-Jazeera when addressing audi-
ences of different cultures and languages. On the one hand, Al-Jazeera,
according to Mostefa Souag, Director of Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies, ‘feels
it is rooted in the soil of the Middle East and it respects the collective con-
science in the Middle East culture’. On the other hand it acknowledges the
fact that since its English services are directed at non-Arabs, it will need to
approach them differently, Souag adds.
The answer to the second point is more complicated. The Arabic online
services of both the BBC and CNN do not seem to be prepared to switch
their terminology to respond to the audiences’ cultural, religious, political,
social or even linguistic inclinations. BBC Arabic, for example, has pio-
neered the coinage of new lexical items in Arabic in its bid to render
loaded words like ‘jihadists, militants, activists, Islamists, fundamentalists’
commonly used in western media into Arabic (Barkho 2006). Apparently
neither the BBC nor CNN are ready to compromise the character of their
Middle East reporting even at the level of terminology. BBC’s Richard
Porter says he does not believe a broadcaster should try to respond to the
terminology audiences like to hear or read. He goes on, ‘And just because
Arab audiences expect it that way [Al-Jazeera’s way] doesn’t make it right,
does it?’
Al-Jazeera is not a commercial network like CNN and cannot be
described as a public service like the BBC. While advertising is steadily
becoming a feature of the reporting of its various services, Al-Jazeera
still relies heavily on the coffers of the royal family in Qatar without
which it would fail to exist. So, like the BBC it may be difficult to cite the
pursuit of financial gains for the manner in which Al-Jazeera covers the
Palestinian issue. More likely it goes well with the attempt to exercise polit-
ical clout and power by the tiny but economically vibrant oil- and gas-rich
island, Qatar.
Al-Jazeera English has a global audience to cater for but, according to
Russel Merryman, Editor-in-Chief of Web and New Media at Al-Jazeera
English, the network wants ‘to speak with authority about the Middle East’
and therefore what it tries to do is ‘to communicate to people the immedi-
acy and some of the immediate context’ through ‘a subtle use of language’
following ‘in the best tradition of what Al-Jazeera has done in the last ten
years’. The Al-Jazeera online editors, he says, are quite aware that differ-
ent language structures produce different social assumptions; therefore
‘what we are trying to do is to do justice to that immediacy by writing
headlines that are not passive’. Asked whether the network pursues a dis-
tinctive discursive strategy, he said, ‘It is the Al-Jazeera spirit, it is the
mindset’ that ‘empowers our journalists to write in a more active way’.
Gaven Morris, Head of Planning, Al-Jazeera English, puts it succinctly, ‘We
need a story […] that is of interest to people […] outside the Anglo-
American steer of thinking.’
23
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Social implications
The presence of what is ostensibly viewed as background information partic-
ularly in BBC and CNN stories gives way to pass evaluative comments by
publicly embracing one side of the conflict and vilifying the other. The BBC
and to a larger extent CNN ‘enshrine’ Israeli actions as rational and legiti-
mate through the use of ‘presumptuous’ words, phrases and grammatical
structures, leaving those of its adversaries (the Palestinians) to be viewed as
irrational. In Chouliaraki and Fairclough’s words (1999) the two networks
recontextualize the context of the conflict particularly through what Fowler
(1991) calls over-lexicalizations that depict actions of Israel’s foes as negative
or discouraging. Al-Jazeera strives to rid itself of what it sees as the hege-
monic ‘Anglo-Saxon’ discourse that normally equates anti-Western and anti-
Israeli groups and states with ‘terrorism, militancy or extremism’. It strives
to distance itself from the discursive practices and patterns prevalent in the
BBC and CNN. Critical studies attempt to help us understand media texts by
relating their linguistic characteristics, among others, to their social
assumptions in a logical way. But this logic remains ‘intersubjective’ due to
the different ways societies view each other. Here are two examples:
A1. The results of democratic elections must be respected
A2. Kadima won the elections in Israel
A3. Therefore, a Kadima-formed government must be respected
B1. The results of democratic elections must be respected
B2. Hamas won the elections in Palestine
B3. Therefore, a Hamas-formed government must be respected
On a purely formal linguistic level both propositions are equal. Even on a
generative connotative level there should be no differences between them.
But the social assumptions and the social practices they generate are con-
troversial, divergent and conflicting. The three networks construct a bifur-
cation of the conflict in which one side is represented as malign and the
other as benign. Examples of malignant discourse are evident in the
recontextualization and over-lexicalization dominant in the BBC and CNN
stories when representing the Palestinians and to a lesser degree in Al-Jazeera
when representing the Israelis. Examples of benign discourse are evident
in the BBC and CNN stories when representing the Israelis and Al-Jazeera
when representing the Palestinians. In the discursive patterns that the
BBC and CNN follow the first proposition is sound and the second
unsound. In Al-Jazeera’s discursive patterns both are sound.
Future research
There has been little written about Halliday’s textual metafunction of lan-
guage, especially in relation to journalism. Regarding the hard news
discourse, the four layers specified and analysed in this article still remain
an area that needs much greater attention. Each layer of the hard news
discourse deserves a special study in order to unpack it critically and see
whether its discursive practices reflect the reporters’ and editors’ social
environment or – as BBC’s Richard Porter argues – whether it is practical in
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Leon Barkho
JAMMR_1.1_02_art_Barkho.qxd 12/17/07 7:52 PM Page 24
the first place to use the discursive characteristics of news discourse as a
tool to say that news media speak for an ideology or point of view or act ‘as
an agency’ for those with power. As the paraphrase layer dominates
discourse in the three networks (see table below), perhaps one way to unravel
it is to follow Deacon et al.’s ‘use of anti-sources to frame pro-sources’
(1999: 171–72) which the authors brilliantly apply on the quoting layer.
The other three layers deserve more attention to analyse their discourse
critically. Media scholars are called upon to demonstrate how and why a
layer is framed that way and what linguistic or thematic transformations
are required to change it from one frame to another.
Conclusion
Investigating the textual function of hard news discourses reveals four
important layers of the traditional inverted pyramid structure. The linguistic
analysis has shown that different grammatical, lexical and semantic char-
acteristics realize the discourses of these layers. The discursive features of
each of these layers exhibit different social practices and assumptions ema-
nating from the social fields they originate from.
The BBC and CNN stories display a tendency to transform Israeli official
discourses into public language, employing discursive characteristics that
make them palatable to the public at large. Some of these discursive features
have the capacity to transform the layer of paraphrase into evaluative
comment. With regard to Palestine, the context is recontextualized and
over-lexicalized via special terminology and grammar bordering on vilification.
Al-Jazeera on the other hand pursues a different discursive strategy. The
network’s terminology and grammar transform Palestinian official discourses
into public language but with no discernible attempt to vilify the Israelis. The
discursive traits and social practices of its English reporting, though different
from the Arabic mother channel, are embedded in the culture and politics of
the Middle East and the way Arabs and Muslims see them. Al-Jazeera is much
more concerned with the discursive patterns responding to audience needs, a
compromise the BBC and CNN are not willing to make.
The marked differences between the BBC and CNN on the one hand
and Al-Jazeera on the other lead to the construction of a bifurcation of the
social world of the conflict realized in a bifurcation of discourse at the four
discursive layers. This bifurcation is contradictory and antonymous and
reconciliation of the social practices is probably not going to happen even
if the networks merge or unify their divergent discursive policies.
25
Unpacking the discursive and social links in BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera’s…
Table 1: The frequency of the four layers of hard news discourse in the BBC,
CNN and Al-Jazeera.
BBC CNN Al-Jazeera
Paraphrasing 142 150 112
Quoting 12 33 17
Background 32 25 22
Comment 9 7 6
Total 195 215 157
JAMMR_1.1_02_art_Barkho.qxd 12/17/07 7:52 PM Page 25
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Appendix A
The following list gives names and titles of the editors and executives that the
author interviewed as well as the dates and locations of these interviews.
1. Russell Merryman, Editor-in-Chief, Web and New Media (Al-Jazeera English,
Doha, June 2006)
2. Gaven Morris, Head of Planning (Al-Jazeera English, Doha, June 2006)
3. Mostefa Souag, Director, Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies (Doha, 2006)
4. Caroline Faraj, Editor-in-Chief (CNN online, telephone interview, June 2006)
5. Kevin Flower, CNN Bureau Chief (Jerusalem, telephone interview, June 2006)
6. Jerry Timmins, BBC Head of Region, Africa and Middle East (London, May
2006)
7. Adam Curtis, BBC World Editor, News Interactive (London, May 2006)
8. Richard Porter, Head of News, BBC World Service (London, May 2006, plus
e-mail exchange)
Appendix B
The following are the Internet links to the articles used in the analysis. They were
all last accessed in September 2007.
BBC
1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/5171148.stm
Now available at: http://www.venice-hotels-apartments.com/
article-213713-en.html
2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/5171148.stm
3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6115830.stm
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6176156.stm
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5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6127250.stm
6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5247566.stm
7. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5240746.stm
8. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5215608.stm
9. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5209964.stm
10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5153036.stm
CNN
1. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/11/15/mideast.rockets/index.html
2. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/03/israel.soldier/index.html
3. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/11/04/mideast/index.html
4. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/11/mideast/index.html
5. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/11/08/israel.gaza/index.html
6. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/11/03/mideast.violence/index.html
7. http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/11/01/mideast.violence/
index.html?eref=edition world
8. http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/10/23/gaza.violence/index.html
9. http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/10/14/mideast/index.html
10. http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/09/21/israel.gaza/index.html
Al-Jazeera
1. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/archive/archive?ArchiveId=24604
2. http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/94D08027-0F99-46BD-B2EF-
44192178479E.htm
3. http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/27CE1930-8A37-4F11-B3B1-
6B19A4BB0AE7.htm
4. http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=38344
5. http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=38002
6. http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=38367
7. http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/C3769CC6-833A-4F9C-A5DB-
67B680119F4D.htm
8. http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=24420
9. http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=35512
10. http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=38344
Suggested citation
Barkho, L. (2007), ‘Unpacking the discursive and social links in BBC, CNN and
Al-Jazeera’s Middle East reporting’, Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research 1: 1,
pp. 11–29, doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.11/1
Contributor details
Leon Barkho taught English and translation at Iraq’s Mosul University, before leav-
ing for Reuters News Agency in 1991. He also spent three years covering for the
Associated Press. His reports as a journalist appeared in major world newspapers.
Since 2001, he has been working at Sweden’s Jönköping University. As an acade-
mic he has written several papers on both linguistics and translation. His most
recent publications include Nordic Television at the Turn of the Century: An Overview
28
Leon Barkho
JAMMR_1.1_02_art_Barkho.qxd 12/17/07 7:52 PM Page 28
of Broadcasters and Audiences (working paper); ‘The Arabic Al-Jazeera vs Britain’s
BBC and America’s CNN – Who Does Journalism Right’ (American Communication
Journal, 8: 1 (Fall), 2006); ‘Fundamentalism through Arab and Muslim Eyes:
A Hermeneutic Interpretation’ (book chapter, forthcoming); and ‘BBC’s discursive
strategy and practice’ (Journalism Studies, forthcoming). Contact: Department of
Languages, Media Management and Transformation Centre, Jönköping
International Business School, Jönköping University, Sweden.
E-mail: leon.barkho@ihh.hj.se
29
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Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.31/1
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel
and The West Wing
Philip Cass Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE
Abstract
This article examines the way in which the popular American television series
The West Wing represents the Palestinian–Israeli conflict and the way in which
Middle Eastern audiences responded to that depiction. This fictional and highly
idealized portrayal of the American presidency has frequently used ‘real’ story-
lines that reflect contemporary political discourse to its primary domestic audi-
ence. However, the programme is also shown outside the United States where its
storylines – and the time of broadcast – may give an episode an entirely different
meaning. This article looks at audience responses to the episode ‘Isaac and
Ishmael’ and the story arc that begins at the end of Season 5 and continues at the
beginning of Season 6. This centres on an attempt to settle the Palestinian–Israeli
conflict. Placing The West Wing within a broad political and historical frame-
work, the article uses the idea of American exceptionalism as the basis from
which to argue that The West Wing presents ‘real’ as well as idealized American
political stances and in that sense has to be read, in certain contexts, as contribut-
ing to audience perceptions of the ‘real’ world. The article questions whether the
asynchronous transmissions of the programme in the domestic US and Middle
Eastern markets contribute to this perception. Using the responses of audiences of
varying ages, education levels and origins, the article concludes that although it
sometimes portrays Arabs negatively, it is usually well intentioned and makes
genuine, if occasionally clumsy, attempts to portray Arabs in a favourable light.
While episodes of The West Wing are the article’s main source, I have also
drawn heavily on academic and non-academic articles to provide background to
mainstream audience reaction and some of the issues – religious, political and
historical – addressed by the series.
This article looks at audience reactions in Abu Dhabi (United Arab
Emirates) to two specific parts of The West Wing. The first was the special
episode that preceded Season 3 and which was the series’ response to the
terrorist attacks on New York. The second was the story arc spanning
Season 5 and 6, which tells of President Bartlett’s attempts to settle the
Israeli–Palestinian question. The programmes were watched by a mix of
Zayed University students, graduates, faculty and non-university employees.
All the viewers were Muslim and most were women. While the majority
were Emirati, two were American converts, several were from other Arab
countries and one was of Palestinian descent. Some of the responses were
hostile, others positive. Audience response appeared to be governed by age,
political sophistication, education and exposure to outside ideas.
31 JAMMR 1 (1) pp. 31–46 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
West Wing
Arabs
Islam
Middle East
orientalism
Abu Dhabi
Palestinians
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 31
This examination of audience reaction began more or less as an acci-
dent with the screening of the ‘9/11 special’ ‘Isaac and Ishmael’. The
depth of student reaction to that episode prompted me to screen it to a dif-
ferent audience and then to seek an audience reaction to the story arc
centring on Israel and Palestine. When re-screening ‘Isaac and Ishmael’
and the Palestinian episodes I let the audience view the programmes on
their own and then sought detailed, written reactions, from which I have
quoted.
The West Wing was originally available to Abu Dhabi audiences via the
satellite channel America Plus on the Saudi-owned Orbit platform. The
programme was shown with Arabic subtitles and appeared to be run
intact, although one episode critical of Saudi Arabia appeared to have
been censored when shown. The West Wing was subsequently repeated on
Dubai One and each season was rapidly made available on video or DVD.
Anecdotal evidence, largely gathered through surveys of student media
usage by communication students at Zayed University, indicates that many
female students watch little English-language drama on television, dislike
subtitles and in any case have their viewing choices severely controlled
by male relatives. Discussions of representations of Arabs by the western
media are one of the staples of communications classes, although these
tend to focus on the cinema. That western media will portray Arabs nega-
tively seems to be taken as a given, although some students praised older
films like Lawrence of Arabia and Lion of the Desert/Omar Mukhtar.
1
Although the hypothesis is untested, it may be that many students are
actually far more familiar with western cinema than television, preferring
to watch Arabic television.
Shaheen’s pioneering work on the representation of Arabs on American
television (Shaheen 1984: 4–54) is nearly a quarter of a century old, but
his thesis that Arabs and other minorities are generally portrayed imper-
fectly still holds.
2
Arabs have continued to hold attention as television
villains, especially at times of crisis. According to Gladstone-Sovell and
Wilkerson (2002) 40 per cent of dramas aired during the 2001–02 televi-
sion season in the United States referred to the attacks on New York in
their storylines.
At the end of The TV Arabs, Shaheen (1984: 126–34) suggests that
with good will and understanding, it would be possible to produce more
accurate and sympathetic images of Arabs on television.
3
The West Wing’s
portrayals of Arabs are not always positive, but they are not restricted to
the hostile stereotypes listed by Shaheen. In fact, as I discuss later, the pro-
gramme attempted to give a balanced, even positive portrayal in certain
episodes. As we shall see, however, there are several questions about the
ability of non-American domestic audiences to perceive this.
The West Wing is a linear descendant of Frank Capra’s films about the
perfectibility of the American political system by the good will and under-
standing of decent men and women. In such a world anybody should be
capable of redemption, but The West Wing also attempts to portray reality
and so not everybody can be saved. On the one hand, The West Wing is, in
the words of The Economist, ‘essentially a fairy story about a benign ruler’
(The Economist 2002a). Others have ascribed its appeal to its reinforcement
of faith in the American political system:
32
Philip Cass
1. Of more recent films,
students who had
seen it were very
positive about Syriana,
which was partly shot
in Dubai.
2. Shah
.
een’s stereotypi-
cal Arab is a
fabulously wealthy,
sex mad barbarian
with a penchant for
terrorism.
3. This has actually
happened in some
unexpected places.
Alexander Siddiq
played ‘Dr Bashir’
the station doctor
on Star Trek: Deep
Space Nine. Siddiq
later appeared in
Syriana, an extremely
sympathetic portrayal
of the complexities
of politics and oil in
the Gulf.
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 32
it seems clear that the fundamental attraction of The West Wing for
Americans is its promise that, despite our failings and lapses, our system is
still [...] a lighthouse. Such an appeal to our better selves is both refreshing
and chastening.
(Rollins and O’Connor 2003: 13)
And yet it is debatable whether The West Wing really is such a liberal fan-
tasy. The fictional President Bartlett’s behaviour is in fact closer to the
realities of twenty-first-century global politics. Writing in her monumental
study of the Versailles Conference, Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan
depicts the United States as a country that has always believed that it is
exceptional. She goes on to argue that such a fervent belief in its own sys-
tem has led to an equally fervent belief in its special place in the world.
This, she says, has its dangers:
American exceptionalism has always had two sides: the one eager to set the
world to rights; the other ready to turn its back with contempt if its message
should be ignored. Faith in their own exceptionalism has sometimes led to a
certain obtuseness on the part of Americans, a tendency to preach at other
nations rather than listen to them, a tendency to assume that American
motives are pure where those of others are not.
(MacMillan 2002: 22)
The West Wing is also convinced of American exceptionalism, of its goodness
and of its ability to solve all the nation’s ills through an idealized process of
rational debate, negotiation and good works. However, when the mythical
president of The West Wing is threatened or cannot get his own way, he too
turns his back with contempt – and then uses force to either coerce or punish
those who oppose him. By showing a president who threatens to use force,
The West Wing reflects not Hollywood myth, but the real world. The world
of The West Wing and its fictional President Josiah Bartlett works safely
within the established – and real – paradigm of American imperialist power.
The programme reflects a world that has moved beyond the ‘end of history’
in which liberal democracy was supposed to have triumphed. Instead, in
terms of global realpolitik, it has reverted to what Cooper (1997: 313)
describes as the pre-1989 international order of ‘hegemony or balance’.
Bartlett’s occasional references to the Pax Romana makes it clear that he
sees the United States as fulfilling a hegemonic role. For a supposedly liberal
president – and for an overtly liberal series – this presents a paradox, but
these internal contradictions are never questioned. Never once do Bartlett
or any of the other fictional characters seriously challenge the ‘real’ system.
Perhaps they have taken Cooper’s position that:
We need to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves we
operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative society. But when dealing
with more old-fashioned kinds of state we need to revert to the rougher
methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is
necessary to deal with those who are still in the nineteenth-century world of
every state for itself.
(Cooper 1997: 322)
33
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 33
Each country has its own myths and powerful nations seek to present
those myths to the world through culture or other projections of power.
The West Wing is clearly a cultural product designed to reinforce and
bolster the myth of the supremacy and superiority of the American
political establishment. To a non-American audience, the first and
major contradiction is that Bartlett is presented as ‘liberal’, an
American code word for left wing. He certainly seems to be accepted as
such by right-wing commentators in the United States (Leo 2002;
Stuttaford 2003).
4
By the standards of much of the rest of the world,
however, he is nothing of the sort (McKissack 2000).
5
He is a pro-
capitalist and considers that free enterprise is the best solution to every
problem. The series’ creator, Aaron Sorkin, clearly conceived Jeb Bartlett
as a liberal character and compared to George Bush Jnr, he is. If this
represents a state of ideological false consciousness on the part of
Sorkin, the writers who replaced him and, one must presume, many
viewers, then we must accept it, at least within the parameters of the
series.
The West Wing represents an idealization of the American system, not a
critique of it. Idealization would be fine if the programme concentrated
wholly on domestic issues, but it does not. From time to time it stumbles
into the arena of world politics and falls flat on its face. The programme
often reflects an astonishing ignorance of the non-American world and a
mocking, hostile attitude to it. One is forced to wonder whether the world
is portrayed in this way because that is how The West Wing’s writers see it,
how they think President Bartlett would see it, or how they think
American viewers see it.
But who are The West Wing’s viewers? Within the United States the pro-
gramme was immensely popular, winning a number of Emmy awards and
garnering a sizeable part of the market (The Economist 2002b). The pro-
gramme continues to be shown outside the United States on terrestrial
television and on satellite. It has been more successful in some markets
than others, being praised by critics but ignored by audiences (The
Economist 2003). Craciun (2004) argues that:
The West Wing […] has the obvious limit that it covers only the American
political system. If [a television programme or film touches on] foreign policy
issues it becomes substantially more interesting for the non-American
viewer. Although very informative and insightful, The West Wing sheds little
light on other [political systems] than the American one.
Aaron Sorkin has written that he did not intend The West Wing to mirror
reality, but the way in which people see a programme may be quite differ-
ent to what was intended, depending on local cultural and political condi-
tions. A programme that was ‘fictional’ when it was transmitted to a
domestic audience may be shown at a later date to an audience in another
country where the fictional events may be perceived by another audience
to have quite definite parallels with real events in their lives. The West Wing
has aired its final episode in the United States, but it will continue to be
shown in other countries for years to come, when its stories will have
acquired entirely different levels of significance.
34
Philip Cass
4. Andrew Stuttaford
(2003) begins a
profile of actor Martin
Sheen, who plays the
fictional president,
with ‘If there is
anyone more
sanctimonious than
the West Wing’s Jed
Bartlett.’
5. Fred McKissack
(2000) presents a
dissenting view from
the American left:
‘Let’s drop the
pretence that this is
somehow a pro-lefty,
commie-lovin’
roll-a-doobie.’
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 34
A programme that was intended, or expected, to be received in a
particular way by a domestic audience some time in the past, will now be
received in a multitude of ways by a vastly fragmented international
audience. That audience might not understand English properly or see the
programme with inadequate subtitles. That audience is also being asked to
understand – or guess at the meaning of – an entirely alien political or
social framework and to try to put the programme into what may well
have become a historical framework. An international audience will have
to have extremely good English comprehension (or be provided with
adequate subtitles) and comprehend the socio-political paradigm in which
a programme was framed and understand that the programme may have
been commenting on events that happened several years ago. In short,
they will have to be able to read an extremely complicated American
media discourse. If they cannot do this, the possibilities for misunderstand-
ing are enormous, especially if the audience thinks its culture, country or
religion are being questioned.
The West Wing’s depictions of most countries and people from outside
the United States are usually unflattering.
6
However, Arab countries and
Arabs have been given probably the widest range of character traits. They
have been alternatively threatening, untrustworthy, neutral, honest and
respectable. The first Arab country to be depicted was Syria, followed by
Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In each of these programmes, the country in ques-
tion was shown to be opposed to US interests of standards of behaviour. In
the second and third episodes of the first series, Syria shoots down an
American aircraft carrying the president’s doctor.
7
Bartlett is enraged and
calls for a massive reprisal:
Let the word go forth, from this time and this place, gentlemen. You kill an
American, any American, we don’t come back with a proportional response.
We come back with total disaster.
(Sorkin 2002: 105)
8
Bartlett is persuaded not to devastate Syria and unhappily settles for a lim-
ited air strike on military targets. McKissack (2000) describes this as
‘another Hollywood production demonising an Arab nation’.
Later episodes deal with the rescue of an American pilot shot down in
the no-fly zone in Iraq and a request by the Swiss government for a life-
saving operation to be performed on the son of the Iranian Ayatollah.
9
While these episodes reflect tensions that exist in the real world, they do
not treat these countries in an overtly hostile manner. However, in the
episode ‘Enemies Domestic and Foreign’, The West Wing comments on a
real incident in the Middle East.
10
The character C. J. Craig reacts to a
question about the death of 17 Saudi schoolgirls who were burned to
death when religious police refused to let them leave a burning building
because they were not wearing their abeyahs (BBC Online 2002):
Outraged? I’m barely surprised. This is a country where women aren’t
allowed to drive a car. They’re not allowed to be in the company of any man
other than a close relative. They’re required to adhere to a dress code that
would make a Maryknoll nun look like Malibu Barbie. They beheaded
35
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
6. An earlier version of
this article, given at
the Arab-United
States Association for
Communication
Education conference
in Dubai in October
2003 under the title
‘Extremist Arabs,
Exasperating Indians
and English
Alcoholics: The West
Wing vs the World’,
dealt at length with
the programnme’s
often inaccurate
depictions of other
countries and their
inhabitants, ranging
from the English to
Indonesians. Episodes
dealing with interna-
tional politics
generally display
Sorkin’s ignorance of
the world outside the
United States. He
portrays everybody
from the English to
the Indians in an
unflattering and
ill-informed light.
7. ‘Post Hoc, Ergo
Propter Hoc’ and
‘A Proportional
Response’, The West
Wing 1: II–III.
8. McKissack (2000)
uses this episode to
advance his theory
that Bartlett is not left
wing. ‘How freaking
lefty is it to bomb the
Syrians, anyway?’ he
asks.
9. ‘The Portland trip’,
The West Wing, 2: VII.
10. ‘Enemies Foreign and
Domestic’, The West
Wing, 3: XIX.
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 35
11. ‘Enemies Foreign and
Domestic’, The West
Wing, 3: XIX. To the
best of my knowledge,
Orbit censored this
portion of the
programme. Most
dialogue quotations
in this article are from
the unofficial West
Wing continuity guide
found at
http://westwing.bewa
rne.com
12. ‘We killed Yamamoto’
and ‘Posse Comitatus’,
The West Wing, 3:
XXI–XXII.
13. ‘Abdul Shareef ’ is a
most unlikely name
for a Gulf Arab. One
of my Arab colleagues
said that at best it
sounded vaguely
Egyptian.
14. ‘We Killed
Yamamoto’, The West
Wing, 3: XXI.
Philip Cass
36
121 people last year for robbery, rape and drug trafficking, they have no free
press, no elected government, no political parties. And the Royal family allows
the religious police to travel in groups of six carrying nightsticks and they
freely and publicly beat women, But ‘Brutus is an honourable man.’ Seventeen
schoolgirls were forced to burn alive because they weren’t wearing the proper
clothing. Am I outraged? No […] That is Saudi Arabia, our partner in peace.
11
Gans-Boriskin and Tisinger (2005) argue that this blurring of the real
and the fictional is part of Sorkin’s attempt to pin the blame for all prob-
lems with Arab countries on Islamic fundamentalism. However, while
this episode explicitly referred to an incident in Saudi Arabia, most of the
fictional West Wing’s problems have been with the equally fictitious Gulf
state of Qumar, which is depicted as having an American base and being,
on the surface, friendly to the United States. Why create a fictional coun-
try? I suggest that if a country is fictional, its leaders can be safely assas-
sinated and its people bombed or invaded as required. In a cycle of stories
that begins at the end of Season 3 and reaches into Season 5, Bartlett and
his advisers decide to assassinate the Qumari Defence Minister, Abdul
Shareef, who, it is revealed, is secretly backing terrorist organizations
plotting against the United States. After some debate, President Bartlett
decides to have Shareef assassinated on British territory in the
Caribbean.
12
The repercussions of this event, the cover-up and the
involvement of Israel are all designed to show the consequences of taking
what Bartlett believes to be a reprehensible, but necessary stand.
The underlying message of this story arc is that the Arabs simply cannot
be trusted. America offers its friendship and its bases and the Arabs try to
blow up the Golden Gate bridge. It is only in this episode that some of the
moral certainty of The West Wing slips. Assassination is, at best, morally
ambiguous. We see the presidential staff struggling with the question, but it is
Admiral Fitzwallace who justifies what they are planning by citing the shoot-
ing down of the Japanese commander Admiral Yamamoto over Bougainville
in 1943. Ultimately, it is the knowledge that such assassination has been car-
ried out before that is used to justify the shooting of Abdul Shareef.
13
Admiral Fitzwallace: ‘Can you tell when it’s peacetime and wartime any more?’
Leo McGarry: ‘No.’
Admiral Fitzwallace: ‘I don’t know who the world’s leading expert on war-
fare is, but any list has got to include me and I can’t tell when it’s peacetime
and wartime any more.’
Leo McGarry: ‘Look, international law has always recognized certain pro-
tected persons who you couldn’t attack. It’s been this way since the
Romans.’
Admiral Fitzwallace: ‘In peacetime…’
Leo McGarry: ‘I don’t like where this conversation’s going.’
Admiral Fitzwallace: ‘We killed Yamamoto. We shot down his plane.’
Leo McGarry: ‘We declared war...’
14
Moral ambiguity is always a useful dramatic device, but it does not really
answer the really serious questions raised by this story arc. Why would the
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 36
15. The title of the
programme is drawn
from the story of
Ishmael (Ismail in
Arabic), the son of
Abraham by the slave
woman Hagar, and
Isaac, Abraham’s son
by Sarah. The story of
the two sons has been
used in the past as a
metaphor for the
Arab-Israeli conflict.
The story of Isaac and
Ishmael/Ismail can be
found in Genesis, 16:
I–XVI and 21: I–XX
(The New American
Bible 1971: 15–16,
20–21). The union of
Abraham, Ismail and
Isaac and their
descendants through
Islam is highlighted in
Sura 21, ‘Al Baqarah’
(‘The Calf ’) 16:
CXXXIII (Yusuf Ali
1991). Some modern
Jewish scholars have
contended that the
Biblical text ‘does not
seem to support the
notion of a necessary,
ongoing enmity’
between Arabs and
Jews (Zucker 1990).
16. ‘Isaac and Ishmael’,
The West Wing, 3: I.
17. ‘Isaac and Ishmael’,
The West Wing, 3: I.
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
37
Qumari Defence Minister plot against the United States? And how much
effort has been expended by the United States to keep him in power until
now? These are difficult questions, but The West Wing sidesteps such issues
and concentrates on matters that appear to be more easily resolvable.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in ‘Isaac and Ishmael’, the spe-
cial episode that appeared at the beginning of Season 3.
15
‘Isaac and
Ishmael’ was the first programme to self-consciously deal, albeit indirectly,
with the horrifying and cowardly attacks on New York on September 11,
2001 and to educate viewers about the issues surrounding the events
(Gladstone-Sovell and Wilkerson 2002).
The programme was severely criticized by many parts of the American
media, although it had its supporters as well. USA Today called it ‘A crash-
ing and condescending bore’ (BBC Online 2001), while the New York Post
said it ‘came across as pretentious and pietistic hubris’ (Shales 2001).
Time castigated the episode but admitted that it was important ‘that it was
attempted at all’ (Poniewozik 2001).
Outside the United States, the Sydney Morning Herald described it as
‘an encouraging example of American television running on the best of
intentions’ (Oliver 2001). That it was well intentioned is not in doubt.
That it tried to deal honestly with the sensitive topic of how Muslims in
America are treated is obvious. Yet somehow the programme was gut-
less, a well-intentioned but empty polemic made by well-meaning people
appalled by, but too nice, to know how to react to, such a horrific event.
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ would have been more effective if it had tackled the
events of September 11 head on. Perhaps it would have been more honest
if it had shown how honest and patriotic police, military and intelligence
officers had tried desperately to warn their superiors that something
dreadful was about to happen, but had been ignored. Perhaps it might
have shown how ordinary Arabs, appalled by the attack, offered their sym-
pathy to westerners living in their countries. Or, perhaps, it was simply too
early and too painful to deal with the issue fully.
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ is so desperate to be even-handed that it does not
know what to do with itself and flounders even as it gets under way. The
episode begins with a security alert at the White House. Everybody is
locked in and a group of visiting high-school students is taken to the base-
ment cafeteria. Here the character Josh Lyman and other staff members
lead the students through what is essentially a classroom lesson on terror-
ism and Islamic fundamentalism. The episode’s intention is to teach, not
entertain. While this impromptu civics class is going on, the security ser-
vices are interrogating a Muslim White House staffer who has the same
name as a wanted terrorist. The fictional chief of staff, Leo McGarry, sits in
on the interrogation and is quite hostile. Josh tells the students that the
security problems are due to extremists, but explains that he does not
mean ordinary Muslims. He writes on the blackboard: ‘Islamic extremism
is to Islam as ___ is to Christianity.’
16
He fills in the space with the letters
‘KKK’, the initials of the Ku Klux Klan and says:
‘It’s the Klan gone medieval and global. It couldn’t have less to do with
Islamic men and women of faith of whom there are millions and millions.
Muslims defend this country in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps,
National Guard, Police and Fire Department.’
17
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Later, a student asks staffer Sam Seabourne:
‘What do you call a society that has to just live every day with the idea that
the pizza place you are eating in could blow up without any warning?’
‘Israel,’ Sam answers.
18
Ultimately, the only answer that Josh, Sam and the others can offer the
students is pluralism, the pious notion that people will stop being fanatics
if they are confronted with a variety of religious, political, ethical and
moral options. Alas, history has shown that it is precisely to such things
that religious fundamentalists are opposed.
19
The attempt in ‘Isaac and
Ishmael’ to offer a rational, pluralistic, even-handed solution to the prob-
lem of global terrorism is what makes the episode so weak. As The West
Australian commented:
This balanced, non-inflammatory approach to the terrorist attacks makes it
a stillborn drama – preachy, self-important and pulling its punches so often
that it’s hardly surprising the episode has…angered both left and right in
the US.
(Naglazas 2001)
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ was shown with Arabic subtitles in the United Arab
Emirates on Orbit’s America Plus satellite channel early in 2003, eighteen
months after the attack on New York. By this time the war in Afghanistan
had been fought and the invasion of Iraq was on everybody’s minds. Thus,
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ had lost the immediate significance it had when it was
transmitted to a domestic US audience, but was now being seen in the
United Arab Emirates against a background of even more troubled
US–Arab relations. In the intervening period the attack had been endlessly
debated in the Arabic and English-language media in many countries.
Students from Zayed University were involved in these debates as well. In
mid 2003, Abu Dhabi Television hosted a live satellite debate between stu-
dents of Zayed University and the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu
Dhabi and James Zogby and Thomas Friedman in New York.
20
Critical thinking is one of the learning outcomes emphasized across
Zayed University’s curriculum and a number of staff in the university’s
seminar department decided that, with careful preparation, the episode
could be shown to students as a stimulus for debate about global issues.
The students involved were new to the university, mostly straight out of
school and with, in some cases, a limited command of English. The semi-
nar instructors discussed the episode with students before it was shown
and afterwards reinforced this by distributing a written outline of the
episode, a summary of its contents and an explanation of its intentions.
The instructors explained to the class that it was an attempt to highlight the
problems caused by stereotyping people because of their religion and race.
At this point there was only curiosity from the class, but as soon as the
episode got under way, there was a discernable negative reaction from
some students. This appeared to be caused by the debate about the nature
of Islam begun by Josh. Students began to call out that Islam was being
insulted and Arabs attacked. A handful of the most vociferous students
38
Philip Cass
18. ‘Isaac and Ishmael’,
The West Wing, 3: I.
And what do you call
a country where
Israeli tanks arrive at
4 a.m. to blow up your
house? It was not a
question anybody
asked, or answered.
19. Armstrong describes
fundamentalism as
‘an embattled faith
(that) sees itself
fighting for survival in
a hostile world. This
effects and sometimes
distorts vision.’ She
argues that
fundamentalism can
sometimes be seen as
a rational and even
modernizing response
to particular social
and historical develop-
ments and that it does
not necessarily lead to
fanaticism and
violence.
‘Fundamentalist faith,
be it Jewish, Christian
or Muslim, fails […] if
it becomes a theology
of rage or hatred’
(Armstrong 2001:
322). However, as
Huntington notes, in
his discussion of the
twentieth-century
Islamic resurgence:
‘[…] religions give
people identity by
positing a basic
distinction between
believers and non-
believers, between a
superior in-group and
a different and
inferior out-group.’
This makes it easier to
justify acts against
non-believers
(Huntington 1996).
20. The debate was
shown on Abu Dhabi
TV as a follow-up to
Friedman’s
programme ‘The
Roots of 9/11,’ which
was aired in the
United States on the
Discovery Channel on
26 March 2003.
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 38
left. Those students who stayed said that they understood and applauded
the episode’s intentions.
Clearly, ‘Isaac and Ishmael’ was well intended and tried to be sympa-
thetic to ordinary Muslims caught up in larger events. It laboured the point
that ordinary Muslims should not be equated with terrorists. However, in
order to understand this, students would have to have watched the entire
programme and listened carefully to the dialogue. Instead, it appears that
the instant the subject of Islam was broached, some students felt they were
being insulted and began the protest that led to the walkout.
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ was not screened to test the students’ reactions,
but as part of their normal exposure to other ideas and discussions of
global issues. However, the way the students reacted prompted a number
of questions and led to the programme being evaluated by their instruc-
tors. It also led to the decision to seek a reaction to the Palestinian story
arc when it was aired. Was the students’ reaction to ‘Isaac and Ishmael’
the result of religious over-sensitivity, a reaction to the crisis in Iraq and a
general anti-American feeling, or because they were simply unwilling to
believe that an American programme could attempt to be even-handed?
Some time later, a small group of students asked to see the episode as part
of a group project. These students were generally better academically and
had a higher level of English. They reported positively on ‘Isaac and
Ishmael’ and discussed the episode in a way that showed that they had
understood its intentions. However, it was decided not to show the episode
again. I believe that the reaction to the programme was affected by the
students’ level of English, their willingness (or ability) to listen to another
point of view and their exposure to western ideas.
Reaction from Arabic and Muslim seminar staff was mixed. One female
staff member, an American who had converted to Islam, said that she did
not like the episode because of its slick presentation, use of stereotypes and
what she called its ‘We know all about this’ attitude. Others felt the
episode was fair, but that some students were too politically unsophisti-
cated to grasp its intentions.
A number of the seminar faculty watched the episode later without stu-
dents present. They suggested that it contained a number of points that may
have acted as triggers for the negative reaction of the students. These included:
• The use of the Hebrew ‘Ishmael’ instead of the Arabic ‘Ismail’. Sensitive
Muslims would interpret this as a subtle indication of bias.
• The use of the word ‘Islamics’, instead of Muslims. ‘Islamics’ is not a
word they recognized. Islamists are Muslims with a particular political
agenda.
• They found the analogy with the Ku Klux Klan offensive. They pointed
out that contrary to what Josh Lyman says, fundamentalist Christians do
carry out murders in the United States on such targets as abortion clinics.
• The use of the term ‘medieval’. They point out that organizations like
Al-Qaeda are very much part of modernity.
• The reference to women not being allowed to attend soccer matches in
Afghanistan under the Taliban. They felt this trivialized more impor-
tant questions about the denial to Afghani women of the right to edu-
cation and work.
39
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 39
• The name of the Muslim character, Rakeem Ali, is not a proper Arabic
name. They suggested that it might be a name derived from the
American ‘Black Muslim’ movement, the Nation of Islam.
• There are two references to the Holocaust that could be taken as equat-
ing Muslims with Nazis.
• They said the reference to the Hashashins was historically incorrect,
simplistic and ignored the extremely complicated circumstances from
which the group emerged. They felt that Brutus’s murder of Caesar
would have been a far better example.
21
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ was clearly not written for our students, but intention-
ally or not, they are part of The West Wing’s international market. Because of
its inconsistencies and its insistence on choosing a particular, limited view-
point, it failed to connect with some of the very people outside the United
States who needed to understand that, however clumsily, a sincere effort was
being made to show an America that rejected prejudice and violence.
The West Wing ended its fifth season with a series of stories showing
President Bartlett bringing the Israeli and Palestinian leadership together
for peace talks at Camp David. Despite the strenuous objections of his
chief of staff, Bartlett succeeds. This story arc continued at the beginning
of Season 6. It was shown on Orbit after Yasser Arafat’s death, which
gave it a strange atmosphere, since the Palestinian leader in The West
Wing was clearly meant to be him. The story arc begins with a group of
American politicians, including, for some reason, the character Admiral
Fitzwallace and Donna Moss, Josh Lyman’s secretary, touring Gaza. A
mine explodes and destroys one of their vehicles. Admiral Fitzwallace is
killed and Donna is seriously injured. The Israelis surround Palestinian
leader Chairman Farad’s compound, Josh flies to the American base in
Germany to which Donna has been evacuated and President Bartlett
decides that the only solution is to stop the Palestinians and Israelis fight-
ing each other.
It is clear from the beginning that as with ‘Isaac and Ishmael’, the
scriptwriters had decided that they must be fair and even-handed. Having
Donna along on the fact-finding mission allows her – the sweet, blonde,
slightly goofy girl from the Mid-West – to ask questions and receive highly sim-
plified answers about the situation in the Occupied Territories. Some examples:
Israeli soldier: ‘It’s an Israeli’s most sacred duty. Nothing I will ever do is
more important…’
Donna: ‘Colin [the Irish photographer] says you have strong feelings about
serving here.’
Israeli soldier: ‘Is no good. Gaza… 7500 settlers surrounded by 1.3 million
Palestinians who do not wish them here and we in the middle.’
Donna: ‘In Israel there’s talk of giving up these settlements?’
Female settler: ‘God wants us in this place. It is our divine, moral obligation
to be here.’
Her husband: ‘If we give in to the Arabs they’ll take more and more and we’ll
all end up in Tel Aviv. And then they’ll take that.’
22
40
Philip Cass
21. As Roger Scruton
(2002: 128) puts it:
‘[…] the techniques
and infrastructure on
which Al Qa’eda
depends are the gifts
of the new global
institutions. It is Wall
Street and Zurich that
produced the
networks of
international finances
that enables Osama
bin Laden to conceal
his wealth and to
deploy it anywhere in
the world. It is
Western enterprise
[…] that produces the
technology that bin
Laden has exploited
so effectively against
us.’
22. ‘Gaza’, The West Wing,
5: XXI.
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 40
Much of what Donna learns is picked up from an Irish photographer sym-
pathetic to the Palestinian cause. Donna is blown up shortly after she has
sex with him.
President Bartlett, driven by guilt over the death of Fitzwallace and
Donna’s near-fatal injuries, decides to bring peace to the region. His
chief of staff, Leo McGarry (played by the late John Spencer, who bore
an uncanny resemblance to Donald Rumsfeld) strenuously opposes his
efforts. The McGarry character has been portrayed earlier as pro-Israeli
and was the one interrogating the Muslim suspect in ‘Isaac and
Ishmael’. Leo’s opposition, however, is shown as stemming as much
from his fear that Bartlett will fail, as anything else. Screened in the
aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, this story arc draws on a number of
elements outside the immediately obvious one of the Palestinian–Israeli
conflict. In Donna’s injuries there are clear links with the case of
Private Jessica Lynch, the American soldier captured by the Iraqis, sub-
sequently rescued and then exploited by the Bush administration
(Takacs 2005). In The West Wing story arc, the character of Donna is
similarly used as an emotional prop to justify the hostile reactions of
Josh and Leo. Bartlett’s new intelligence advisor, Kate Harper, takes a
neutral, or even pro-Palestinian stance. However, she is constantly
rebutted by Leo:
Leo: ‘This isn’t the UN. He’s not the Secretary General. He’s President of the
United States, and our job is to make sure his priorities are clear. Today’s pri-
ority is not world peace.’
23
The story arc continues at the beginning of Season 6, with Leo still argu-
ing violently with Bartlett, demanding that he take action against the fic-
tional terrorist group responsible for the mining of the convoy, the Sons of
the Sword.
Leo: ‘Mr President, please, Congress, the Joint Chiefs, the American public,
your own staff, EVERYONE disagrees with your assessment of this situation.’
Bartlett: ‘Killing Palestinians isn’t going to make us feel safer. They’ll kill
more of us, then we’ll have to kill more of them. It’s Russian roulette with a
fully loaded gun.’
Leo: ‘We can’t allow terrorists to murder our citizens…’
Bartlett: ‘Why would they do it? Why would Palestinians murder American
government officials they never have before? They’re deliberately provoking us,
Leo. They know we have to retaliate. They’ve studied us. They want us to over-
react. This isn’t over-reacting. It’s the appropriate, balanced […]’
Bartlett: ‘Tell me how this ends, Leo. You want me to start something that
will have serious repercussions on American foreign policy for decades, but
you don’t know how it ends.’
Leo: ‘We don’t always KNOW how it ends. The Lincoln will be in position in
a few hours and then you are going to have to give the go-ahead for the
bombings.’
Bartlett: ‘Or what?’
24
41
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
23. ‘Memorial’, The West
Wing, 5: XXII.
24. ‘NSF Thurmont’, The
West Wing, 6: I.
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 41
Bartlett manages to convince the Palestinians and Israelis to come to
America and once they have landed safely he orders the US military to
destroy a camp belonging to the faction that mined the convoy. Thus the
scriptwriters manage to present him as a peacemaker, but one who is pre-
pared to blow people up to make them peaceful. This reflects what Haine
(2003) calls:
The specific and ambiguous American way of dealing with world problems
[which] combines the privilege of power and the innocence of ideals […] [the]
permanent ingredients of American exceptionalism.
However, while the script shows Bartlett trying desperately to make the
Israelis and Palestinians talk and even sacrifice his friendship with Leo, the
images on the screen tell a different story. The depiction of the Palestinians
and Israelis at the peace talks is revealing. Both sides arrive on a Friday
and on the Muslim holy day and the eve of the Jewish one, both delega-
tions pray. The Jews, however, are seen sitting around a table, in the light,
looking relaxed and civilized. The Palestinians are shown praying outside
in the gathering dark, against a background of tangled undergrowth. The
dichotomy could not be clearer. Here are the civilized Israelis, ready, how-
ever reluctantly, to talk and out there in the wild woods are the
Palestinians, afraid to come in to the light.
25
The light, of course, comes
from President Bartlett. Bartlett succeeds in bringing the two sides
together, but by then the focus of the story has switched to the clash
between Bartlett and Leo, who has a heart attack while wandering, dis-
traught after an argument with the President, in the woods around Camp
David. With peace at hand the audience is free to ignore the Palestinians
and Israelis and concentrate on Leo’s recovery and the run-up to the elec-
tion that dominates the rest of the season.
One can be quite cynical about the intentions of this four-part story
and it can be shown to have all sorts of barely hidden resonances with
contemporary events. However, when shown to different groups of people
in Abu Dhabi, the response was far more positive than for ‘Isaac and
Ishmael’ and certainly more positive than expected. One of the viewers
had been in the original group of the Zayed University faculty who
watched ‘Isaac and Ishmael’. Another is of Palestinian descent. Also
included were another American convert to Islam, a Somali and a Yemeni
woman. The audience was typical of the diverse population of Abu
Dhabi.
26
The response to the programme was quite positive. There were
questions about where some of the ‘Palestinian’ actors really came from,
but the general feeling was that an effort had been made to present both
sides of the story. The fact that the Palestinian side was presented by the
character Kate Harper was certainly noted. The audience was certainly
more positive towards the way issues were presented than the group that
watched ‘Isaac and Ishmael’. One of the viewers said that the depiction of
the Muslims and Jews praying at sunset had not seemed divisive to her, but
had shown how much the two religions had in common.
The response to the Gaza story arc differed from that to the ‘Isaac and
Ishmael’ episode largely, I think, because the audience was older, largely
western-educated and more aware of political realities and knew how to
42
Philip Cass
25. As we shall see, at
least one member of
the Abu Dhabi
audience who
watched this episode
disagreed with me
completely on this
point.
26. As yet another
indicator of the
omnipresence of
American television
in a global culture,
the audience watched
the programmes on
perfectly copied DVDs
from a beautifully
presented boxed set
bought for a few
dollars in a Shanghai
market.
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 42
read an American media discourse. This does not necessarily mean that
they accepted the parameters of that discourse, but they were able to put
it into context and draw their own, often oppositional, meaning from it.
One must also admit the simple fact that when you have four episodes in
which to deal with a complex situation, the results are invariably better
than when you try to cram everything into the 44 minutes of script that
American commercial networks allow. The Gaza cycle may therefore be
described, however warily, as a more successful attempt to deal with
international episodes than any of its previous episodes.
Perhaps the most measured response came from the Palestinian viewer.
It is worth quoting at length:
If I was asked to describe the four episodes of the fifth and sixth seasons of
The West Wing in one word, that word would be ‘real’. Of course real in a
sense that it was like it would appear to me on TV from watching the news.
That does not in any way imply that it being ‘real’ means that the reality of
the situations portrayed is good, just that it’s real and it happened, and it will
keep on happening until someone comes to their senses.
The sad part about all this is that the majority of Arabs, or people of the
Middle East, believe in conspiracy theories and that the West is working in
conjunction with Israel to get ‘us’. There is no conspiracy theory; there are
only agendas, and no hidden ones.
I think that the producers/writers made a great effort for these episodes to be
balanced […] too balanced actually. I don’t think that the Palestinian and the
Israeli parties would have been too easily fooled with ‘promises’ and ‘deals’
made with the American government. I also think that great effort was
made to show the greatness of Judaism and Islam as religions. The scenes
where the Palestinian government officials are performing the ‘Salla’ while
the American president and his entourage were invited to celebrate the
beginning of the Jewish Sabbath by the Israeli Prime Minister showed how
similar everyone, and everything is. I thought that was great.
As a Palestinian, I’m usually ashamed of how Arabs and specifically
Palestinians are portrayed in western movies. I was not ashamed while
watching the four episodes. I was pleased to see that there were two sides to
the whole story, which makes it a lot easier for the next ‘Joe Blow’ on any of
the streets of the US or Israel to understand that there are sane people on the
other side who simply ask for the minimum of their rights to live.
References
Armstrong, K. (2001), The Battle for God, New York: Ballantine Books.
BBC Online (2001), ‘West Wing terror show criticised’, 4 October.
—— (2002), ‘Saudi police “stopped” fire rescue’, 15 March.
Cooper, R. (1997), ‘Is there a New World Order?’, in G. Mulgan (ed.), Life After
Politics: New Thinking for the Twenty-first Century, London: Fontana/Demos.
Craciun, C. (2004), ‘Teaching Political Science at the Movies,’ paper presented to
the EPSNET plenary conference, Prague.
Fattah, M. (2006), Democratic Values in the Muslim World, Boulder, CO and London:
Lynne Reiner.
43
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 43
Fukuyama, F. (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, London: Penguin.
Gans-Boriskin, R. and Tisinger, R. (2005), ‘The Bushlet Administration: Terrorism
and War on The West Wing’, The Journal of American Culture, 28: 1.
Gladstone-Sovell, T. and Wilkerson, W. (2002), ‘Inclusion, Education and Avoidance:
The prime time response to September 11’, Harvard Symposium: Restless
Searchlight: The Media and Terrorism.
Haine, J.-Y. (2003), ‘The Imperial moment: A European view’, Cambridge Review of
International Affairs, 16: 3.
Holbert, R.L., Pillion, O., Tschida, D.A., Armfield, G.G., Kinder, K., Cherry, K.L. and
Daulton, A.R. (2003), ‘The West Wing as endorsement of the US Presidency:
Expanding the bounds of priming in political communication’, Journal of
Communication, 53: 3.
Huntington, S. (1996), The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,
New York: Simon and Schuster.
Jones, R. (2004), ‘Scripting a Tragedy: The Isaac and Ishmael episode of The West
Wing as Parable’, in Popular Communication, 2: 1.
Kayyali, R. (2006), The Arab Americans, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Leo, J. (2002), ‘Left Side Story’, US News and World Report, 7 October.
MacMillan, Margaret (2002), The Peacemakers, London: John Murray.
McKissack, F. (2000), ‘The West Wing is not a Wet Dream’, Progressive, May.
Mulgan, G. (ed.) (1997), Life After Politics: New Thinking for the Twenty-first Century,
London: Fontana/Demos.
Naglazas, M. (2001), ‘Lame Duck West Wing’, in The West Australian, 16 October.
Oliver, R. (2001), ‘A contemplative time for The West Wing: Egos set aside as real life
events hit home’, in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October.
Poniewozik, J. (2001), ‘West Wing: Terrorism 101’, Time, 4 October.
Robie, D. (1998), ‘From Monicagate to Mahathir’, Wansolwara, 3: 4.
Rollins, P. and O’Connor J. (eds) (2003), The West Wing: The American Presidency as
Television Drama, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Sardar, Z. and Davies, M. (2003), Why Do People Hate America? Cambridge: Icon.
Scruton, R. (2002), The West and the Rest, London: Continuum.
Shaheen, J. (1984), The TV Arabs, Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State
University Popular Press.
Shafik, V. (1998), Arab Cinema, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
Shales, T. (2001), ‘The West Wing assumes the role of moral compass’, The New York
Post, 5 October.
Sheffield, R. (2000), ‘President Sheen and the politics of TV’, Rolling Stone,
7 December.
Sorkin, A. (2002), The West Wing Script Book, New York: Newmarket Press.
Stuttaford, A. (2003), ‘The President of the Left’, National Review, 24 March.
Takacs, S. (2005), ‘Jessica Lynch and the Regeneration of American Identity’,
Feminist Media Studies, 5: 3.
The Economist (2002a), ‘Unreality TV’, 6 July.
—— (2002b), ‘You’ve got trouble’, 30 November.
—— (2003), ‘The one where Pooh goes to Washington’, 5 April.
The New American Bible (1971), Catholic Biblical Association of America/Thomas
Nelson: Nashville.
44
Philip Cass
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Wood, D. (2001), ‘Act II: Hollywood waves the flag – and is redeemed’, Christian
Science Monitor, 21 December.
Yusuf Ali, Abdullah (1991), The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, Brentwood, MD: Amana.
Zucker, D.J. (1990), ‘Conflicting Conclusions: The hatred of Isaac and Ishmael’,
Judaism, 39: 1.
Television programmes and films
The West Wing
A sample of episodes dealing with the Arab world and other international issues.
‘Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc’ (Season 1: episode II) Syria
‘A Proportional Response’ (1: II) Syria
‘The State Dinner’ (1: VII) Indonesia
‘Lord John Marbury’ (1: II) United Kingdom, India, Pakistan
‘The Portland Trip’ (2: VII) Iraq
‘Shibboleth’ (2: VIII) China
‘Galileo’ (2: IX) Russia
‘The War at Home’ (2: XIV) Colombia
‘Isaac and Ishmael’ (The ‘9/11 special’)
‘On the Day Before’ (3: IV) Israel
‘Gone Quiet’ (3: VI) North Korea
‘The Women of Qumar’ (3: VIII) Qumar, a fictional Arabian Gulf country
‘Hartsfield’s Landing’ (3: XIV) China/Taiwan
‘Enemies Foreign and Domestic’ (3: XIX) Saudi Arabia
‘We Killed Yamamoto’ (3: XXI) Qumar
‘Posse Comitataus’ (3: XXII) Qumar
‘20 Hours in America’ (4: I) Qumar
‘College Kids’ (4: II) Qumar
‘The Red Mass’ (4: III) Qumar
‘Debate camp’ (4: IV) Qumar
‘Swiss Diplomacy’ (4: IX) Iran/Switzerland
‘Twenty Five’ (4:XXIII) Qumar
‘7A WF83429’ (5: I) Qumar
‘Dogs of War’ (5: II) Qumar
‘Han’ (5: IV) North Korea
‘Battlefield Earth’ (5: X) Saudi Arabia
‘The Usual Suspects’ (5: XIII) Israel/Iran
‘Gaza’ (5: XXI) Palestine/Israel
‘Memorial’ (5: XXII)
‘NSF Thurmont’ (6: I)
‘The Birman Woods’ (6: II)
‘Third Day Story’ (6: III)
‘The Dover Test’ (6: VI)
45
The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing
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The American President
Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Michael Douglas and
Martin Sheen. Viewed now, this seems like a feeble pilot for The West Wing. The
same characters are there, albeit with different names, and Martin Sheen plays
the Leo McGarry role. Many ideas, incidents and some dialogue were recycled for
the first season of the television series.
Websites
http://westwing.bewarne.com
This is the ultimate West Wing site, compiled by people who are truly fanatical
about the show.
http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com
For unfettered discussion and vituperation about The West Wing and other cult pro-
grammes.
Suggested citation
Cass, P. (2007), ‘The never-ending story: Palestine, Israel and The West Wing’,
Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research 1: 1, pp. 31–46, doi: 10.1386/
jammr.1.1.31/1
Contributor details
Philip Cass is Assistant Dean in the College of Communications and Media Science
at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. A former journalist, he has worked in Australia,
the Pacific, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.
A specialist in Pacific media history, he has also published on the media in the
Middle East and is interested in the connections between the two regions. Contact:
Zayed University, P.O. Box 4783, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
E-mail: Philip.Cass@zu.ac.ae
46
Philip Cass
JAMMR_1.1_03_art_Cass.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 46
Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.47/1
Reverse glocalization? Marketing a
Turkish cola in the shadow of a giant
Christine L. Ogan Indiana University
Filiz Çiçek Indiana University
Yesim Kaptan Indiana University
Abstract
In the summer of 2003, a Turkish confectionery and cookie company
launched a major television advertising campaign through the Young &
Rubicam agency in Istanbul. The goal of the campaign was to compete aggres-
sively with the market leaders, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, by adopting some of
the strategies used by those colas in dominating the world’s soft-drink sales
and reversing those strategies to suit the Turkish consumers. This study com-
bines textual analysis of the primary television advertisements for Cola Turka
along with interviews with two of the account managers for the campaign.
The analysis is based on the concept of glocalization of the national, gender
and sports themes of the campaign. In appealing to potential consumers of the
soft drink, the advertisers exploit the local cultural stereotypes to convince the
audience that those who adopt the product will achieve the American dream –
to become Turkish. American actors, including Chevy Chase, are used in that
effort as they try to live out that dream by adopting Turkish customs, eating
Turkish foods and following Turkish soccer stars. Advertising agency execu-
tives denied they created anti-American themes, though one of the commer-
cials suggests that if US soldiers drank Cola Turka, they would abandon their
goal to win the war in Iraq. The authors argue that the commoditization of
nation-making practices has wide implications and real-world effects on public
opinion.
When the creative people at Young & Rubicam in Istanbul were visited by
the representatives from Ülker, a Turkish confectionery and cookie com-
pany that produces a range of food products for domestic and interna-
tional markets, with an idea for creating and marketing a cola to compete
with Coke and Pepsi in the domestic market, the agency was concerned
about how they would position this product. After all, Coke then con-
trolled 70 per cent of the Turkish cola market, while Pepsi held 17 per
cent, and all the other colas took up the remainder. Where could a new
Turkish cola fit and how could it possibly compete, they wondered.
The first problem they needed to address was what to call the new cola.
Ülker already sold a soft drink called Çamlica, so Çamlica Cola was an
option. Using the company’s name and labelling it Ülker Cola was also a
47 JAMMR 1 (1) pp. 47–62© Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
glocalization
identity
gender
nationalism
commodification
advertising
Turkey
JAMMR_1.1_04_art_Ogan.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 47
possibility. Focus group research that tested out the two names along with
the Cola of Turkey (which distinguished it from the American Coke and
Pepsi brands) appealed to most of the focus group members. That idea was
refashioned slightly to become Cola Turka.
1
From there Young & Rubicam turned to the problem of positioning
the soft drink and settled on an approach of ‘positive nationalism’,
according to Yasemin Sümer, who was an account manager at the time.
After brainstorming advertising concepts every evening for two weeks,
the group came up with a list of Turkish cultural stereotypes that carried
a positive connotation. These traits were then turned into a set of humor-
ous commercials that juxtaposed Cola Turka and its Turkish cultural
roots against the United States and its cultural icons, Coke and Pepsi.
And just as they thought coke that was associated with the American
dream and youth culture, the advertising campaign was meant to be
associated with the Turkish dream. ‘Those who drink Cola Turka will
aspire to be Turkish and they will also adopt Turkish cultural features,’
said Eda Gökkan, who headed the Cola Turka account at Young &
Rubicam. As Williamson (1978: 13) said, advertising campaigns are
made so that people learn to ‘identify themselves with what they con-
sume’ instead of what they produce. So in the campaign, which Sümer
described as one that was ‘the antithesis of Coke’, the goal was to get
consumers to identify themselves with drinking Cola Turka and becom-
ing Turkish – rather than continuing to drink Coke or Pepsi and being
like Americans.
The advertising campaign, which featured a mix of American and
Turkish actors, a blend of US and Turkish settings, and a combination of
English and Turkish, rolled out on eleven channels at precisely 9 p.m. on
5 July 2003 – the same day that coincidentally eleven Turkish soldiers
were captured by the American military in northern Iraq to the anger of
the Turkish government. And though the campaign was never meant to
be anti-American, and Ülker insisted on keeping political statements out
of the text, Gökkan admitted that the ads were trying to sell Turkish
imperialism.
Focus of the study
The advertising campaign can be considered from several perspectives.
Because many of the ads focus on or exploit national cultural stereotypes,
we chose to examine the national and gender identity issues contained in
the messages. Because the ads also played off Turkish culture and lan-
guage against American culture and language, we simultaneously
analysed their hybrid nature. The global/local nexus was at the heart of
this study. To some extent the advertising professionals who created the
television commercials for this campaign were aware of the images they
created within the messages, but that awareness did not extend to any
commercial’s entirety. The following is an analysis of the themes and con-
tent of the major Cola Turka television commercials from 2003–06 in the
context of the stated goals of the two advertising agencies involved in their
creation.
2
It is based on textual analysis of the commercials themselves
and also on the interviews conducted with two of the account managers
most involved with their production.
48
Christine L. Ogan, Filiz Çiçek and Yesim Kaptan
1. Alaturka, meaning
‘the Turkish way’, is a
common phrase used
in Turkish to show it
is not the ‘western’
way (alafranga). So
Cola Turka
represented a
Turkish-style cola that
was not Coke or the
American cola.
2. We chose not to
examine the many
additional
commercials that
merely contained
images of the Cola
Turka can accompa-
nied by a jingle or
other very short
messages.
JAMMR_1.1_04_art_Ogan.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 48
The first Cola Turka ads and their significance
The first set of commercials to introduce the new cola were created in New
York City and featured Chevy Chase and other American actors. The
agency wanted to create a campaign that was the ‘antithesis of Coke’, said
Sümer. The notion of ‘positive nationalism’ resulted in a series of ideas that
incorporated a number of Turkish cultural stereotypes, ones that most all
Turks would find endearing. In the reversal of cultural adoption of western
things, the American actors were selected to play out their parts in aspir-
ing to adopt Turkish culture – including the adoption of the new cola, a
product that represented the best of this culture. Chevy Chase was selected
because he was well known in Turkey as an American father figure from
the series of films on vacation themes. The actor selected to portray his
wife in the commercials resembled his wife in those films (and the agency
specifically requested that she look like Beverly D’Angelo, the actress who
played Chase’s wife in those films). David Brown was also featured in sev-
eral of these ads. Each ad featured common Turkish cultural practices.
The first two ads are framed like a feature-length film with a title and cred-
its. The opening scene presented the image of the Statue of Liberty on the
screen. The camera pans around it, presenting New York City with the
bilingual title ‘New York’ta Bir Morning’ (‘One Morning in New York’). This
could be the opening of a Hollywood movie, complete with a production
credit on the top section of the screen, right above the Statue of Liberty’s
head. We then move on to the scene where Chevy Chase first appears on
the screen, and the credit ‘Starring Chevy Chase’ continues the movie for-
mat. Various camera cuts to images and people in New York’s Times
Square, and Chase’s confused face indicates that there is a story unfolding
here. The Turks waving Turkish flags as they drive by Chase in an
American pick-up truck shouting ‘Ole ole ole, sampiyon Türkiye’ enhances
the confusion and intrigue in the upcoming story. The yardimci (also star-
ring) is David Brown, who is a part of the story. As the dialogue, moves
back and forth between English and Turkish, subtitles flash on the screen
when actors speak in English.
In the next scene, Chevy Chase walks into a diner in the Times Square
area and is greeted by David Brown, who asks about his ‘yenge’ (‘wife’).
After a few sentences that use half Turkish and half English and make sev-
eral references to a Turkish soccer team and one of its stars, Brown real-
izes that the reason Chevy Chase has no idea what is going on is related to
what he is drinking – coffee instead of Cola Turka. But this ad takes the
story only so far as Chase never drinks the Cola and leaves in confusion as
Brown tells him to ‘kiss çoluk çocuk’ and to ‘say hello to yenge’ (‘kiss his kids
and family and say hello to his wife’). We are told that more of this story is
to come at the end when the message on the screen states ‘To be devam
edecek (continued)’.
The second ad continues the story – or the sequel to the first film –
when Chase drives up to his suburban home and walks in the door to find
his wife making a popular Turkish main dish, stuffed peppers. When he
asks what she is doing, she responds that she is making ‘biber dolmasi’ (‘the
peppers’) for ‘kayinvalide and kayinpeder’ (‘his in-laws’) who are coming for
dinner. Chase is now thoroughly confused. Later we see a scene of the fam-
ily and grandparents at dinner. Everyone but Chase has a glass of Cola
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Turka in hand and is singing ‘Take me out to the ball game’ (a popular
American baseball song). Upon sipping their Cola Turka the family break
into a Turkish patriotic song.
3
Only when Chase himself tries the drink
does he get it as he smiles and joins in singing the Turkish song. Later the
in-laws depart and the younger members of the family kiss the hands of
the grandparents; water is thrown after the car as it departs, (both Turkish
cultural practices) and at the end Chevy Chase turns to face the camera as
a transformed man complete with the stereotypically Turkish moustache.
These and other commercials in the series reverse the usual approach
in media produced in developing countries. Instead of adopting behaviours
to become more western, the westerners are adopting behaviours and
using products produced in Turkey in order to become more Turkish, an
identity that most people in the commercial aspire to. Part of the jingle
calls the Cola ‘the famous American dream’ and says that those who drink
it become ‘Turkified’. At the end of Chase’s moustached transformation
the singer tells us that once he became Turkified, there was no
Americanness left in him. The short film ends by announcing this as ‘the
mutlu end’ (‘happy ending’). In another commercial a man in a Turkish
bath is teaching David Brown to sing a variation on the jingle, ‘Let them
come to Turkey. Let them see where Cola is. Let them drink Cola Turka.
America’s dream. Let them drink Cola Turka.’
The Cola Turka advertising campaign attracted national and interna-
tional attention for several months. Many observers misinterpreted the
messages and the cola itself as being anti-American – largely because of
the timing of its release and the disagreements that the Turkish govern-
ment had with the United States over Turkey’s role in the Iraq war.
Coincidentally, other Middle Eastern countries had also introduced colas to
compete with Pepsi and Coke around the same time. Mecca Cola and Arab
Cola were created to fight the American brands while Iran makes a soft
drink called Zam Zam that is likened to holy water from Mecca. All of these
soft drinks made claims at promoting their products to combat American
imperialism and/or Zionism.
Representatives from Young & Rubicam (where the account was initi-
ated) and Alametifarika (where the account moved in January 2004 when
the chief executive officer at Young & Rubicam left with fourteen others to
form a new independent advertising agency) agreed that Cola Turka was not
created to express either an anti-American or a pro-Muslim attitude.
Because the Ülker company has Muslim roots (the owner is a devout
Muslim) and the profits from the products are perceived to go to support
Islamic causes, a percentage of the population always buys Ülker products
and another percentage of the population will never buy Ülker products, said
Sümer. For that reason the agency wanted to distance the campaign and
Cola Turka from Islamic connections. Though the goal of the campaign may
not have been distinctly anti-American or pro-Muslim, many viewers and
our own analysis do not accept that the outcome achieved that goal.
Glocalization and hybridity
The concept of ‘glocalization’ likely arose because companies selling prod-
ucts around the world found that the single advertising campaign for all
markets did not work very effectively in certain cultures. The message
50
Christine L. Ogan, Filiz Çiçek and Yesim Kaptan
3. According to Yasar
Özturk, a TRT news
anchor who lived in
exile in Switzerland
after the 1980 coup
d’état in Turkey, Dag
Basini Duman Almis
(the song Chase and
the family sing) is in
reality a Swedish folk
tune. A scholar, who
studied in Switzerland
after the establishment
of Turkish Republic in
1923, brought the
song with him back
to Turkey and wrote
Turkish lyrics to it. If
correct, this gives us
yet another example
for successful Turkish
hybridization of a
foreign product, a
song in this case, still
much like Cola Turka.
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(visual or textual) may not have carried the same meaning as intended.
So to effectively market the global product – whether it was automobiles or
tennis shoes, a process of adaptation occurred. The actual term ‘glocaliza-
tion’ was developed by businessmen in Japan and was later described by
Roland Robertson in an edited volume called Global Modernities (Ohmae
1990; Robertson 1995). As Maynard (2003: 60) describes it, ‘glocalization
is sometimes reported to be a reaction to globalization, or a reinforcement
of cultural identity at the local community level’. Robertson sees it as an
‘interpenetration’ of the global and the local. But the way the concept is
generally applied relates to marketing a product produced by a multinational
corporation by appealing to local cultural cues. So McDonald’s sells no
pork in Saudi Arabia, a teriyaki McBurger in Japan, and Curry Pie in Hong
Kong. And Ikea makes furniture smaller when it is sold in Japan and Hong
Kong because people live in smaller spaces (Baker and Sterenberg 2002).
And Google offers its search engine in China minus the availability of sites
found offensive by the Chinese government.
The company may also alter its advertising messages. For example,
Nescafe uses local citizens in its ads in India but places the actors in inter-
national settings. Coca-Cola and Colgate-Palmolive issue a prototype ad
with instructions for acceptable changes by the media in the local market
(Milovanovic 1997: 72).
But when we refer to glocalization for the Cola Turka ad campaign, the
process is flipped. Though Ülker markets to a large number of countries, it
is not a global company in the way that Nike or Coke or Pepsi are. And the
vast majority of people in the world will never taste Cola Turka. Ülker only
dreams about this level of distribution of its products. The advertising cam-
paigns are aimed at Turks and use the New York/American setting and
the combination of English and Turkish to pretend that Americans are
dying to drink Cola Turka with aspirations of becoming cosmopolitan and
cool (in Turkish cultural terms) by drinking this new beverage. The irony
is that they are using a western vehicle (the Hollywood film) with
American actors (Chevy Chase and David Brown, etc.) and an American
product (a cola) to send that message to the Turks. The double articulation
of Americans aspiring to be Turkish within their own geographic and cul-
tural framework diminishes the value of the Cola Turka product some-
what, because it suggests that Cola Turka, like the Hollywood film, the US
setting and the product it copied can be reduced to mere imitation of the
US original. And the Turkifying attempts simultaneously validate Coca-
Cola and America at the very moment that they try to undermine both.
Hence the simultaneous presentation of cola (kola is the actual Turkish
spelling) and turka, (not even originally Turkish, rather coming from the
French word a la torque). Thus, the translation is: I am an American product
that pretends to be Turkish.
Garcia Canclini (1997) named this process ‘cultural reconversion’,
whereby local cultures adapt to global influences without being destroyed
because tradition is rearticulated in the modern processes. Here the tradi-
tional cultural practices are played out through the use of the Hollywood
film format with Hollywood icon Chevy Chase playing the lead actor, as if
to legitimize the local campaign and the looking to the West. The advertising
campaign associated with Cola Turka is glocalized but aims not to sell a
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global product within the context of a local market. Instead it aims to lend
prestige to the product by associating it with the people and the cultural
features of a global power.
Kraidy (1999) points out that since all contemporary cultures are
hybrid we need to accept that if we are to ‘understand the micro-politics of
local/global interactions’. In his view, ‘hybridity is thus construed not as
an in-between zone where global/local power relations are neutralized in
the fuzziness of the mélange but as a zone of symbolic ferment where
power relations are surreptitiously re-inscribed’ (Kraidy 1999: 460). This
seems to be exactly what is occurring in the interpenetration of US (global)
and Turkish (local) culture and the marketing of Cola Turka through
these television commercials.
Gender issues in the glocalization process
When asked why a female was never chosen for any of the Cola Turka ads,
Eda Gökkan said, ‘We never looked for an actress. If the product were a
detergent we would have used a woman. Those things that belong to
everybody are represented by males […] It wouldn’t be that impressive […]
It wouldn’t be that strong.’ Thus Young & Rubicam defined Cola Turka as
masculine in gender. In the 28 different Cola Turka commercials we
analysed, the lead characters were almost always male. Females appear as
co-leads in two of them and a total of 10 women play in supporting roles
(compared to 30 males). Two commercials that feature women in lead
roles take place indoors in domestic settings, presenting women as grand-
mothers, mothers, wives and daughters. Even then there are no single
leading females: women are portrayed in a collective, family setting and
they share the lead roles with other women. Moreover, the way in which
the women are portrayed furthers the masculine identity of Cola Turka. In
the first commercial, unlike her celebrity male counterpart, an unknown
actress plays Chase’s wife. Going along with traditional patriarchal
Turkish family values, she is portrayed indoors, as a wife and a mother,
cooking for her family. Young & Rubicam executive Gökkan explains why:
‘Women are already adaptive – hence, the woman makes the dolma.’ The
indoor setting, cooking, wife-mother-daughter image all goes along with
the melodramatic film format as well, which is something with which
Turks have long been familiar. They have seen similar domestic scenes in
films in cinemas and on their TV screens. Using a familiar film format,
Cola Turka taps into the collective film-culture knowledge, which is a lot
easier than creating a brand new one.
Turkish melodramas feature family, more specifically masculinity, in
crises. It is the man’s wife and/or children who are the ones who keep
the family unit intact through difficult times. At the end of the film, the
male always returns home; the patriarchal unit is always restored; and
the wife/mother and children always yield to the husband/father.
Gökkan confirms this notion when she further explains why they used
mostly men in these commercials: ‘The head of the family is always the
man […] We need to reach men because they are more stubborn – less
adaptive […] Men would not pay attention to a commercial with a
woman as a chief character. The household is a different matter.’ Was
the agency right?
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The answer is mostly no. To better understand this issue, we will need
to examine the household shopping patterns of Turks and how that
matches up with the target audience for Turkish television commercials.
Milner and Collins’s study (1998) identifies Turkey as a ‘feminine’
country when it comes to advertising. They use Hofstede’s
4
definition of
feminine society, which identifies non-materialistic, family-oriented soci-
eties where gender roles are distinct as feminine as opposed to masculine
countries, which are more materialistic and where there is more overlap in
gender roles. More specifically, Milner and Collins argue that in masculine
cultures, more men are used for voice-overs and lead characters. Women
are shown mostly indoors and promote those products that are considered
feminine such as beauty products, cooking and cleaning items. Men are
shown doing outdoor activities and in power positions.
However, Milner and Collins also write that gender representation in
Turkish TV commercials is more egalitarian. Based on their comparative
analysis of Turkish, American, Australian and Mexican commercials, they
concluded that ‘in the context of television commercials in the feminine
country of Turkey, there are few differences between gender while in mascu-
line countries these differences are quite marked’. Their study shows that
70 per cent of the people in Turkish commercials are women, which
means that Turks are used to seeing more female roles in television adver-
tising than male. This leads the authors to find that ‘the lack of significant
differences among the sex role portrayal variables does suggest that the
dominant approach is rather egalitarian’ (Milner and Collins 1998: 22).
They advise advertisers to avoid ‘masculine values such as employment/
productivity’ and to promote feminine values, such as relationships (Milner
and Collins 1998: 24).
If Milner and Collins’s findings still hold for current television advertis-
ing practices in Turkey, it raises an important question about the legiti-
macy of Young & Rubicam’s decision to define coke as a masculine
product in a feminine country and their conclusion that men would not
pay attention to female leads/role models. The agency might have consid-
ered the case of the United States, a masculine country, where both Coca-
Cola and Pepsi-Cola featured Britney Spears and Cindy Crawford in their
TV commercials, not only for their fame but because of their feminine
attributes. Instead of invoking practices of the United States as the global
power, they reverted to a local stereotype based on Turkish gender rela-
tionships from the past. And despite the large number of female celebrities,
the agency chose to focus on soccer players as leads in several of their
commercials.
But Young & Rubicam would not have been all that much different in
adopting gender stereotypes in the ad campaign as found by Uray and
Burnaz (2003) in their study of 314 Turkish TV commercials. In that
study the authors found that women appeared in the home and promoted
body products while men appeared in automobile, food/drink products
and outdoor advertising. Men were used for more voice-overs and more
middle-aged men appeared as lead characters while most lead women
characters were young. Furthermore, Uray and Burnaz’s study identified
women as the ‘important traditional buying unit’ who ‘have been keeping
their dominant gender in Turkish television advertisements for the past
53
Reverse glocalization? Marketing a Turkish cola in the shadow of a giant
4. See Geert Hofstede
(1980), Culture’s
Consequences, Beverly
Hills, CA: Sage for a
detailed description of
his classification of
countries as collectivist
or individualist.
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ten years’ (Uray and Burnaz 2003: 85). They write that the gender repre-
sentation on Turkish TV commercials has changed considerably (Uray and
Burnaz 2003). Because of the increase in well-educated working women
in Turkey who consequently have increased buying power, along with
helping to spread the influence of western consumer values, Turkey has
experienced a change in consumption and shopping patterns. They point
out that even though social pressure is still there to keep traditional gender
roles, ‘the impact of the changes in the demographic legal and economic
environment has been felt especially in the big cities’ (Uray and Burnaz
2003: 78). Also, the influence of western consumer values along with ‘the
shift from traditional large families toward small nuclear-type families’
contributed considerably to the change in shopping patterns and gender
roles in Turkey (Uray and Burnaz 2003: 78). At the same time, women
have taken on more responsibility in the workplace and in society generally,
and they have inevitably helped to effect a change in the role of men in
Turkish society as well.
Women are not only identified by Durakbasa and Cindoglu (2002) as
the traditional buying unit in Turkey since the 1960s but also as the taste
setters of the Turkish household in all classes in Turkish culture. The rise
of the new malls around the country is one of major reasons for women of
all classes taking part in what is now a more individualistic and material-
istic Turkish culture. According to Durakbasa and Cindoglu, the new mall
provides a safe place, a sort of outside–inside in place of the çarsi or bazaar
which was traditionally a masculine domain in Ottoman times. The
women can stroll and shop freely in the new mall, without having a man
to accompany them as they would in the old days when going to the
çarsi/bazaar and without worrying about being harassed. One of the main
outlets of the globalized market is the mall because it functions as a place
where both men and women consumers can make regular purchases. So
the mall has increased the consumer base in Turkey.
If the Cola Turka ad campaign aimed to tell the West that its citizens
should adopt a Turkish identity, it is not a message that would likely
appeal to most Americans. The message in the various commercials
(under the umbrella of ‘positive nationalism’) is that Turks put women in
their place – in the kitchen – and that men are the decision-makers in the
family while women serve them. The ‘local’ that Americans should aspire
to in the commercials does not represent the reality of the ‘local’ in fact.
The local of today’s Turkey – at least the local of the urban centres – is a
local that looks a lot more like America’s local. It is a site of emancipated
Turkish women who make most consumer decisions for the household
and who may well be combining work with family – as most Americans
are. But the commercials presume otherwise.
The commercials may be assuming that Americans, who dominate the
world with their language and culture while ignoring the languages and
cultures of other countries, really have a desire to return to a life that is
more like that of the Turks (or the Turks in a romanticized past).
Globalization has led them to this terrible state where they cannot appre-
ciate family and neighbourhoods, but they can rediscover a simpler, more
hospitable environment in an authentic Turkish folk culture. As with the
notions of the role of women in Turkish society, other parts of this ‘folk’
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culture are disappearing too. Neighbourhoods in urban environments are
no longer the sites of close relationships among the residents. And the
hurried pace of modern life has found its way to almost every part of
Turkey. Yet the commercials insist on romanticizing the Turkey that was
by claiming it still exists today. Babcock claims that ‘we all romanticize the
Other in at least two respects: as the poet Novalis said, “Everything turns
romantic as soon as it is moved far away” […] and as the philosopher
Ricoeur has said “[when it] is to be transported into another life”’
(Babcock 1982: 201–02). In this context, romanticized folk culture repre-
sents Turkey and everything Turkish in Cola Turka ads as a reaction to
globalization/westernization while Turkey is becoming increasingly western.
One of the Cola Turka commercials takes the viewer as far back as the
country’s Turkic roots in Central Asia in the glorification of the Cameko-type
moustache. The wearing of the moustache was a sign that Chevy Chase had
at last become a Turk. The moustache was also used for the transformation
of a European soccer player who plays for a Turkish team. Pierre van
Hooijdonk, a Dutch player who helped the Istanbul team Fenerbahçe win a
national title, appears with a moustache after drinking Cola Turka in one
commercial. The creative staff at Alametifarika thought that the moustache
motif would be humorous and endearing to consumers, but when they
polled the audience on their preference for the player with or without the
moustache, the audience preferred the clean-shaven look.
The vote against the moustache was the first clue for the agency that
the commercials were not successful with women and young adults.
Subsequent focus group research showed that women and young people
found the commercials overly ‘macho’ and not ‘too cool’. Alametifarika was
not winning the cola wars with the macho Turka against the modern/
western original product Coca-Cola. Sümer in acknowledging the problem
concluded: ‘We will have to lose the moustache’ in the effort to appeal to
young people looking for the brand to be cool.
In their newer commercials, the Alametifarika agency moved away from
the moustache and shifted the image from macho masculinity to a more
contemporary masculine image. In two of the new commercials, they fea-
ture a Turkish football player, Emre Belezoglu and an award-winning
graphic designer Emrah Yücel. Both commercials glorify the achievements
of two Turkish males: male voice-overs declare that Emre Belezoglu made
the hundred-best-football-player list at the age of 20 and Yücel had became
a world-class graphic designer in Hollywood with his own Beverly Hills com-
pany, Iconisis. Both commercials take place outdoors in the same cloud-filled
sky on the same field where Belezoglu, by kicking a football, and Yücel, by
throwing a giant pencil, break a symbolic barrier – a red wall that comes
crashing down – and achieve individual, international (or global) and there-
fore glocal success and fame. In case the audience misses this message, a
male voice tells us that each of these men were born in Turkey and achieved
great global fame in their respective fields. Thus the advertising agency
reverses the earlier theme of Turkifying foreign/American icons/celebrities,
instead acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of two Turkish
men’s national and masculine achievements. They reinforce this new theme
when the male voice tells us, ‘Let the Turka inside emerge.’ By doing so,
however, they also further ground Cola Turka as a masculine product.
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In setting the commercials outdoors and involving physical activity,
they reinforce the typical portrayal of males in television commercials. As
a graphic designer, Yücel would normally spend the majority of his time in
an office behind a computer, but the agency chose not to feature him in
this way. Instead he is taken outside of his office and placed in a field full of
pencils where he selects one that functions as a weapon. This renders him
more masculine than he might be in his professional setting.
5
The target of
Yücel’s pencil appears to be Umma Thurman, on the Kill Bill poster
(which Yücel designed). Although the pencil Yücel hurls ends up striking
the poster next to Thurman, even if for only a few seconds, the pencil
functions as a phallic object that has the potential to conquer Hollywood,
as well one of Hollywood’s female icons. There are no commercials cele-
brating female achievements, Turkish or otherwise, in any of the series of
Cola Turka advertisements to date.
The global sport of soccer/football is an ideal choice for the branding of
Cola Turka. Almost every culture uses sports as a key vehicle for market-
ing a variety of products. Cola Turka is no exception. As described earlier,
the first commercials in the series that were shot in New York, a car full of
Turks waving Turkish flags and shouting ‘Champion Turkey/Sampiyon
Türkiye’ passes Chevy Chase in Times Square. The scene is meant to depict
a national soccer victory. When Chase sits at the diner counter drinking
his coffee, David Brown asks him about Besiktas, a popular Turkish soccer
team and Sergen, one of its famous players. In the next commercial set in
Chevy Chase’s home we have already noted that the grandparents sing a
song that originates in the American baseball culture. A later series of soccer-
focused commercials highlights Pierre van Hooijdonk.
In Turkey, as in many countries, soccer is the sport of men and boys
and an arena where women are excluded. The common stereotype is that
women not only do not like the game, but they cannot understand it. So it
was probably not unusual that women were not featured in the part of the
advertising campaign that used a soccer theme. That might be considered
especially odd since both account managers (Sümer and Gökkan) are
women. But given that soccer is not associated with women – as players or
as fans – it is not unusual that women were excluded from the ads that
carried a soccer theme.
That said, the game of soccer is a global game that according to
Giulianotti and Robertson (2004: 545) includes 250 million direct partici-
pants, an additional 1.4 billion with an interest in the game and a global tele-
vision audience of 33.4 billion (sic) for the World Cup finals. The authors
argue that football ‘constitutes a vital site for the theorization and empirical
exploration of the multidimensional and long-term process of globalization’
(Giulianotti and Robertson 2004: 546). And they further argue that global-
ization of the game is ‘marked culturally by processes of “glocalization”,
whereby local cultures adapt and redefine any global cultural product to suit
their particular needs, beliefs and customs’ (Giulianotti and Robertson 2004:
546). Robertson, who was the first to apply the term ‘glocalization’ to glob-
alization theory, writes that the global game becomes the glocal game at
international tournaments where ‘thousands of different supporter groups
commingle, with each nation displaying distinctive kinds of dress, song,
music and patterns of behaviour’ (Giulianotti and Robertson 2004: 547).
56
Christine L. Ogan, Filiz Çiçek and Yesim Kaptan
5. There is a decade-
long debate in the art
world related to the
work and masculinity
of Jackson Pollack and
Roy Lichtenstein.
Pollock was celebrated
as being more mascu-
line than Lichtenstein,
because he worked at
home in his office;
hence he was
perceived as being
domesticated and
feminine.
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The authors analyse various aspects of the game from a glocal perspective but
the one of most interest to this article is the ‘transnational circulation of
labour, information, capital and commodities that can underpin non-national
forms of cultural particularity’ (Giulianotti and Robertson 2004: 549).
It is this flow of labour that brought Pierre van Hooijdonk to the
Istanbul team, Fenerbahçe. And the Alametifarika agency saw in him a
way to sell Cola Turka. To the Turks soccer is a serious matter (Holland
2001: 37; also noted by Giulianotti and Robertson 2004: 546) Holland
says that as in Britain or in Latin America, each match is either a national
battle or an identity issue (with a particular team). Bora and Erdogan
(1993: 223) argue that the construction of Turkish ‘national’ identity and
the beginning of the history of soccer in Turkey are simultaneous. And
soccer can also be thought of as a commodity whose commodification is
supported by the globalization process.
Within this context, soccer and Cola Turka, both global commodities,
are supplementary aspects of world capitalism. The explicit relationship
between Coca-Cola and capitalism, or American imperialism, as the ulti-
mate extension of capitalism, was adopted as part of the Cola Turka cam-
paign perspective. Thus Cola Turka, or the Cola of Turkey, was the central
concept of the commercials (Gökkan 2004).
So it is fitting that van Hooijdonk is transformed into a Turk, much like
Chevy Chase. But in the reversal of the usual glocalization process, the Dutch
national player represents the Turkish culture and identity in the commer-
cials. Aktay (1999) says that soccer players belong to their teams and
represent a collective identity, not their individual identities. Therefore all
Turkish players who play for European soccer teams are referred to as the
representatives of Turkey in Europe (Futbolda Avrupa’daki Temsilcimiz).
And the slogan for Cola Turka in the commercials featuring van
Hooijdonk is ‘the only Turkish star in the European league’. Van
Hooijdonk represents the local. Or as Sümer said, ‘We can’t go to the Cup
but we can send someone, the Dutch (now also Turkish) player.’ The
Turkish team was eliminated from the European Cup competition but this
was a way for the country to participate. And van Hooijdonk represented
the collective Turkish identity as a hybrid Turk/Dutch player when he
played for the Dutch national team.
Aktay (1999: 5) claims that ‘soccer is in the service of national, ethnic,
gender and even religious identities’. With the transformation of a gavur
(non-Muslim) to a Turk, the psychology of Turkish society is satisfied
while we are shown that culture is a more important tie than kinship
or biological heritage. The internalizing of Turkish culture is sufficient for
becoming a Turk or feeling like a Turk. In this process a foreign soccer
player becomes ‘one of us (bizden biri)’ in the ads.
Though the ads that featured van Hooijdonk may have appealed to
male consumers, women saw them as overly macho (Sümer 2004).
Subsequent ads featured a young girl and her grandmother and a couple
in a romantic mood in a New York apartment. It is not known how suc-
cessful these ads were with the women who were put off by soccer-themed
commercials, however. But in 2005 a second soccer star, Emre Belezoglu,
a star player for Galatasaray team, was featured in the commercials
described previously where the local hero made good globally.
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Conclusion
The trial rate of Cola Turka was 40 per cent within three months. Its mar-
ket share shot up to 23 per cent but eventually stabilized at 16 per cent by
the end of the first year according to Sümer. The most recent advertise-
ments claim that Cola Turka has entered 65 per cent of Turkish house-
holds, but make no claim to its share in the market. Resistance to trying the
product came mostly from loyal Coke fans and anti-Ülker consumers. The
latter group was defined by Sümer as more intellectual or ‘white Turks’.
The series of commercials for Cola Turka that were first created at
Young & Rubicam and later by most of the same creative team at
Alametifarika constituted a very clever approach to marketing an image
and identity for a soft drink in a market dominated by the global king of
soft drinks, Coca-Cola (and to a much lesser extent Pepsi-Cola). Just as
Coke has for years capitalized on combining the global with the local in
their ads,
6
Cola Turka reverses this process. Cola Turka is a local product
that is advertised as if it were a global product that everyone wants to
drink because they will achieve what the whole world wants – the Turkish
dream. That dream, however, is a dream that is rapidly passing. Turks
have less time to spend in the traditional Turkish bath, have become mem-
bers of a more individualistic society, live in a place where women do most
of the shopping in urban malls and want an equal place in society, and
where they have worked hard to adopt the American dream for them-
selves. So it is a fabrication to say that the Turkish dream is a future that
can be acquired with a sip of Cola Turka.
And as much as the advertising agency representatives deny that the
commercials were anti-American, there are signs in several of them that
‘positive nationalism’ was also anti-American. That was particularly true of
one of the commercials that took a distinct departure from all the rest. It
was set in the Iraqi desert and featured an American soldier with tanks and
planes surrounding him while military music played in the background. He
is crawling across the desert on his stomach along with his comrades when
he comes upon a red and white cooler in the sand. Upon opening it he finds
Cola Turka inside, pops a can and drinks it. Immediately he begins to take
off his weapons and backpack and throws them on the ground. Next he
removes his flak jacket and helmet. Finally he walks away from the uniform
and gun on the ground and across the screen flashes the message, ‘Yurtta
suhl, Cihanda suhl’ (‘Peace at home; Peace in the world’ – a saying and a
philosophy advocated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish
Republic). More generally, however, the whole Cola Turka promotion,
beginning at a time when Turkish–US relations were at a near all-time low,
created an environment for acting on the anti-American feelings.
Or as Andrew Finkel, writing for the New York Times put it, ‘But while
Turka is neither Islamic nor anti-American per se, there is no doubt that
anti-Americanism has helped create its market niche’ (Finkel 2003: B01).
He goes on to say that the current prime minister of Turkey (Recep Tayyip
Erdogan) was elected in part because of ‘a growing sense of disillusion-
ment with the culture cultivated by the elite’ in the country (Finkel 2003:
B01). That elite constituted a group that wholeheartedly bought into a
worship of US society and its values. So as Finkel points out, it is also
ironic that both the prime minister and his party along with Cola Turka’s
58
Christine L. Ogan, Filiz Çiçek and Yesim Kaptan
6. Eda Gökkan said that
Coke has now
replaced the
traditional yogurt
drink, Ayran, as the
accompaniment to
the Turkish fast food,
lahmajun (a kind of
local pizza with
ground meat, spices,
tomato and peppers).
JAMMR_1.1_04_art_Ogan.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 58
producers and ad creation team exploit the disillusionment by using the
same elite’s skills (Finkel 2003).
We could look upon the Cola Turka campaign and the gender and
nationalism issues that define it as simply an interesting case. But there are
wider theoretical and real-world implications of the advertisements we
analyse here. First, this is not the only situation where commercial products
have been used to identify a nation. Anthropologists and media scholars
have been considering ways to understand and narrate the constantly chang-
ing definition of nationalism and the role of media in the nation-making
process. Several scholars have focused on media and, in particular, advertis-
ing, in explaining the relationship between mass-mediated commercial cul-
tures and national identity. (Askew and Wilk 2002; Abu-Lughod 2005;
Foster 2002). In Materializing the Nation, Robert Foster provides important
insights into the relationship between nationalism, consumption and media
through his ethnographic research in Papua New Guinea. Pointing to the
ways foreign imports are used in the service of domestic agendas, Foster
(2002: 13) shows how mass consumption and advertising campaigns pro-
mote a new nation state and have fostered a sense of nationhood among the
disparate populations brought together arbitrarily. He emphasizes the instru-
mental role of commodity consumption in nation-making in several settings
and historical periods. Lila Abu-Lughod uses the same argument about the
importance of advertising in nation-making with her reference to another
scholar’s work. ‘Arvin Rajagopol’s reflection on the “sentimental education
of the Indian consumer” suggests that Indian television commercials that
follow motor scooters or cigarettes across varied urban landscapes are
attempting to bring fragmented social groups into (a Hinduized) national
unity’ (Abu-Lughod 2005: 194). So we see that the connection between
national identity formation and consumption is not unique to Turkey or the
Cola Turka campaign. By analysing commercials that play on national
themes and promote national identity in different societies, we may better
understand the role of mass media in facilitating nation-building and global
culture in the current era.
Anti-American sentiment has also been played out in other media prod-
ucts recently. At $10 million, the Turkish cinema produced the most expen-
sive film ever made in the country, Valley of the Wolves – Iraq. Unlike the
totally fictional portrayal of the Turkish family or the American soldier
in the Cola Turka commercials, this film combined facts with fiction in por-
traying the US soldiers as the enemy and their commander Sam William
Marshall, portrayed by Billy Zane, as a sociopathic killer (Arsu 2006). The
factual parts of the film include the hooding of the Turkish soldiers taken for
insurgents in Iraq, the portrayal of the inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, and
acts of violence by US marines against Iraqis. The film highlights the rise of
a cultural divide between the United States and Turkey that has lately also
been played out in the Armenian genocide vote in the US Congress and the
concerns over the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) acts of terrorism being
enacted in Turkey by Kurds who have come across the borders from Iraq.
Our analysis is also supported by public opinion. In the most recent sur-
veys conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (2007), opinions about
a range of subjects were collected in Turkey and 46 other nations. When
compared with polls conducted in previous years, favourable views of the
59
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United States have shown a near steady decline from a high of 52 per cent
in 2000 to a low of 9 per cent in 2007. A slightly higher favourability rat-
ing was given to the American people (13 per cent), while a more positive
rating was given to US movies, music and television (22 per cent) in the
2007 poll. These negative views of the United States and of Americans most
surely derive from opposition to the war in Iraq and its consequences for
Turkey’s security and economic well-being. But when advertising capital-
izes on these feelings, the message that buying Cola Turka will help bring
an end to the war and allow Turks to act on their anti-American feelings
through the purchase of a soft drink, the concept of national identity
becomes conflated with consumerism. The more favourable opinion of US
media expressed in the poll is also reflected in the use of American actors as
stars in the narratives of the commercials for Cola Turka. This analysis
demonstrates that advertising may have a wider impact than just promot-
ing higher levels of consumerism in the viewing public. It may well extend
to the defining of nationhood in the global market.
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Suggested citation
Ogan, C.L., Çiçek, F. and Kaptan, Y. (2007), ‘Reverse glocalization? Marketing a
Turkish cola in the shadow of a giant’, Journal of Arab and Muslim Media
Research 1: 1, pp. 47–62, doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.47/1
Contributor details
Christine Ogan is Professor of Journalism and Informatics at Indiana University
where she teaches courses in international communication and social informatics.
She conducts research on Turkish migrants in western Europe and their uses of
traditional and new media, and on gender and IT higher education. She is the
author of Communication and Identity in the Diaspora: Turkish Migrants in Amsterdam
and their Use of Media and numerous articles in communication journals. Contact:
970 E. 7
th
St., School of Journalism, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408.
E-mail: ogan@indiana.edu
Yesim Kaptan is a doctoral candidate at Indiana University with double majors in
Communication and Culture and Folklore and Ethnomusicology. She also holds an
MA in Folklore from Indiana and degrees in Political Science and Public
Administration from the Middle East Technical University in Turkey. She is cur-
rently teaching advertising and consumer culture and her research interests are
anthropology of media, advertising, consumerism, globalization and nationalism
61
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in contemporary Turkey. Contact: 970 E. 7
th
St., School of Journalism, Indiana
University, Bloomington, IN 47408.
E-mail: ykaptan@indiana.edu
Filiz Çiçek is a doctoral candidate in Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University
where she received her master’s degree in Fine Arts and a faculty member in the
women’s studies department at DePauw University. Contact: 970 E. 7
th
St., School
of Journalism, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408.
E-mail: fcicek@indiana.edu
62
Christine L. Ogan, Filiz Çiçek and Yesim Kaptan
JAMMR_1.1_04_art_Ogan.qxd 12/17/07 7:53 PM Page 62
Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.63/1
The US media, Camp David and the Oslo
‘peace process’
Andrew Piner Independent Scholar, UK
Abstract
This article examines US mainstream press coverage given to the aftermath of the
Camp David negotiations in July 2000, offering a critical perspective on the events
and reactions to the failed summit. In doing so the article is able to identify and
highlight the detrimental effects of inaccurate reporting of the Israeli–Palestinian
conflict in the US press. It demonstrates how this misrepresentation of failure at
Camp David has contributed to the ever-decreasing prospects for a just and
viable solution to the conflict. This important snapshot of the long-standing
Israeli–Palestinian conflict, it argues, accurately encapsulates the flawed nature of
many dominant ‘truths’ of the debate over the conflict. Consequently it can provide
a critical lens through which to draw broader conclusions about the issues that
continue to impede and undermine the prospects for balanced negotiations and
peace in the region.
The conclusions reached through the analysis of mainstream US press reactions
to the Camp David summit are subsequently contextualized through an exploration
of the largely neglected issue of water sharing in the Palestinian Territories. The
celebrated water-sharing agreements in the Oslo period are shown to have failed to
bring about any meaningful change from the discriminatory water-distribution
policies pursued by Israel in the occupied territories between 1967 and 1993.
The article thus demonstrates how US mainstream press reactions to the failed
Camp David summit simply reinforced the misleading impression of Israeli coop-
eration and compromise which masks a historically grounded policy of domina-
tion over the Palestinians. It concludes that only an approach grounded in critical
theory, emphasizing different conceptions of security in the region, can offer its
people a brighter and more peaceful future.
Explanations for and coverage of what happened at the Camp David nego-
tiations in 2000 have been subject to greatly differing accounts. Due to
the verbal, rather than written nature of the negotiations in July 2000,
apportioning the blame for failure has often been a highly subjective exer-
cise. However, with the benefit of hindsight and the growing number of
works detailing the ‘generous offer’ proposed at Camp David, it is possible
to paint an accurate picture. More importantly, an accurate assessment of
the deal offered at Camp David can be directly compared with the discourse
that has dominated newspaper editorials in the United States. Such a com-
parative analysis is a crucial component for helping to discard some of the
‘myths’ that continue to exacerbate the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and
shape the United States’ role in Israel/Palestine.
63 JAMMR 1 (1) pp. 63–77 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
Camp David
critical theory
negotiations
Palestine
Israel
Israeli–Palestinian
conflict
media
occupied territories
Oslo accords
peace process
JAMMR_1.1_05_art_Piner.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 63
This article will begin, therefore, by highlighting dominant strands of
thought about the Camp David summit and subsequent events within
newspaper editorials in the United States. This will provide the foundation
by which to construct my critique, which will contrast these dominant
discourses with a more balanced and detailed assessment of the then Israeli
Prime Minister, Ehud Barak’s offer. It is important, furthermore, to contex-
tualize the summit in the background of Barak’s premiership and the entire
peace process. A critical examination of the Oslo process, primarily using
evidence of ‘cooperation’ on water resources, will highlight how Camp
David encapsulates a continuation of the Israeli policy of domination under
the guise of cooperation and compromise. The juxtaposition of dominant
United States press narrative and critical analysis of the Oslo ‘peace process’ –
encapsulated by the Camp David summit – demonstrates that dominant
opinions in the newspapers denote a significant gap between myth and
reality concerning the nature of the conflict.
The United States media
The news media provides its readers/viewers/listeners with a window into
issues and events taking place in the world. Like any window, however, it
only provides its audience with a limited perspective and interpretation of
events. These media ‘frames’ are, according to W.A. Gamson, ‘a central
organising idea for making sense of relevant events and suggesting what is
at issue’ (Wolfsfeld 1997: 31). In the United States, and indeed in any coun-
try, the framing of an issue by the news media is an extremely powerful way
of defining relevant ‘truths’. Warren P. Strobel has argued, with some force,
that ‘[…] CNN […] can be an awesomely powerful, even frightening, tool
[…] even in a democratic society’ (Strobel 1997: 6). A burgeoning literature
attesting to the potential importance of the media, in all its forms, to issues
such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, presents a strong reason for investi-
gating its possible impact on the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
1
According to Iyengar and Simon, ‘research has shown that individuals
habitually refer to issues or events “in the news” when diagnosing current
social and political ills’ (Iyengar and Simon 1994: 169). The ability of the
mainstream media to put certain issues ‘on the agenda’, whilst marginalizing
or ignoring other perspectives, offers a powerful case for taking seriously the
potential impact of dominant frames about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
The importance of dominant media frames in shaping public opinion is not
absolute. However, it does suggest that the media has a potentially important
role to play in creating dominant terms of reference about particular issues.
The newspaper media will be the central object of reference in this
article. Although it is only one aspect of the modern media, the printed
word and photographs ‘continue to have a distinct impact of their own,
notwithstanding the growing dominance of television and the emergence of
CNN and its brethren’ (Strobel 1997: 15). I intend to use the work of
Chomsky and Herman as a precedent to focus on articles from the New York
Times and the Washington Post. In their important work on the mass media,
Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman set out to look at the United
States mass media as a whole. They quickly illustrate that the mass media is
increasingly subject to a centralizing process, with the result that at present
‘two dozen firms control nearly the entirety of media experienced by most
64
Andrew Piner
1. For a representative
sample of this
growing literature
see: Wolfsfeld, Media
and Political Conflict,
especially chapters 3,
5 and 6; Bennett,
W. Lance and Paletz,
David L. (eds), Taken
by Storm. The Media,
Public Opinion, and US
Foreign Policy in the
Gulf War (Chicago,
University of Chicago,
1994); Chomsky,
N., Herman, E.S.,
Manufacturing
Consent. The Political
Economy of the Mass
Media. Second Edition
(New York: Pantheon
Books, 2002).
JAMMR_1.1_05_art_Piner.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 64
US citizens’ (Herman and Chomsky 2002: xiii). Also, with the ‘reduction of
resources devoted to journalism’ in the modern age (Herman and Chomsky
2002: xiii), large international newspapers like the New York Times and the
Washington Post arguably play a major part in constructing dominant media
frames for international affairs such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Seemingly as a result of these factors, the authors repeatedly use the
Washington Post and the New York Times as their main source for analysis.
The US mass media is a particularly interesting case study as it is located
within, and partly representative of, a well-documented tendency for cul-
tural stereotyping of Islam by the West.
2
While all media framing ‘tells the
story’ in a particular way, it is my contention here that the dominant and
unyielding stance of the US mass media towards a particular framing of the
failure at Camp David has constituted an obstacle to a US approach that
could promote a just and lasting solution in Israel/Palestine.
3
It is crucial,
however, to recognize that the representation of the Camp David failure in
the American press is only one aspect, albeit an important one, of the per-
ception and presentation of the Middle East in America.
Creating the myth of Camp David
Adopting the narrative offered by President Clinton and Prime Minister
Barak, the United States press was quick to confirm that Yasir Arafat
was guilty of not ‘taking the extra steps’ necessary for peace with Israel. A
New York Times editorial published only the morning after the summit
ended, assured its readers that ‘The larger burden lies with Mr Arafat’,
and that ‘If there is ever to be a durable peace, Mr Arafat must reconsider
his unyielding approach to Jerusalem’ (New York Times Editorial Desk
2000). The Washington Post editorial on the same day offered similar
analysis, lamenting Mr Arafat’s ‘inflexibility’ and unwillingness to compro-
mise (Washington Post Editorial 2000a). On the issue of Jerusalem the edi-
tors explained that, in order to ‘appreciate the magnitude of this tragedy,
one has to first appreciate the scope of the proposed Israeli compromise on
Jerusalem – the issue over which the talks foundered’ (Washington Post
Editorial 2000a). This strongly suggested a ‘compromise’ of far-reaching
and unprecedented concessions by the Israeli side.
As the stability of the region disintegrated in the months following the
summit, culminating in the September outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada,
newspaper editorials habitually looked back on the Camp David summit
seeking to explain what had gone wrong. As Seth Ackerman (2001) has
pointed out, the Washington Post on 11 October 2000 editorialized that the
peace process had rested on two premises: ‘first, that Israel would be prepared
to relinquish control over Palestinian land and lives; and, second, that the
Palestinian leadership would be willing to attain its independence alone’.
However, for Washington Post editors, ‘The deep compromises Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak offered at the Camp David summit proved the first
assumption correct’, while the new intifada of September 2000 ‘proved’
that ‘The second premise […] has now been shattered’ (Washington Post
Editorial 2000b). Ackerman proposes that Barak’s generosity (and Arafat’s
ingratitude) was encapsulated in a Washington Post headline on 9 October
that read, ‘Barak’s Open Hand Now a Clenched Fist’ (Ackerman 2001: 68).
For the article’s author, ‘even in the view of the most dovish Israelis, Barak
65
The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’
2. Edward Said has
undoubtedly been
the most prominent
of those who draw
attention to the
tendency of the ‘West’
to misrepresent and
stereotype ‘the
Orient’. See: Said,
Edward W.1978,
1994, 1997.
3. The contention I
make about the US
media here is not
an absolute claim.
Resistance to the
pro-Israeli lobby
does exist, just as
challenges to the
dominant media
frame exist. It is
simply my contention
that certain
discourses in the
United States enjoy
wider acceptance and
legitimacy than other
discourses.
JAMMR_1.1_05_art_Piner.qxd 12/18/07 3:30 PM Page 65
made Arafat a good deal at the US-brokered Camp David talks in July, and
Arafat has repaid a serious effort at negotiations with attacks on Israeli
positions’ (Ackerman 2001: 68).
New York Times regular columnists Thomas Friedman (chief diplomatic
correspondent of the New York Times) and William Safire regularly assured
their readers that Arafat was to blame for the rejection of Barak’s ‘generous’
offer at Camp David and for the subsequent slide into violence in the
Middle East. On 27 July 2000, Safire was unequivocal in his explanation
of the failure to reach agreement at Camp David. In a column entitled
‘Why is Arafat Smiling?’, Safire maintained that Arafat was smiling
‘because [he] gave up nothing’, while ‘Israel’s leader, prodded by a
US president, made concessions that broke pledges Barak made in his election
campaign a year ago’ (Safire 2000). Thus, Safire concluded, ‘You have to
sympathise with Barak […] He offered Arafat virtually all of the West
Bank, and was scorned […]’ (Safire 2000). Thomas Friedman has frequently
offered his interpretation of the disintegrating situation between Israel
and the Palestinians. For example, on 13 October 2000, he stated that
‘Mr Clinton pointedly, deliberately and rightly stated that the Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak had offered unprecedented compromises at the summit’
(Friedman 2000). Such praise for the efforts of Barak was complemented
by the familiar formula of contrast with the ingratitude of the Palestinians:
‘But what the Palestinians and Arabs refuse to acknowledge is that today’s
Israeli prime minister was offering them a dignified exit’ (Friedman 2000).
Friedman repeatedly emphasized this view, using such phrases as
‘offer[ing] Palestinians the unthinkable’ (Friedman 2001a), and ‘historic
compromise proposal’ (Friedman 2001b).
Washington Post columnists Richard Cohen and Charles Krauthammer
offered similar analysis. In reflecting on the Camp David summit, Cohen
complained that ‘With Arafat, it is hardly clear that he even wants peace.
After all, he rejected a dream offer […] that would have given him almost
everything short of the conversion of the Jews to Islam’ (Cohen 2001).
Krauthammer is less sparing of Arafat, displaying hostility even towards
Barak, who ‘is down to his last chip’, having ‘given away […] all his other
bargaining chips […] at Camp David in a fit of shocking preemptive conces-
sions’ (Krauthammer 2000). The ‘generosity’ in the Camp David talks, for
Krauthammer, bordered on stupidity as Barak ‘[refuted] for all time the
Jews’ reputation for shrewd bargaining’ (Krauthammer 2000). Other
Washington Post columnists have also been firm in their conclusions. For
example, Lally Weymouth stated that ‘an intransigent Arafat turned down
a deal’, while ‘a courageous Barak risked everything for a peace agreement’
(Weymouth 2000).
Despite the overwhelming number of editorial columns supporting the
‘generous offer’ narrative of Camp David, the counter-narrative refuting
these claims has found some expression in US newspapers. Perhaps the best
example of this ‘revisionist’ viewpoint is found in Deborah Sontag’s special
report for the New York Times, on 26 July 2001 entitled ‘Quest for Middle
East Peace: How and Why it Failed’. Indeed, one-off opinion columns in the
Washington Post and New York Times by critics such as Amira Hass and
Hussein Ibish testify to variations on the dominant themes found in the
US press.
4
In spite of the isolated nature of ‘revisionist’ articles in the press,
66
Andrew Piner
4. See, for example,
Hass (2001) and
Ibish (2001).
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Ackerman highlights the existence of heated debate questioning the impar-
tiality of the US press. For Ackerman, ‘while the American press is per-
ceived abroad as being unambiguously sympathetic to Israel, the most
visible form of media criticism in the United States takes the opposite view –
that the US press is constantly propagandising for the Palestinian cause’
(Ackerman 2001: 70–71). Widespread pro-Palestinian coverage, however,
is unlikely in an environment where a strong pro-Israeli lobby exerts con-
siderable pressure on media companies, which criticize Israel.
5
Nevertheless, it is clear that the narrative holding the Palestinians
(and especially Arafat) to blame for the failure at Camp David has taken
a firm hold. Writing for the Washington Post a year after the summit, Lee
Hockstader provided a neat summary of the dominant American discourse
about Camp David: ‘It may be too little too late to change any minds, but
the Palestinians have begun making an impassioned case that they are
not to blame for the collapse of the US-mediated peace talks last year at
Camp David and the subsequent descent into 10 months of violence’
(Hockstader 2001). As the title of this article suggests (‘A Different Take
on Camp David Collapse: Palestinian Disputes Conventional Wisdom on
Breakdown of US-Led Peace Talks’), a whole year had passed of almost
unchallenged ‘conventional wisdom’ in the American press. I must
therefore turn a critical eye on this ‘conventional wisdom’ with a
detailed account of the Camp David proposals and the difficulties that
surrounded it.
‘The brilliant offer Israel never made’
After a problematic interim period of seven years, final status negotiations
were undertaken at Camp David. The logic of the Oslo ‘peace process’ – to
enact confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinians
while putting off the most difficult issues that represented the major obsta-
cles to peace
6
– had not enjoyed the success that was hoped for when Arafat
and Rabin famously shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993.
Throughout the interim period militant Palestinians continued to attack
Israeli settlements. For its part, Israel pursued its expansion of illegal settle-
ments in the West Bank and Gaza, reneged on promises to redeploy out of
Palestinian towns and villages, enacted curfews and border closures in the
occupied territories often making everyday life for Palestinians difficult and
miserable.
7
Barak’s personal record since becoming Israel’s Prime Minister in
1999 also left doubts over his ability to find a just resolution to the con-
flict. From the very beginning his words to the Israeli electorate did not
promise a generous peace:
The time for [making] peace has come. Not peace from a position of weakness
but peace in strength and security […] We will move quickly toward a sepa-
ration from the Palestinians by drawing four lines in the sand: once and for all
a unified Jerusalem, under our sovereignty, as the eternal capital of Israel; in
no case will we withdraw to the 1967 borders; no foreign army on the west
bank of the Jordan; most of the settlement dwellers in Judea-Samaria to be
housed in settlement units under our sovereignty.
(Enderlin 2002: 112)
67
The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’
5. For example,
Ackerman testifies to
angry letters, formal
complaints, cancelled
subscriptions and
even alleged sale
of CNN stock by
American Jews to
protest against
coverage of
Israel/Palestine
(although this was
later denied by CNN).
See Ackerman
(2001).
6. The most difficult
issues to resolve in the
Israeli–Palestinian
conflict include the
status of Jerusalem,
the Palestinian
refugee problem and
the ‘right of return’,
borders and
settlements.
7. There are ample
historical accounts of
the difficulties
experienced by both
peoples during the
Oslo years, which
largely use standard
accounts of settlement
expansion, the
deteriorating
economic situation
of Palestinians, and
difficulty of movement
between Palestinian
towns and cities to
illustrate their point.
See, for example,
Shlaim (2000:
546–95); Giacaman
and Lonning (1998).
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8. Resolutions 194
(General Assembly),
242 and 338
(Security Council)
stipulated a full Israeli
withdrawal from the
territories illegally
occupied in 1967,
and a just solution
to the Palestinian
refugee problem.
9. For example
see Enderlin (2002:
231–32). Enderlin
describes an incident
where the Palestinian
delegation received a
proposal twice in the
same evening. Once
directly from the
Israelis and again as
a ‘suggestion’ from
the US mediators.
Andrew Piner
68
These pledges to the Israeli people, made on 17 May 1999, aptly demon-
strated that the ‘minimum demands’ of the Israelis directly contradicted the
long-held Palestinian ‘minimum demand’ of peace based on UN resolutions.
8
Moreover, Barak’s questionable priorities built an atmosphere of mistrust
and indignation amongst the Palestinians. For example, the head of the
Israeli delegation to the Palestinians, Oded Eran, raised concerns over
Barak’s prioritization of peace with Syria over peace with the Palestinians:
‘Frankly, I didn’t like this idea of according priority to Syria […] I told him
[Barak] it was the Palestinian problem that was at the centre of the
Israeli–Arab conflict’ (Enderlin 2002: 135). For Deborah Sontag, Barak’s
‘peacemaker’ credentials were belied by his choice of the settlers’ representa-
tives, the ultra right-wing National Religious Party (NRP), in his coalition
(Sontag 2001). Having been offered the housing ministry, the NRP quickly
moved to expand the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.
Additional delays in addressing core Palestinian concerns such as the imple-
mentation of the 1998 Wye Agreement (which Barak chose to renegotiate),
again suggested quite the opposite of the early reassuring signs that the
Palestinians were looking for (Agha and Malley 2001).
Thus, it was in this atmosphere of mutual distrust and disillusionment
that the Camp David summit was convened. Eyewitness accounts of the
summit strongly suggest that even the intimate setting of the President’s
private retreat in Maryland was not enough to dissipate the atmosphere
between the two most important negotiators, Arafat and Barak. Charles
Enderlin recounted that, ‘To avoid having the Palestinians transform Israeli
positions into a firm commitment, his [Barak’s] proposals will be submitted
to the Palestinians through American mediation. He himself will not have
any face-to-face meetings with Arafat, who might seize on some minor
verbal discrepancy and have it influence the talks’ (Enderlin 2002: 178). Cold
personal relations between Arafat and Barak invited further commentary by
Enderlin, who described a meal at the summit in which Barak was seated
between Arafat and Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea: ‘During the two hours that
the meal lasts, he [Barak] does not once turn toward the head of the PLO’
(Enderlin 2002: 214). For Robert Malley, who was present at the summit,
Barak’s unconventional tactics at Camp David proved confusing and often
misleading. Selby maintains that there was no direct negotiation between
Arafat and Barak, ‘with most of the ideas being confusingly passed on by
American mediators’ (Selby 2003a: 185). Therefore, ‘it was often unclear to
the Palestinians whether they were being handed US or Israeli proposals’
(Selby 2003a: 185). In some cases it is clear that Israeli proposals were actu-
ally being suggested as US plans fostering mistrust amongst the Palestinian
delegation.
9
Furthermore, Barak was unwilling to reveal his final position on
any issue unless the ‘endgame’ was in sight. As a consequence, ‘each Israeli
position was cast as unmovable’, only to be continually ‘reassessed’ as the
talks progressed (Agha and Malley 2001). Bottom lines, which turned out to
be false bottoms, and a lack of personal contact between the negotiators
caused confusion, tension and ambiguity. Thus Malley and Agha conclude
that ‘The final and largely unnoticed consequence of Barak’s approach is
that, strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer’ (Agha and Malley
2001). A close look at individual Israeli proposals during the summit further
corroborates the absence of a ‘golden’ Israeli offer in any form.
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The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’
69
A variety of accounts have emerged in recent years detailing what
exactly was offered to the Palestinians at Camp David. The main issues dis-
cussed included territory and borders, settlements, security, refugees and
the status of Jerusalem. They shall be considered in turn.
On close inspection, the territorial concessions made at Camp David do
not appear to be remarkably generous. The story told in the American press
often refers to ‘more than 90 per cent of the West Bank for a Palestinian
state’ (Friedman 2000), along with direct territorial swaps allowing Israel
to ‘retain five percent of the West Bank, on which about 80 percent of
Jewish settlers lived’ (Friedman 2001c). According to Slater (2001),
Barak’s initial position agreed to a demilitarized Palestinian state in Gaza
and on 82–88 per cent of the West Bank. Further discussions improved this
offer to roughly 92 per cent of the West Bank ‘though it is not clear
whether Barak approved this change’ (Slater 2001: 182). However, even
this accepted figure of 92 per cent has been called into question by
Pressman (2003). To be sure, the land offer at Camp David ‘was based on
the Israeli definition of the West Bank […] [which] […] omits the area
known as No Man’s Land (50 sq. km near Latrun), post-1967 East
Jerusalem (71 sq. km) and the territorial waters of the Dead Sea (195 sq. km)’
(Pressman 2003: 17). Thus, an Israeli offer of 92 per cent translated into
only 86 per cent of the Palestinian definition of the West Bank. If
92 per cent sounds substantive, as it clearly did in the editorial pages of the
mainstream American press, one only need to take a cursory glance at
the map of the proposed Palestinian ‘state’ offered at Camp David to see the
inherent bad faith. Figure 1 clearly shows the West Bank carved up into
three non-contiguous Bantustan-style blocks, surrounded by Israeli troops
and settlements, and with no access to its own international borders.
Furthermore, David Clark of The Guardian has highlighted that the sug-
gested territorial swaps
that were supposed to compensate the Palestinians for the loss of prime agricul-
tural land [and access to most of the precious water aquifiers in the West Bank]
in the West Bank merely added insult to injury. The only territory offered to
Palestinian negotiators consisted of stretches of desert adjacent to the Gaza Strip
[the Halutza Sand Region] that Israel currently uses for toxic waste dumping.
(Clark 2002)
Therefore, not only were the proposed territorial swaps of unequal qualita-
tive value, but, by all accounts, Barak never offered swaps of equal quanti-
tative value either. One proposal suggested that 9 per cent of land annexed
by Israel for settlements would be compensated with only 1 per cent of
land from Israel (Enderlin 2002: 232). With regard to the settlements
themselves, Barak’s annexation proposals included the area between the
settlements in anticipation of natural growth which, as Tanya Reinhart
highlights, contained countless Palestinian villages and ‘approximately
120,000 Palestinian residents’ (Reinhart 2002: 33).
On the sensitive issue of the Jordan Valley, the New York Times and the
Washington Post were particularly misleading. Rather than having ‘surren-
dered the Jordan Valley […] that buffers Israel from the Arab tank armies to
the east’ (although given Israel’s overwhelming military superiority in the
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70
Andrew Piner
region and the backing of the world’s only superpower the ‘threat from the
east’ is more rhetorical than real) (Krauthammer 2000), Barak insisted on
numerous measures, intent on securing Israeli interests.
10
Barak proposed a
‘re-evaluation’ of the Jordan Valley problem after six to twelve years. However,
the historical record of Israel during the Oslo years deemed this re-evaluation
improbable. Israel had consistently cited ‘vital security concerns’ for reneging
on many of the promises made during the interim period. At Camp David,
Barak asked for trust in the good intentions of Israel of which, for the
Palestinians, there was little historical precedent. In return for this trust
Barak was unwilling to afford any trust in the intentions of the Palestinians.
On the refugee issue, Arafat would later say that there was no ‘serious
discussion’ at Camp David (Sontag 2001). Of what was discussed, it is clear
that Barak refused to accept Israel’s moral or historical responsibility for the
creation of the refugee problem. In an interview with Benny Morris after
Camp David, Barak maintained that, ‘We cannot allow even one refugee
back on the basis of the “right of return”, and we cannot accept historical
responsibility for the creation of the problem’ (Morris 2002). This opinion
reflects a long-standing concern in Israeli politics. According to Benvenisti,
successive Israeli governments have claimed that an admission of responsi-
bility for the refugee problem would legitimize a ‘right of return’ under
which Israel would be overwhelmed with demands that ‘would threaten the
Jewish nature of the Jewish state’ (Benvenisti 2000: 324). The myth that
the refugee problem was created by the Arab armies ‘who ordered the
Palestinians to leave their homes to clear the way for a victorious campaign’
(Benvenisti 2000: 324), although substantially discredited by existing
Israeli literature, is a central belief that Barak was unable to overcome at
Camp David. Although full implementation of the ‘right of return’ is unre-
alistic, it has rightly been argued that a genuine Israeli admission of moral
responsibility for the injustice to the Palestinians would greatly improve the
chances of reconciliation (Benvenisti 2000: 329). However, the family
reunification scheme proposed at Camp David, allowing some 10,000
refugees back to their homes, was offered not as a Palestinian ‘right’ but as
an Israeli gesture. Barak’s proposal that the refugees be compensated by
money paid by the international community, simply confirmed Israel’s
reluctance to accept responsibility. By the end of the summit the ‘generous’
offer consisted of an unspecified ‘satisfactory solution’ to the refugee problem,
suggested by Clinton, not Barak (Enderlin 2002: 232).
On Jerusalem, reports from the Camp David summit have proved
unclear. Undoubtedly, Barak did come closer to Palestinian demands than
any previous Israeli leader. However, editorial columns in the American
press have fostered a substantial misunderstanding about the nature of
Barak’s proposal. The overall impression made by editorials in the New York
Times and the Washington Post is that the proposed Palestinian state would
have sovereignty or ‘control’ over Arab East Jerusalem. Closer inspections of
the proposal’s details suggest something altogether less generous. First, as
Seth Ackerman correctly highlights, ‘none of [the] accounts reminded
readers that East Jerusalem is among the occupied territories from which
Israel was required to withdraw under UN Resolution 242, the resolution
officially governing the Oslo process and therefore the Camp David talks’
(Ackerman 2001: 68). Thus, he continues, ‘any parts of East Jerusalem
10. The suggested terms
for the future of the
Jordan Valley are
illustrated in Enderlin
(2002: 248).
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The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’
11. Pressman lists all the
outlying areas that
would have been
under full Palestinian
sovereignty. See
Pressman (2003: 18).
12. In fact, during the
Oslo period, Israel
repeatedly made the
Old City ‘off-limits’ to
Palestinian
non-residents in the
name of security.
13. See, for example New
York Times Editorial
Desk (2000).
14. It is plausible to
assume (as Arafat did
at Camp David) that
Arafat did not have
the authority from
the Muslim world to
give permanent sover-
eignty of the Haram
al-Sharif to Israel – an
action which would
be opposed by the
Muslim world.
that would remain under Israeli sovereignty in a final settlement would rep-
resent Palestinian concessions, not the other way around’ (Ackerman
2001: 68). Though clearly a contemptible offer, it was the Palestinians who
received the blame for turning down Israel’s ‘concessions’.
Barak’s Jerusalem proposal was fractured and convoluted, offering a mix-
ture of full sovereignty in some areas but only ‘functional autonomy’ in oth-
ers. Furthermore, large blocs of land in East Jerusalem would remain under
Israeli sovereignty. According to Pressman only the outlying areas of
Jerusalem, such as Abu Dis, Al-Asawiyah and Samir Amis, would be
afforded full Palestinian sovereignty.
11
On the other hand, the core Arab
neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem – al-Shaykh Jarrah, al-Suwwanah, al-Tur,
Salah-al-Din Street, Bab al-Amud (Damascus Gate), Ra’s al-Amud, and
Silwan would be under Palestinian ‘functional autonomy’ but remain under
Israeli sovereignty. ‘Functional autonomy’, as the interim years of Oslo had
proved, was not the same as sovereignty. For example, Israeli sovereign con-
trol over the West Bank and Gaza had enabled them to enact repeated border
closures and restrictive travel arrangements making everyday life extremely
difficult for the Palestinians. Many of the residents in the functionally
autonomous Palestinian areas of Jerusalem would have to pass through
Israel to reach Palestine. In a similar vein, access for Palestinians to the Old
City and the holy places in Jerusalem would be dependent on Israel, as it had
been since the war of 1967.
12
The proposed status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is also mis-
represented in the dominant US media narrative. Barak’s offer to give the
new state of Palestine ‘control’ over the Muslim holy sites in the Old City,
duly reported by the editorial desks of the New York Times and Washington
Post,
13
was again misleading. Satisfaction for either side on the issue of the
Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount will never be easy to find, given that it is a
site of great importance to both Judaism and Islam.
14
However, the con-
tention that ‘custodianship’ for the Palestinians but sovereignty to Israel
was a ‘generous concession’ clearly understates the fundamental disparity
between sovereignty and ‘custodianship’. Every formula conceived at
Camp David was stymied by the underlying dogma that Israel would have
ultimate sovereignty over the land.
In the final analysis, the specifics of the Camp David proposal, combined
with Israel’s historical approach to the ‘peace process’, give reasonable
cause to doubt the intention of generosity with which the American media
credits the Israeli government. However, it is not possible to explain these
events in isolation from the broader structures and relations of politics and
political economy. Analysis of the Oslo ‘peace process’ and the historical
dynamics of the Israeli–Palestinian relationship will offer crucial insights
into the events at Camp David. A broader contextual frame will show the
conflict as a product, ‘whose roots are in patterns of capitalist development
and patterns of state formation and state-society relations’, rather than the
product of cultural norms, values and ideas (Selby 2003a: 8).
‘Dressing up domination as cooperation’
For Hanieh ‘the Israelis came to Camp David not in search of a language of
dialogue with a neighbour and partner but to cement the gains from the
1967 War, to restructure and legalize the occupation’ (Hanieh 2001: 87).
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Andrew Piner
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the Oslo ‘peace process’ was
designed to achieve exactly that. Selby refers to this policy as ‘Dressing up
domination as cooperation’ (Selby 2003b). In his meticulously researched
thesis on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Selby convincingly contends that
water sharing and cooperation in the Holy Land offers a revealing insight
into the ‘peace process’. This insight highlights continuity in Israel’s
approach to managing the occupied territories before and after 1993. Thus,
Selby shows that the ‘peace process’ simply repackaged the occupation
giving it formal legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.
The evidence presented by Selby stressing the continuities rather than
changes in Israeli water policies between the ‘pre-Oslo’ and ‘Oslo’ periods
is indeed illuminating. For an understanding of the position of the Oslo
peace process it is important to have an appreciation of the situation from
1967. After the occupation of 1967, Israel gained overall control of West
Bank water resources while the Palestinians simply became implementers
of Israeli policy. Israeli domination of these water resources had the direct
result of unequal distribution between Palestinian and Israeli population
centres. For example, by 1995 one Israeli estimate held that ‘the average
West Bank settler was in receipt of twelve times as much water as the aver-
age Palestinian’, while ‘peripheral and high-lying houses would go with-
out piped supplies for a period of three or more months each summer’
(Selby 2003b: 131). Similarly, the cost of piped supplies throughout the
region was based on equally discriminatory policies, where ‘Palestinians
would be charged much more for a cubic metre of water than Israelis’
(Selby 2003b: 128).
The alleged change in Israeli–Palestinian water relations began during
the Oslo peace process in the form of the Oslo II Agreement in September
1995. The proposed joint management system, stipulated in the rhetoric
of the agreement, was initially considered a ‘major breakthrough’. However,
Selby highlights little change for the Palestinians and marked continuity
in Israeli policy.
What then, did the proposed joint management system do to improve
this ‘apartheid-style’ distribution of the regions water resources? The
short answer for Selby is ‘very little’. First, ‘given that most local water
supply and infrastructural management within the West Bank was
already being undertaken by Palestinians […] the seeming novelty of
Oslo II’s co-ordinated management system was largely illusory’ (Selby
2003a: 107). Moreover, rather than granting the Palestinians control
over the West Bank’s water supplies, Oslo II only granted them responsi-
bilities in the management of local water supplies, leaving overall con-
trol in the hands of Israel. Thus, as Selby concludes, the agreement
‘merely formalized a supply management system which had been in
operation for years’ (Selby 2003a: 107). In terms of water supply itself
the Oslo II agreement stipulated that the Palestinians would solely be in
charge of systems that did not supply Israelis, while Israel would be in
charge of all other systems. With the infrastructural integration of the
years of occupation already in place, however, and as most supply net-
works were linked to at least one Israeli settlement, Israel remained in
sole control of almost all of the supply lines and all of the deep wells that
had been drilled since the 1980s.
15
15. This argument is
made in Selby
(2003b: 130).
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The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’
16. Quoted in Selby
(2003a: 108).
17. Edward Said offers
extensive
commentary on
the fall in living
standards and the
gradual destruction
of the Palestinian
economy during
the Oslo years.
See, for example,
Said (2002).
On water prices, Oslo II promised that ‘in the case of purchase of one
side from the other, the purchaser shall pay the full real cost incurred by
the supplier, including the cost of production at the source and the con-
veyance all the way to the point of delivery’.
16
While this sounds fair on
first impression, it quickly becomes apparent, Selby argues, that with the
Israelis in control of the entire water network in the West Bank they would
always be the suppliers and the Palestinians always the purchasers. Thus,
as the agreement only applied to transactions between supplier and
purchaser, Israeli settlers were free to continue to buy water at highly sub-
sidized rates while Palestinians were forced to buy water at the ‘full real
cost’, ‘legitimising a discriminatory pricing policy that had existed well
before 1995’ (Selby 2003a: 108).
Perhaps the most revealing note to make about the Oslo II agreement is
illustrated by Norman Finkelstein. For Finkelstein,
the textual claim that Oslo II preserves the territorial ‘integrity’ of the West
Bank and Gaza as a ‘single territorial unit’, is mockingly belied by the map’s
[green] and [pink] blotches denoting relative degrees of Palestinian control
awash in a sea of white denoting total Israeli sovereignty.
(Finkelstein 2003: 173)
The contrast between the generous rhetoric of the text and the ungener-
ous nature of the reality is a particularly stark indication of the inherently
flawed logic of a ‘peace process’ that consolidates domination.
Similar examples of the legitimization of Israeli occupation under Oslo
can be found in several quarters. For example, despite the millions of dol-
lars promised by the international community under Oslo for economic
regeneration in the occupied territories, Palestinian standards of living fell
dramatically during the 1990s.
17
Economic agreements such as the Paris
Protocol were heavily biased in favour of Israel. As a result, crucial issues
were ignored such as the return of ‘Palestinian resources such as water
[…] or land illegally expropriated by Israel, between 60 and 70 percent of
the West Bank and at least 60 percent of the Gaza Strip’ (Murphy 1995:
36). Clear evidence of unequal dynamics of the process is readily found in
Article XII of the 1994 Cairo Agreement. In this article, the Palestinian
National Authority:
accepted that it will bear financial responsibility for claims made against
Israel, and will actually defend past Israeli actions in the event of a claim
reaching the courts. Nowhere is Israel committed to paying any compensa-
tion, to individuals or the population as a whole, for taxes illegally levied and
used to destroy property or expropriate resources.
(Murphy 1995: 38)
Furthermore, Article VII of the same agreement made provisions
upholding military orders and laws that preceded the Declaration of
Principles, which effectively allowed Israel to obstruct Palestinian
economic development through closures and curfews in spite of the
pledges made in the Paris Protocol.
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One of the major advantages of the Oslo peace process for Israel was that
it largely relieved her of the rapidly escalating cost of occupation, whilst main-
taining all the strategic advantages that the occupied territories offered. In the
context of the first intifada the cost of the occupation had become a heavy
burden for the Israeli government. In the international press, sympathy for
the Palestinians was contrasted with condemnation for heavy-handed Israeli
suppression. Non-payment of water rates and taxation in the territories was
creating financial arrears, which Israel was responsible for. Violence and
unrest in the territories was also putting pressure on the settlement drive,
which had lost a lot of its previous appeal.
18
The Oslo peace process at once
enabled the Israeli government to pass the more burdensome tasks of occupa-
tion onto the new Palestinian Authority,
19
whilst Israel retained powers of
strategic value such as water resources, borders and air space.
Though not a comprehensive analysis of the Oslo period (which would be
too extensive for this short work), the preceding section highlights a number
of important trends in the Israeli–Palestinian dynamic. Most importantly,
the ‘peace process’ was characterized by patterns of cosmetic agreements
between unequal parties, which served to legitimize the continued domina-
tion of one people over another. In this context it is easy to see how the
‘generous offer’ at Camp David simply attempted to further this policy of
domination, portraying unviable territorial cantonization in occupied land
as ‘concessions’. In addition it cloaked the permanent annexation of illegally
captured water resources in the West Bank in the guise of ‘equal territorial
swaps’, under which the Palestinians would receive vastly inferior desert
land. The chasm that exists between myth and reality in the Palestinian
conflict, neatly encapsulated in the Camp David summit and its coverage in
the mainstream US press, is thus, to my mind, a huge obstacle to any viable
possibilities for coexistence in the region.
A more accurate understanding of the true nature of the conflict is a
necessary first step in order to deconstruct the accepted ‘truths’ and begin
to build a new vision of the region. Support for a different use of American
pressure and influence in the Holy Land is an essential prerequisite for a
solution based on the needs of the region’s people, rather than state-centric,
zero-sum policies, which continue to create winners and losers and
ultimately undermine real security. A different ‘frame’ for the conflict is
urgently needed, especially within the United States, if Israeli policy in the
Middle East is to meet with the necessary incentive to find a better solution
for its Palestinian neighbours.
Conclusion
…we live in a fundamentally ambiguous social world – a world in which per-
sons, objects, and actions have no inherent or essential meaning. If meaning is
not inherent, then it must be created – imposed on action, events, or things
through human action. But action is necessarily situated in a specific place and
time. The meaning imposed is limited by and relative to the context in which
meaning is generated. Moreover, because action in situations is inevitably struc-
tured by groups that dominate those situations, those groups enjoy an inherent
advantage in determining the meaning derived from action in situations.
(Wolfsfeld 1997: 32) Davis, D.K.
74
Andrew Piner
18. For a representative
example of these
arguments see Morris
(2001: chapter 12).
19. Under the terms of
the deal, all outstand-
ing debts were taken
on by the Palestinian
Authority, security
and policing of the
Palestinian
population was
ensured by Arafat’s
internationally
subsidized security
forces on behalf of
Israel, and costly
economic powers
such as health,
education, investment
and so forth came
under the jurisdiction
of the Palestinian
Authority.
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The ‘meanings’ and ‘truths’ that have been attached to the Israeli–
Palestinian conflict in the media are often contradictory and often invite
outrage from the opposing ‘camp’. By providing a critical lens for some of
the dominant ‘truths’ about the conflict, representatively encapsulated in
the debate over the Camp David summit, I have shown that significant
aspects of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict are being misrepresented in the
influential arena of the American press. This misrepresentation has had,
and continues to have, a detrimental effect on the prospects for a just reso-
lution that offers both security and peace for the region. As well as provoking
a lack of accountability in political circles, inaccurate press coverage and an
unequal power balance encourages a lack of incentive on both sides to find a
viable solution. The unequal character of the ‘peace process’ has been candidly
highlighted by Shimon Peres, who noted that Israel was ‘in some ways […]
negotiating with [itself]’ (Murphy 1995: 35).
In this article I have highlighted how the dominant press narrative in
the United States has provided an Israeli policy of ‘dressing up domination
as cooperation’ with a powerful and legitimizing voice in a country that
has a potentially transformative role to play in the conflict. Promoting a
lasting peace based on justice and reconciliation requires the long-term
support of an impartial United States in order to survive. Misleading nar-
ratives that dominate the mainstream US press about the conflict certainly
constitute a significant obstacle to impartiality or accountability in
US political involvement.
Widespread insecurity in the Middle East demands an end to inaccu-
rate and one-sided interpretation. If a solution is ever to be found in this
war-torn area, one of the first steps must be a willingness from all sides to
critically question their own ‘truths’ and to acknowledge that peace and
security can never be meaningfully achieved at the expense of others.
The future of this region is paramount to security in the whole of the
Middle East and indeed the wider world. Exposure to more critical and
honest accounts regarding the potential impact of allowing this struggle to
continue will create a growing incentive for a just solution. Greater
attempts to raise the profile of the tragic effects of the conflict on individ-
ual Palestinians might enable people to see that peace should not only be
sought as a means of security but as a moral goal that is beneficial for all
of humanity. Misrepresentation and deceitful interpretation of the conflict,
especially in the United States, might then make way for accounts that
promote justice and reconciliation in the region.
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Andrew Piner
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Safire, William (2000), ‘Why is Arafat Smiling?’, New York Times, 27 July.
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—— (2002), The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After, 2nd edn., London:
Granta Books.
Selby, Jan (2003a), Water, Power and Politics in the Middle East: The Other
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Shlaim, Avi (2000), The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, London: Penguin.
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Suggested citation
Piner, A. (2007), “The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’”,
Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research 1: 1, pp. 63–77, doi: 10.1386/
jammr.1.1.63/1
Contributor details
Andrew J. Piner currently works as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He has
worked extensively on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and was formerly a senior
researcher at the London-based Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies. He has also been
involved in social development work in the Arab world. He has a Master’s degree
in Critical Security Studies from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and a BA
Honours degree in History from the University of Durham, England. The views
and opinions represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not
represent any current or former employer. Contact: The Grove Cottage, Albert Rd
South, Malvern, Worcestershire, UK.
E-mail: andypiner@gmail.com
77
The US media, Camp David and the Oslo ‘peace process’
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Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.79/1
What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic
identity in contemporary Sweden
Corina Lacatus University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract
Contemporary Sweden is experiencing an interesting sociocultural phenomenon
of redefinition of national identity as a result of the rise of awareness of the everyday
reality of discrimination and segregation of first- and second-generation immigrants
from the Middle East, North Africa and Africa.
My article examines the formation and manifestations of a new kind of collective
consciousness of immigrants living in Sweden called blatte identity, defined by ethnic
markers constructed by opposition to the nationalistic ideals of an ethnically pure
Swedish identity. More specifically, my article examines the construction and affir-
mation of a special kind of blatte identity, called a thought sultan (tankesultan).
Briefly, a tankesuktan is a Swede of Arabic descent, proud of his Muslim back-
ground, and actively engaging in resisting the assimilative forces within Swedish
society. The concept was coined by the author Jonas Hassen Khemiri in his debut
novel entitled An Eye Red (Ett Öga Rött) published in 2003. My argument
discusses the trajectory of the concept from the artistic and literary realm into public
discourse through the help of mass media, as well as the relation to other terms in
the official and public discourse, such as immigrant, black skull (svartskalle), or
ethnic Swede (svenne). From being an individual marker of ethnic belonging to the
community of Arabic-speaking, Muslim immigrants to Sweden, a thought sultan
(tankesultan) is used as a common denominator for some of the members of the
immigrant community living in Sweden who like to consider their marginal social
status and their everyday life marked by ethnic and religious discrimination. An
instance of such use can be found in the magazine Gringo that is distributed for free
in Sweden’s large urban areas, which made use of this concept as a categorizational
tool of ethnic otherness for blattar, or immigrants, alongside other stereotyping
concepts and images circulating in the public discourse of contemporary Sweden.
In contemporary Sweden, more and more intellectual voices react against
an old-fashioned way of dividing the world in easily measured nationalistic
dichotomies, such as us versus themor Swedes versus the immigrant other that
leads to segregation and the deliberate effacing of sociocultural nuances,
variations and complexities. Regardless of the people one talks to, from
women living in semi-segregation in the immigrant suburb of Malmvägen
in Sollentuna to a successful writer nominated for the Augustpriset, Jonas
Hassen Khemiri, one encounters the same subsided anger and stubborn
resistance to categorization. Legal terminology that organizes people as
foreign or Swedish based on their background, while concepts that circulate
in contemporary public discourse, such as blatte and its variants, are
79 JAMMR 1 (1) pp. 79–92 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
migration
diaspora
ethnic identity
blatte
mass media
cultural expression
Arab world
Islam
literature
Sweden
JAMMR_1.1_06_art_Lacatus.qxd 12/17/07 7:54 PM Page 79
experienced as oppressive, discriminatory and, very importantly, as effective
ways to invalidate one’s personal identity and individuality.
This article discusses the concept of blatte and traces its semantic
trajectory in various media, from its earlier everyday use as a discrimina-
tory term referring to Eastern European immigrants, to the more general
meaning acquired in the past ten years’ mass media, referring to a larger
number of immigrant minorities living in Sweden, such as South American,
Eastern European, African and Middle Eastern. The focus of this analysis is
to identify the religious and cultural aspects of the blatte category that are
related to both the Arab world and Islam, in order to understand the com-
plex processes of identity negotiation at work in contemporary Sweden.
Muslims represent one of the groups encompassed by the semantic scope
of blatte, sometimes referred to as thought sultans. In both the mass media
and literature today, sociocultural characteristics attributed to Muslim
blattar are extrapolated to such a degree that they become general feats of
the Swede with non-Swedish ancestry, of the other.
Blatte and its semantic scope
The term blatte is used interchangeably with black skull (svartskalle), and
immigrant (invandrare/immigrant). These terms have been in public use since
after World War Two and their meaning has been negotiated time and time
again. Immigrant and invandrare have been the preferred concepts for official
designation of people that have moved to Sweden and their offspring, while
black skull is a derogatory term initially referring to Eastern European
labour immigrants to Sweden, whose distinctive physical feat was their dark
hair colour. In the past ten years, blatte has become more popular and
together with black skull has become a household term, whose meaning is
linked with a new sociocultural phenomenon initiated in the mid-1990s,
namely the affirmation of immigrant identity grounded in ethnic pride. For
the first time, representations of immigrants as the negative, inferior and
marginal counterpart to ethnic Swedes are contested by self-representations
of black skulls as complex, multidimensional and proud of their diverse eth-
nic heritage. On the one hand, blatte is used as a conceptual marker of social
and cultural otherness and becomes an instrument of ethnic segregation; on
the other hand, blatte is a perennialist identity marker for people who iden-
tify with characteristics associated with this concept.
The term blatte is one of the most controversial and problematic concepts
used actively in everyday speech and public discourse in Sweden. It is both
a term of philosophical interrogation and of open debate in the Swedish
mass media in the past couple of years. In the online dictionary at the
Swedish Language Council,
1
blatte (blattar pl.) is defined as a derogatory
term used in the past in reference to African people and presently about
foreigners and immigrants to Sweden:
Bakgrunden till skällsordet blatte är mycket osäker. Kanske hänger det ihop
med ett verb blattra ‘pladdra, prata strunt’. Det verkar däremot osannolikt
att det skulle hänga ihop med italienska blatta ‘kackerlacka’.
Det kan beläggas åtminstone 1967, fast det kan gott vara äldre. Det finns
med i Gibsons Svensk slangordbok från 1969, både i betydelsen ‘pajas’ och i
betydelsen ‘neger’.
80
Corina Lacatus
1. Språknämnden at
http://www.
spraknamnden.se.
JAMMR_1.1_06_art_Lacatus.qxd 12/17/07 7:54 PM Page 80
Som skällsord om invandrare eller utlänning kan det beläggas i skrift
från 1986. Det anses mycket grovt.
[The origin of the pejorative term blatte is uncertain. It could be related to
the verb blattra, which means ‘babble, prattle’. It seems highly unlikely that it
would be etymologically related to the Italian blatta, which means cockroach.
It can be dated back to 1967, but may be much older than that. Gibson’s
Swedish Slang Dictionary, published in 1969, records two meanings: ‘clown’
and ‘nigger, Negro’.
It can be dated back to 1986 as a derogatory term used in written texts
for immigrant or foreigner. It is considered to be very offensive.]
In metaphorical terms, blatte encapsulates the crisis of Swedish nationalism
driven by a mono-ethnic ideology, at the encounter with migration from
specific parts of the world, such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe and
Eurasia, Africa and South America. Although the concept does not have a
clearly defined referent, there is a noticeable tendency to draw a distinc-
tion between its users in the spirit of the perennialist school of thought – if
people who think of themselves as ‘blattar’ use the word to refer to them-
selves or other people they recognize as peers, the word loses its deroga-
tory connotation and gains an aura of resistance to discrimination,
segregation and the authority of legal official categorization. It is usually
characteristic of both young immigrants who have lived most of their lives
in Sweden, and their children born in Sweden. But any other immigrant
who can prove to be worthy of the epithet can use it self-referentially.
Nevertheless, there are heritage or non-heritage Swedes who could never
be considered blattar, since they are rarely the object of ethnic discrimination,
such as people moving to Sweden from the other Scandinavian and West
European countries, North America or East Asia.
The word blatte is not considered to be a perfect synonym for invan-
drare. The definitional arguments of blatte as an ethnic category presented
above are clearly linked to a specific locality, by accommodating people
that are immigrants and/or by living in the immigrant suburbs. Additionally,
blatte ethnic identity is also linked to questions of class, since blattar have a
working-class background, and the discourse of race, since the ethnic
group has to bear the distinctive marks of a non-Nordic skin, eye and hair
colour (non-Caucasian, blue eyes and blond hair). Blatte is also an epithet
of choice, a self-proclaimed state of mind and action on the part of people
who feel discriminated against, oftentimes flaunted with pride as an act of
social resistance and defiance.
Jonas Hassen Khemiri: blattar and hip-hop-style thought
sultans
In the August 2003 episode of the classic Program 1 summer radio pro-
gramme entitled Summer Talk (Sommarprat), the young author Jonas
Hassen Khemiri builds his radiophonic autobiographical monologue
around music. Hip-hop songs, in English and in Swedish, punctuate
events in his life, enhancing their meaning and celebrating their real-
life heroes. Also, hip-hop’s articulation of everyday life is the driving
force of Khemiri’s debut novel, An Eye Red (Ett öga rött), in which Khemiri
lets rhythm and literary prose interweave to create an experimental and
81
What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic identity in contemporary Sweden
JAMMR_1.1_06_art_Lacatus.qxd 12/17/07 7:54 PM Page 81
original narrative, showing unprecedented linguistic artistry in Swedish
literature. Khemiri continues and enriches their ideological legacy and
creates a rich novelistic universe in which immigrant experiences
are mingled with adolescent rebelliousness, emotional and hormonal
confusion, linguistic playfulness and, very importantly, racism and ethnic
discrimination.
Khemiri’s debut novel builds around the blatte concept and constructs
a fictional semantic scope for it. The main character, teenage Halim, for-
mulates a blatte ontology according to which everything in the world is
either Swedish or non-Swedish, or rather svenne or blatte. He defines these
types with the help of categories inspired by stereotypes about immigrants
that are commonplace in contemporary public discourse. And the perfect
illustration of this dichotomous world is the identity he constructs for him-
self as a special kind of blatte, namely the thought sultan. Khemiri’s rhetor-
ical strategy is founded on the construction of a gallery of characters that
refuse to become perfect illustrations of the stereotyped reality Halim cre-
ates for them. The driving force of the narrative is the main character’s
unfulfilled desire to be the perfect representation of the thought-sultan
identity he constructed for himself. Narrative unreliability stems precisely
from the incongruity between Halim’s need to live up to his ideal of blatte
identity and the ontological rigidity of the stereotypes he uses to construct
the identity.
An Eye Red (Ett öga rött) is a novel about identity. The narrative written
in the first person centres on Halim’s multiple attempts to give structure to
the diverse world around him and also define a unique category for himself.
He reduces people to two major groups, blattar and Swedes, and places
himself in the former category as a special kind of non-heritage Swede,
namely the thought sultan.
Identity formation is a dynamic process of othering (Lacan 1975), of
simultaneously distancing from oneself and mirroring into reality and
people outside of oneself. Jacques Lacan illustrates identity construction
through the metaphor of the broken mirror. At a very early age, the infant
experiences a sense of his/her own body as distant, as the other, when
he/she sees its reflection in the mirror for the first time. The self is a collage
of experiences reflected by pieces of a mirror and arranged in a coherent
entity by imagination.
Halim’s fictional self is constructed by attempts to position himself in
relation to other characters in the narrative. Most of the characters are
constructed schematically to illustrate the twofold world order defined by
Halim. The dominant figures, however, Dalanda
2
, his father Otman and
deceased mother, and his fleeting love interest, Malin, are too complex to
fit Halim’s rigid ethnically based dichotomous reality. According to Halim,
a teenage blatte’s identity is articulated primarily by ethnicity and unusual
public behaviour justified by a penchant for hip-hop culture. Three different
types can be identified in the blatte category – the gangsta, the good guy,
and the thought sultan, or the revolutionary blatte. Moreover, while the
svenne category might be rather limited despite its social dominance and
alleged superiority over the immigrants, the blatte category is large enough
to encompass almost everything non-Swedish, whether non-heritage or
simply foreign:
82
Corina Lacatus
2. Dalanda is a female
character that exerts
a powerful influence
over Halim in the
beginning of the
novel. She encourages
the main character
to define himself as
an Arab and value
Arabic cultural and
religious traditions
over the Swedish.
JAMMR_1.1_06_art_Lacatus.qxd 12/17/07 7:54 PM Page 82
I dag har jag filosoferat fram en teori om svennarna och svartskallarna på
skolan: [...] Blattarna på skolan är inte så många men kommer ändå i två
versioner. Nummer ett är den vanliga blatten: knasaren, snikaren, snattaren,
ligisten. Som exempel kan man ta Sebastian och Angelo. I Skäris bästa exem-
plet är Alonzo för det var han som lärde Juan hur vi skulle handla
50-örestuggummin på Gottoken efter ha lagt Snicker och Raiders i jackäm-
nen. Det är tack vare han jag vet hur man hittar civilsnutar i folksamlingar
och förstärker soft air guns till riktiga vapen. Blattesort nummer två är duk-
tighetskillen som pluggar prov och använder finord och aldrig plankar tun-
nelbanan eller taggish. Som exempel vi har tvillingarna Fuad och Fadi plus
alla andra iranier som smörar lärare och vill bli tandläkare och ingenjörer.
Dom tror dom får respekt men egentligen alla lärare skrattar åt dom för man
fattar dom är vilsna.
Men i dag jag har filosoferat fram det finns också en tredje blattesort som
står helt fri och är den som svennarna hatar mest: revolutionsblatten, tanke-
sultanen. Den som ser igenom alla lögner och som aldrig låter sig luras.
Ungefär som al-Kindi som knäckte alla koder och skrev flera tusen grymma
böcker om astronomi och filosofi men också om musik och matte. Förra termi-
nen jag var nog mest knasaren men från nu jag svär jag ska bli tankesultan.
(Khemiri 2003: 38)
[Today I’ve philosophized on a theory about Swedes and black skulls at
school: [...] The blattar at school are not that many but can still be found in
two versions. Number one if the normal blatte: the crook, hood, thug, gangsta.
For instance, Sebastian and Angelo. The best example in Skäris is Alonzo cuz
he was the one who taught Juan how to buy 50-cent chewing gum at
Gottoken after putting Snickers and Raiders up his sleeve. Thanks to him
I know now how to spot police in plain clothes in a crowd and how to upgrade
soft air guns to real guns. Blatte type number two is intelligent guy that studies
for tests and uses nice words, never sneaks onto the subway trains without
paying and never writes tags. For instance the twins Fuad and Fadi plus all
the other Iranians that butter up teachers and want to become dentists and
engineers. They think that they get respect but the teachers really laugh at
them cuz they get that they’re really lost.
But today I’ve philosophized on a new kind of blatte, who stands free and
is the one Swedes hate the most: the revolution blatte, the thought sultan. He
sees through all lies and never lets anybody fool them. Almost like al-Kindi
who hacked all kinds of codes and wrote several thousands awesome books
on astronomy and philosophy but also on music and math. Last quarter I
was more the gansta type but I swear that from now on I’ll turn more into a
thought sultan.]
The first blatte type is the gangsta, the person who does not fear to manifest
publicly his status as ethnic other through violent, illegal behaviour. Most
likely inspired by the American gangsta’ hip-hop, or at least by its repre-
sentations in the mass media and films, Halim’s gangsta is the teenager
who steals Snickers bars cool-headedly while paying the price of a chewing
gum, is able to spot a policeman in a large crowd and can handle guns
skilfully. The second kind of blatte is the socially proper Persian good kid,
the lost blatte, who never misses school because he wants to become a dentist
83
What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic identity in contemporary Sweden
JAMMR_1.1_06_art_Lacatus.qxd 12/17/07 7:54 PM Page 83
Corina Lacatus
84
or an engineer, never writes graffiti, nor is able to realize that the teachers
despise him in spite of his hard work. And there is also a third kind of
blatte, the thought sultan or the revolutionary blatte, who represents the
epitome of blatte wisdom by being able to discern truth from lies in a world
dominated by Swedes (svennar) and to identify the multiple everyday man-
ifestations of the universal anti-blatte conspiracy. And Halim envisions
himself as belonging to the third category. Halim is trapped in a dichoto-
mous view of the world as divided into us and them, svenne Swedes and
blattar, characterized by stereotypes and clichés, and cannot seem to
escape it. By organizing the world around him according to this duality,
Halim reinforces ethnic differences between the two groups, ultimately
reaffirming discrimination and racism.
A blatte is a dark-haired masculine man, who takes pride in his foreign
heritage, enjoys a hip-hop lifestyle, and can code switch between standard
Swedish and Swedish with a thick foreign accent whenever appropriate.
On the other hand, a Swede is a person from a wealthy family, who dresses
well even when trying to pass for a hip-hop fan, speaks standard Swedish
and is opinionated about literature and music:
Man kan säga det finns tre sorters svennar. Först det är lyxsvennarna som
spelar maffia fast på svennevis. Dom har märken som är dyra fast ändå dom
har små loggor och syns mindre än dyra blattemärken. (Svartskallar spelar
rika mera ärliga.) [...]
Ändå lyxsvennarna är ganska få för nästan alla i skolan hör till lodis-
gänget som går klädda i tattartrasor med söndriga skinnjackor och jeansen
maxat håliga. Ofta dom har total oreda i håren och ibland tjejerna har långa
sammetskjolar och rutade strumpor. Om man vill bli en av dom man måste
säga ryssar gör bästa poesin och lyssna på Bob Hund istället for Snoop Doggy
Dogg. [...]
Tredje svennesorten är dansklassarna fast egentligen man ser dom inte
ofta på skolan för jämt dom hänger uppe i balettsalen och tränar träjning.
Danstjejerna är pyttesmala och har knutfrisyr och killarna är kanske fyra-
fem stycken per klass och ger alltid leenden på skolfotot som riktiga bögar.
Alla dansklassare går med tårna utåt och ryggen rak som värsta bräda.
(Khemiri 2003: 37)
[We can say that there are three different kinds of Swedes. First come the luxury
Swedes who act like mafiosi, only in a Swedish way. They have expensive
brand clothes, but their logos are small compared to the blatte brands and you
can barely see them. (Black skulls act like rich people in a more real way.) [...]
But there aren’t that many luxury Swedes cuz most people at school are
in the bums’ gang that walk around wearing Tatar-style rags with torn
leather jackets and jeans with huge holes. Oftentimes their hair is all messy
and sometimes girls have lace skirts and checkered socks. If you want to be
one of them you have to say that Russians write the best poetry and listen to
Bob Hund instead of Snoop Doggy Dogg. [...]
The third kind of Swede is in the dance classes though you don’t really
see them at school so much cuz they hang out in the ballet studio and practise
their practice. The dance girls are super tiny and wear their hair in a bun
and the guys are like four or five in each class and always smile in the school
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What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic identity in contemporary Sweden
85
photo like real gays. All in the dance class walk with their toes outward and
their backs straight like timber.]
Halim’s view of the blattar is formed through the reversal of the
Swedish/blatte dichotomy and the power relations at work in contempo-
rary Sweden’s everyday reality. He constructs an imaginary world where
blattar are more powerful than svennar and manifest their dominance in
subversive ways. His fictional reality is composed of essentialist interactions
among blattar and svennar might, enhancing Halim’s blatte identity:
Aldrig jag kommer äta sur strömming med sillnubbe på Skansen eller dansa
smågrodor i träskor runt töntigaste midsommarstång. Aldrig jag kommer
låta politikerna förbjuda buffalos eller spänniströjor eller höja hårvaxpriser.
När Dalanda berättade jag trodde henne, men ändå jag visste inte tecknen
var så här tydliga.
(Khemiri 2003: 56)
[I will never eat fermented Baltic herring with aquavit at Skansen or dance
the little frogs’ dance while wearing wooden clogs around the the dummest
midsummer may pole. I will never let politicians ban buffalo shoes and
stretchy sweaters or raise the price of hairwax. When Dalanda told me about
this, I believed her, but I still didn’t know the signs were so evident.]
Halim strives to become a free thinker and to make a leap of faith from
being a gangsta blatte to becoming a thought sultan, but is not aware of his
unchanging and bounded ontological status. A thought sultan is merely
another type of blatte, an intellectual and free thinker, whose main acquired
skill is the ability to discern anti-blatte conspiracies organized by Swedes. As
a non-heritage Swede, or a blatte, he is a cultural and linguistic hybrid.
The meaning of the concept of a thought sultan is determined by one’s
Arabic ethnicity and Muslim religious beliefs; the second word of the com-
pound, ‘sultan’, implies the existence of a certain authority or power
exerted over a group of people of the same Muslim confession. The word
tanke, or thought, gives the prototypical thought sultan a reflective quality,
similar to the one of a philosopher of religion. In Halim’s words, however,
the concept acquires a new meaning contextualized in contemporary
Sweden, designating an immigrant with intellectual preoccupations and
an uncanny ability to identify manifestations of assimilationist subversiveness
in the political, public and personal spheres dominated by Swedes. The
kind of power Halim attributes to a thought sultan is exercised subver-
sively in the name of the anti-Swedish revolution rather than the religion
of the Koran, and confers this special kind of blatte a higher status among
its non-heritage Swedish peers due to his critical cunning. Yet this seman-
tic distance from the word’s connotative and denotative meanings becomes
a very efficient stylistic device, meant to induce the reader’s mistrust of the
main character as a reliable narrator.
In other words, thought sultan is a higher position in the blatte ontology,
and Halim strives to occupy it. Its etymological make-up is inspired by
Arabic culture, while its referential scope is imaginary, modified by Halim’s
own fictitious understanding of it. The concept’s newly acquired meaning is
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significant for the understanding of Halim’s psychological disposition
throughout the novel – it is the embodiment of his need to dominate and
control an entirely diasporic world he constructs from indistinct memories of
early childhood in Morocco and fragments of conversation with his father.
Halim creates a world much like a diasporic collage, as the expression of his
need to ground himself in a world outside of Sweden that feels familiar and
welcoming. Moreover, the entire narrative is the representation of Halim’s
struggle to combine the two worlds he likes to inhabit, namely contemporary
Sweden and an imaginary diasporic land of thought sultans.
To Halim, hip-hop culture represents the only acceptable kind of social
behaviour, since it is grounded in a sense of rebelliousness and resistance to
all forms of authority, attempting to sublimate anger and frustration in
scratching, dancing, rapping and graffiti writing. And the most appealing
reality to Halim is tagging, which is a simplified form of graffiti writing,
mostly as a manifestation of his feelings of alienation and frustration with
ethnic discrimination by Swedes. In the greater process of shaping an identity
built on ethnicity and a sense of belonging to a community, Halim’s writing of
his own name on walls around the city acts as a kind of symbolic self-affir-
mation, a visual manifestation of the only power he can exert over other peo-
ple, and a metaphorical projection of his desired thought-sultan identity:
Jag lovade från nu fittorna kommer ångra dom försöker göra om Halim till
en puckellös kamel och nu det är totalkrig för släktingar till Hannibal och
Saladin ger sig ALDRIG. Innan jag gick tillbaka till klassen jag attackerade
två toaletter nära slöjdsalen, kryssade alla keffa tags och fyllde varje kakel
med svarta stjärnor och månar.
(Khemiri 2003: 22)
[I promised that starting now those cunts will regret trying to turn Halim
into a humpless camel and now we’re at war cuz Hannibal’s and Saladin’s
relatives NEVER give up. Before I went back to the classroom I attacked two
bathrooms by the crafts’ room, drew all over the bad tags and filled every
single tile with black stars and moons.]
In the spirit of hip-hop, Halim portrays himself as a typical oversexualized
man, enjoying the company of women on a physical level. In Halim’s
mind, sexuality is regarded as an ethnic marker for men of Arabic descent,
differentiating them from the much more feminine svennar. As an estab-
lished thought sultan living in the ivory tower located in old Baghdad,
Halim gets the attention and interest of numerous women due exclusively
to his unusually refined intelligence:
Jag satt där på geografin och kände mig som gammal arabisk vetenskaps-
man med fez och snabelskor som bodde i torn (kanske gamla Bagdad). Jag
hade kikare som räckte hela vägen till Europa och rykte som gjorde att
andra lärda tittade på mitt torn med blandad hat och nyfikenhet. Dessutom
jag var värsta kosmonovan och hade massa gussar som ville komma till mitt
torn för att röka shisha och sen baza bara för jag var så grymmish klokish.
(Såklart dom skulle få fetdiss för Marit är min enda.)
(Khemiri 2003: 109)
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[I was sitting in geography class feeling like an old Arabic scientist with fez
and snail-like shoes who lives in a tower (maybe in old Baghdad). I had
binoculars that saw all the way to Europe and smoked so much that all the
other wise men looked at my tower with a mix of hatred and curiosity.
Moreover, I was the best Cosmonova and lots of girls wanted to come to my
tower to smoke shisha and later just fuck cuz I was so phat smart. (Of course,
I would diss them big time, cuz Marit is the only one for me.)]
Yet another time, Halim compensates unsatisfactory reality with an imagined
world where he would be the object of everybody’s envy and the centre of
women’s attention – instead of being a rebellious and aggressive teenager,
with no girlfriend and very few friends, he thinks of himself as a classical
Arabic scholar with a rapper’s sex appeal.
Gringo: thought sultans in the written press
Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s fictional definition of blattar as well as his concep-
tual construction, the thought sultan, entered contemporary Sweden’s
public sphere through his very popular debut novel. Moreover, the mass
media popularized the terms in numerous reviews of the book or bio-
graphical articles about the author. There is one newspaper, however, that
continues An Eye Red’s ideological agenda of problematizing the dichotomy
us/them or blattar/Swedes and draws heavily from the same Swedish hip-
hop tradition. The magazine Gringo, whose chief editor Adami, turned the
duality svenne/blatte into a successful business idea. It is a series of articles
published monthly in the free daily newspaper Metro and collected four
times a year in a separate magazine called Gringo Grande. The magazine is
written in what the editors call ‘One Million Project Swedish’ (miljonsven-
ska), a term that refers to the government housing project from the late
1960s, thus anchoring their journalism into a tradition of spatial and ide-
ological resistance to authority. Their linguistic choice is justified simply
and unproblematically in a 7 November article by Nivette Dawod: ‘Gringo
has made the deliberate choice of calling it ‘million’ Swedish, since it is the
kind of Swedish spoken in the ‘million programme’ areas in Sweden.’
3
Gringo continues the Latin Kings’ and Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s agendas of
resistance to discrimination in a journalistic format. Ultimately, the ideo-
logical goal of the editorial board is to shape its readers’ critical thinking,
demystify the word blatte, and symbolically redefine the power imbalance
it connotes:
Vart ordet blatte kommer ifrån ursprungligen vet vi inte. Den hetaste teorin
är att det kommer från franskan och betyder kackerlacka. En annan är att
blatte kommer från blading som är ett bladätande kryp. Oavsett ordets
ursprung föddes det inte av kärlek från början. När allt fler avvek från den
blonda mallen behövdes ett nedvärderande begrepp för att markera att vitt
är bäst. Gringos mål är att ifrågasätta den hierarkin. Vi menar att vitt är lika
bra som svart och alla andra färger med för den delen. Vårt sätt har varit att
avdramatisera och lyfta upp blatte för att jämna ut nivåskillnaden. Genom
att inte använda ordet går vi annars med på att det är sämre och reproducerar
på så sätt maktobalansen. Det senaste året har vi sett en högkonjunktur för
användningen av ordet blatte. En liten T-shirt trend för märket ‘Blattelicious’.
87
What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic identity in contemporary Sweden
3. ‘Gringo väljer att kalla
det miljonsvenska
eftersom det är en
svenska som pratas i
miljonprogramsområ-
den i Sverige.’
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Rekryteringbolaget ‘Blatteförmedlingen’. Prisutdelningen ‘Blatte de lux’. Och
sist men inte minst ‘blattesvenska’. Ordet har tagit sitt första steg i att inte
vara lika känsligt och bli allt mer rumsrent. Allt fler blattar tar till sig epitetet
med stolthet. Samtidigt finns det fortfarande många som blir sårade när
någon kallar dem för blatte. Och de ska respekteras. Är du osäker på om du
vågar använda ordet eller inte så fråga. Med tiden hoppas jag att ordet blatte
försvinner. Det kommer hända när vi slutar dela upp oss och alla ser varandra
som svenskar.
(Adami 2006)
[We do not know the origin of the word blatte. The hottest theory is that the
word comes from French and means ‘cockroach’. Another theory is that
blatte comes from blading, which is a kind of leaf beet. Regardless of the origin,
the word was definitely not born out of love. More and more people started
breaking the patter of blond hair, and the need for a new word surfaced,
indicating the fact that being white is the best. Gringo’s goal is to question
this hierarchy. We believe that white is just as good as black, or any other
skin colour for that matter. Our strategy has been to normalize and elevate
blatte in order to level out the hierarchical difference. If we don’t use the
word, we acknowledge that that it is worse, thus reinforcing the power
imbalance. This past year, the use of the word blatte has been particularly
profitable. A fashion trend with t-shirts featuring logos for a company named
‘Blattelicious’. A recruitment company called ‘The Blatte Agency’. Or the
‘Blatte de Luxe’ award. And last but not least, ‘blatte Swedish’. The term has
moved toward desensitization and political correctness. More and more blattar
embrace the epithet proudly. There are still quite a few people who feel
offended when somebody calls them blattar. And that should be taken in
consideration. Are you unsure whether you should dare to use the word or
not, please write to us. We are hoping that the word blatte is going to disappear
in time. But that will only happen when we stop dividing ourselves and
everybody starts considering himself/herself a Swede.]
Gringo turns Halim’s blatte ontology from fictional ideology into a journal-
istic representation of everyday stereotypes circulating in contemporary
Sweden’s public sphere. In the first issue of the magazine Gringo Grande of
July 2005, Mayrem Can writes a psychometric test meant to determine
which stereotype category one belongs to. According to him, stereotypes
are the best way to measure the evolution of prejudice in a society:
Stereotyperna i samhället behövs fett mycket, utan dem skulle det bli himla
svårt att hålla reda på alla fördomar, till exempel. Vilken stereotyp är du?
J-Lo, Bling-bling eller kanske en Tankesultan?
(Can 2005)
[Stereotypes are a social necessity. If they didn’t exist, it would be awfully dif-
ficult to keep track of many things around us, including prejudice. What’s
your stereotype? J-Lo? Bling bling, or perhaps the Thought Sultan?]
If one selects more ‘A’ answers, thus fitting the description of a self-
absorbed rocker with an intellectual side, who likes to use his/her free time
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for thinking and philosophizing and has Noam Chomsky as a role model,
one is a thought sultan. Can recontextualizes Khemiri’s term, focusing
more on the thought sultan’s intellectual preoccupations rather than
Halim’s religious or cultural references to the Arab world and Muslims:
A. Tankesultanen (tjej/kille)
Du tänker och tänker, så att du tänker på vad du tänkte att du skulle tänka.
Du tänker på precis allt och ser ner på alla som inte tänker, som dig, dåra. Du
har rufsig frisyr, basker, liten skäggodling, glasögon med feta bågar, slitna
manchesterbyxor, grön militärinspirerad jacka och anser dig vara en intellek-
tuell snubbinna/snubbe. Du vägrar erkänna att din bara existens är syn-
onym med ‘pretto’.
[A. The thought sultan
You think and think, so that you end up thinking about what you think that
you should be thinking. You think about everything and look down on people
who don’t think like you. Just fools. Your hair’s lank and a little dishevelled;
you wear a beret, glasses with thick black frames, worn-out pants, and a
green military-style coat. You call yourself an intellectual.]
This is an interesting example of semantic renegotiation occurring in
the public sphere – characteristics initially identified as typically Muslim
or Arabic become general feats of the blatte, of the non-Swedish other in
general.
The concept blatte appears overdetermined and saturated, despite the
semantic ambiguity of its referent in real life. In more abstract terms, blatte
is a sociocultural metaphor that stands for a current sociocultural reality
in Sweden; it also stands for a raised awareness of both the prevalence of
the us/them dichotomy in our understanding of the world around us and
the necessity to resist and combat ethnic discrimination and segregation.
Blatte encapsulates several ethnic markers of sociocultural otherness. Its
referent is overdetermined by numerous definitions that attempt to delimit
a fixed space of signification, a sociocultural context that would make all
blattar visible, identifiable and more easily categorized in the greater
national discourse of Swedish identity. To a self-identified blatte, visibility
created with the help of official categories or everyday labels is not only
a personal offence, but also the reaffirmation of the power imbalance
represented by the dichotomy of us/them.
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Suggested citation
Lacatus, C. (2007), ‘What is a blatte? Migration and ethnic identity in contempo-
rary Sweden’, Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research 1: 1, pp. 79–92,
doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.79/1
Contributor detail
Corina Lacatus teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is a
research affiliate with The Center for Research on International Migration and
Ethnic Relations at Stockholm University. She graduated from Bucharest University
(Romania) with a BA in Arabic and Scandinavian and from University of California,
Los Angeles with a doctoral thesis discussing ethnicity and cultural expression in
contemporary Sweden. She is interested in the issues of migration to Western
Europe and its representations, the Middle East, and the interplay between cultural
history, literature, the arts and the law. Contact: Department of Germanic
Languages and Literatures, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2090
Foreign Languages Building, 707 S. Mathews Avenue, Urbana, Illinois 61801 USA,
Research Affiliate, The Centre for Research on International Migration and Ethnic
Relations, Stockholm University
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Book Reviews
Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research Volume 1 Number 1 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Book Reviews. English language. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.1.93/5
New Media and the New Middle East, Philip Seib (ed.), (2007)
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 284 pp., Hardcover, ISBNs:
1403979731, 978-1403979735, Price: £42.50.
Reviewed by Olivia Allison
Is the media a weapon ‘lying in the street’, as Richard Clutterbuck once
wrote, or a tool for democratization in the Middle East? Put more simply,
do media stimulate change, positive or negative, in the Middle East? Media
studies have been attempting to answer these difficult questions in the
Middle East for years, particularly after the emergence of pan-Arab satellite
TV channels. (Indeed, media scholars have attempted to answer this difficult
question globally for decades.)
This valuable edited volume’s title, New Media and the New Middle East,
obliquely references US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement
that the 2006 Israel–Lebanon war may represent the birth pangs of a
‘new Middle East’. Positioning the media as the potential agent for creat-
ing this new Middle East, this volume provides articles addressing numer-
ous aspects of new media development in the Middle East, ranging from
country- and situation-specific issues to timely contributions to academic
debates. Topics include Al-Jazeera’s public diplomacy as an international
actor, women’s blogs in Kuwait, pan-Arab TV stations’ talk shows, Israeli
and Palestinian use of the Internet, and Middle Eastern press freedom.
Three primary themes emerge from this volume, which deserve fur-
ther explanation: credibility, the role of Al-Jazeera, and political agitation/
resistance.
Roots of credibility
One word of significant concern to this volume’s authors is ‘credibility’,
which appears first in the Preface and continues as a theme throughout
many of the subsequent chapters. In much of the book, the concept is not
defined, despite its potentially contentious meaning, but the best definition
of the topic comes from Mohammed El-Nawawy, who quotes Dominic
Infante’s definition of source credibility: ‘a set of attitudes toward a source
that influence how receivers behave toward the source’, based on expertness
and trustworthiness (p. 126).
Most other references to press freedom in the Middle East hinge on
Arabness: Philip Seib and Sahar Khamis, respectively, assert that media
credibility in the Middle East, particularly for Al-Jazeera, is based on its
quality as ‘by Arabs for Arabs’ (pp. xiii, 41). Shahira Fahmy and Thomas
J. Johnson assert that there are links between individuals’ most-used
news medium and its credibility, as well as the possibility of a link
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between media credibility and perceptions of press freedom in the Middle
East (pp. 85–86).
It is here that ‘expertness’ and ‘trustworthiness’ are useful: people do
not turn to Al-Jazeera simply because it is Arab. Seib argues that domestic
news organizations in the Middle East, most of which are also Arab, have
less credibility than pan-Arab stations because they are seen as subject to
more political pressures (p. 3). Al-Jazeera may be more credible for its view-
ers than CNN because it is Arab, but Al-Jazeera may also be more credible
than national outlets because of its perceived press freedom. (This may not
always be true, however: Samar al-Roomi argues that for domestic issues,
domestic news outlets are viewed as more trustworthy in Kuwait (p. 144).)
Issues of credibility in the Middle East deserve further research, both
for those studying US or European public diplomacy but also because it
may prove instructive about why audiences tune in to various outlets. For
instance, Mohammed El-Nawawy’s explanation of US-run Radio Sawa’s
and Al Hurra TV’s failure as stemming from a lack of credibility (although
the music on Radio Sawa is popular) is a useful summary of problems with
these stations. Credibility of other US messages on local pan-Arab stations,
however, is not addressed in any public diplomacy studies in this volume,
and would be a useful area for future research.
Evaluating or excluding Al-Jazeera
Any evaluation of the change-making role of new media in the Middle
East is likely to include a significant examination of Al-Jazeera, and this
volume is no exception. The articles specifically examining Al-Jazeera go
beyond the usual discussions of influence on the station or its freedom,
however.
Two chapters examine at various levels whether over-reliance on Al-
Jazeera is distorting opinions of Middle Eastern media. Shahira Fahmy and
Thomas J. Johnson’s chapter asks whether regular reliance on Al-Jazeera’s
TV and online programming affects audience perceptions of Middle
Eastern press freedom. This article, although aimed at a self-selecting
group (responses to a survey on the Al-Jazeera website), provides an inter-
esting statistical analysis, ultimately finding that after controlling for vari-
ables like political activity and age/education, reliance on Al-Jazeera did
not significantly alter comments on regional press freedom (p. 93).
Mark Lynch’s article evaluating pan-Arab TV (Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya)
talk shows criticizes previous over-reliance on Faisal al-Qassem’s The Opposite
Direction, branching out to evaluate four talk shows’ coverage of Middle
Eastern development in early 2004. Lynch’s analysis ultimately finds that the
various types of debate (from audience call-in programmes to almost-staged
debates) constitute a range of discussions beyond Jon Alterman’s ‘professional
wrestling’ formulation. In content, too, the range of opinions stretches
beyond simple hostility ‘to the American project, [extending] also to the per-
spective of the Arab regimes eager to stifle reform’ (p. 116).
Two other chapters examine Al-Jazeera’s public diplomacy and ability
to build bridges between supposedly warring civilizations. As noted above,
Sahar Khamis attempts to posit Al-Jazeera English’s unique position in a
‘dialogue between civilizations’ (p. 49), where Al-Jazeera cannot because
of language, education and technological barriers. However, she leaves
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unanswered the question of whether Al-Jazeera English will have credibility
in either the Arab or English-speaking world.
Shawn Powers and Eytan Gilboa establish Al-Jazeera as an interna-
tional actor that has engaged in effective public diplomacy. Their analysis
of the difference between transnational corporations (TNCs) and interna-
tional media is a useful addition to the literature on TNCs in international
affairs. Similarly, their assertion that Al-Jazeera is an international actor
because other international actors treat it as one (pp. 53–60) is a topic
that should be explored further in a study of international institutions. It is
not clear what, barring diplomatic crises, define Al-Jazeera as a significant
international actor. For instance, if Al-Jazeera no longer provokes wide-
spread controversy on the diplomatic scene, as it did initially, does that
mean it drops out of its role as an international actor?
All of these chapters together reinforce perceptions of Al-Jazeera’s influ-
ence on the Middle Eastern sphere, but leave unanswered whether that
influence is stimulating change at the political level, particularly as diplo-
matic rows resulting from Al-Jazeera appear to occur far less frequently
now. It appears sufficient based on these arguments, however, to say that
with no other media outlet having the credibility (or at least audience),
Al-Jazeera’s impact will remain important.
Success of political agitation
In response to the unanswered question of whether the media constitute a
tool or a weapon, several chapters attempt to classify existing new media
trends as promoting resistance, political agitation or militant goals. Five
chapters address this topic.
Ibrahim Saleh’s chapter frames pan-Arab communication as a source
of a rise of pan-Arab identity, with counter-hegemonic implications
(p. 33). Despite this counter-hegemonic nature, however, Saleh argues
that pan-Arab media outlets have failed to produce a media image of
Arabs that lacks idealism and also challenges western ideas of Arabs
(pp. 34–35). Although this chapter offers a potential theoretical framework
for assessing the racism and counter-hegemonic influences of pan-Arab
media, Saleh’s chapter lacks concrete examples of pan-Arab media’s counter-
hegemonic outcomes. In addition, the influence of economic deprivation
(particularly regarding employment) on Arab identity and self-perceptions,
which is discussed briefly in the chapter, deserves further treatment.
Several other chapters focus on blogging and Internet media as potential
forms of resistance. Samar al-Roomi analyses Kuwaiti women’s blogs,
ultimately concluding that although the blogs analysed rarely discussed
politics, they could still be useful as political discussion with more peer
leadership and female political role models (pp. 152–53). After Yehiel
Limor describes the Israeli new media sphere, Chanan Naveh hypothesizes
that online interaction may add a new dimension to the global political
sphere, as evidenced in the second intifada’s ‘Palestinian–Israeli web war’.
Naveh found that various types of actors (national, individuals and virtual
communities) did use the Internet for conflict-related activities, creating a
propaganda war parallel to the real one (pp. 175–76).
Similarly, Orayb Aref Najjar argues that Palestinian use of new media has
expanded Palestinians’ reach to the international community by providing
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journalistic competition (within the framework of Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘field
theory’) over who has the right to tell the Palestinian story. So far, Najjar
argues, Palestinian media has flourished through the experimentation that
has occurred in the loosening of tight Israeli controls during various conflicts
(p. 206). Although Najjar attempts to argue that Palestinians are contesting
the images of Palestinians previously propagated by western and Israeli sources,
it would be useful to establish whether Palestinians’ self-representations have
been successful in contesting previous negative coverage. In particular, what
inhibits Palestinians’ more positive self-representations from reaching interna-
tional audiences – institutional difficulties, political difficulties or other factors?
Last, Maura Conway asserts in her chapter that information was power in
the 2006 Israel–Lebanon war and in the greater world of ‘Islamist’ groups,
comparing Al-Qaeda’s and Hezbollah’s new media successes, particularly on
the Internet. Conway focuses on the use of the Internet for what amounts to
essentially propaganda purposes: claiming responsibility for attacks, justifying
jihad, and other similar uses. Ultimately, she argues that US attempts to ban
or silence such propaganda outlets ultimately increase their popularity and
harm US political interests (pp. 151–52), handing victory to these groups.
In some ways, Conway’s argument is similar to that of emerging military
writing on the reinvention of ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns. Rupert Smith,
for example, in his recent book The Utility of Force, argues that although
Hezbollah technically lost the military conflict with Israel, its propaganda
campaign was so much more successful that Hezbollah’s long-term gains
constituted a victory. Both Conway’s and Smith’s arguments are difficult to
apply universally to other countries, however: It is precisely Hezbollah’s per-
ceived victimhood in the aftermath of heavy-handed Israeli strikes that
makes their narrative successful. The United States and Israel simply would
not be able to use this narrative successfully in the same way because their
credibility as ‘victims’ may not be sufficient. Therefore, the policy value of
these arguments is difficult to establish: although it may be true that US
bans on militant material hands victory to militant groups by increasing
their notoriety, what effective responses can a government take to be seen as
‘doing something’ against terrorism? Some scholars argue that the sites are
more useful for intelligence services than they are harmful to security, but
nonetheless, such stances may be difficult to sell to a militarized public.
Overall, these chapters are useful for establishing basics in how media
have operated in conflict and resistance situations in the past – or simply
for data on the current status of new media usage – but they lack strong
analysis on whether national or resistance groups’ new media usage have
actually changed the outcome of any resistance or conflict. In particular, it
would be useful to prove whether this new-media propaganda increases
recruits, positive publicity, sympathizers or funding.
Such unanswered questions are related to the overarching question of
whether media can stimulate, or are stimulating, change in the Middle
East, which this volume answers with a resounding ‘maybe’. Several
authors posit the media as a potential source for change, particularly
Ahmed El Gody, who argues that Middle Eastern governments’ crack-
downs on the Internet signal their fear of ‘Internet technology’s power to
change the status quo’ (p. 232). El Gody’s assertion is, however, more of
an idealistic statement than a hypothesis or proven fact.
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Thus, the overall tone of the book is one asserting a possibility that media
might stimulate change, but there are no strong arguments in this volume
of instances in which media have significantly contributed to a political
change. Media’s role in the January 2006 Palestinian elections, for instance,
is not examined (but should be). Similarly, how do pan-Arab or Egyptian
media cover the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and what effect does this cov-
erage have? It is not necessary to examine these specific situations, but pro-
viding a concrete example of when media have stimulated change, or have
been unable to stimulate change for other reasons, would be necessary to
prove that new media can indeed create or stimulate change.
Similarly, in order to understand whether and how new media can
stimulate change, future books would be well advised to consider contem-
porary demographic and economic issues. A few of the questions that
could be examined include: how does the difference between younger and
older viewers’ perceptions of credibility and possible political action affect
new media’s ability to stimulate change? How long will the ‘boom’ of new
media last if media outlets are unable to attract enough advertising rev-
enue to be sustainable? Is the lack of revenue due to economic difficulty
or political pressures, and how might that change in the event of democ-
ratization? What political impact do the debates on economic reform
(such as those mentioned in Lynch’s chapter) have on policy formulation,
if any? How does the existence of new media change traditional media
functioning? Is there an increase of communications students in the
Middle East in the post-Al-Jazeera era, and what implications might that
have on press freedom?
This volume’s main contribution is a useful examination of the current
types of dialogue, discussion, identity formation and technical capabilities
occurring in Middle Eastern media. Thus, this volume makes an important
step in establishing the current state of Middle Eastern new media and
advances some arguments concerning this media’s credibility and use in
resistance and conflict situations, thereby paving the way for future books
to examine more in-depth these issues of change. In order to understand
whether media are helping in the birth of a ‘new Middle East’ (to use
Rice’s terminology but not her ideology, as this volume does), it is necessary
to first examine its role in the current one.
Contributor details
Olivia Allison is the co-author of Understanding and Addressing Suicide Attacks
(Praeger 2007) after researching political and media responses to suicide bombings
in Europe, the U.S., the Middle East and Africa. Since writing that book, she has
received an M.A. from King’s College London in International Peace and Security,
focusing on international law and politics in 2007. Some of her ongoing freelance
and think-tank research projects include counterterrorism, media/communication
and terrorism, and the private military/security industry.
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Reading the Mohammed Cartoons Controversy:
An International Analysis of Press Discourses on Free Speech
and Political Spin, Risto Kunelius, Elizabeth Eide, Oliver Hahn
and Roland Schroeder (eds.), (2007)
Germany: Projektverlag, 218 pp., (pbk),
ISBN: 978-3-89733-167-9, Price: £35
Reviewed by Shabana Syed
‘The media in Europe has perhaps yet to become accustomed to the large
and growing Muslim presence on the continent and finds it even more
difficult to be understanding of Muslim beliefs in the current confusion
about Islam and terrorism. The right to blasphemy is not one of the rights
of the press, however free it may consider itself to be, and the extensive
reproduction of blasphemous material cannot be seen as anything but a
deliberate affront’ (Dawn (a Pakistani newspaper), 4 February 2006.
‘The West thinks that the anger is superficial and intentional and the
Muslims think of the controversy as a conspiracy theory’ (Al-Lewaa
al-Islami (an Egyptian newspaper published by Al-Azar), 2 February 2006.
‘If they (Muslims living in France) are that horrified by western values
of freedom and laicity, why doesn’t it occur to them that they could move
to Saudi Arabia’ (Le Figaro (a French newspaper), 7 February 2006.
‘To a newspaper the natural way to show solidarity with Jyllands-Posten’s
refusal to follow such a restriction on freedom of speech would be as many
newspapers luckily have done; print the cartoons’ (Jyllands-Posten (a Danish
newspaper), Ralf Pittelkow, 10 February 2006).
The Cartoons controversy initiated in Denmark became an interna-
tional debate about some of the core values that the western democracies
claimed to live by and values they believed the Muslim world lacked: free-
dom of speech.
It was a sensational key defining issue that suddenly erupted and
polarized the world into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation, and also gave rise to
the phantom threat of ‘the clash of civilizations’ prophecy as described
fifteen years ago by Samuel Huntington. Violent demonstrations in Muslim
countries led to the setting on fire of foreign embassies and the boycotting
of Danish goods, clashes on the streets led to deaths and jail sentences.
The latest publication on this subject Reading the Mohammed Cartoons
Controversy: An International Analysis of Press Discourses on Free Speech and
Political Spin attempts not to make sense, but to explain and record the
reactions of fourteen countries, their governments and the media’s reac-
tion to the publishing of the cartoons, fused with the underlying belief that
their ‘freedom of speech was under attack’ and the impending ‘clash of
civilizations’ was taking place.
This book represents the results of a worldwide cooperation of scholars
and research groups analysing an incident and a debate in international
media that led to extremely controversial opinions, statements and funda-
mental views. The fourteen countries studied were: Denmark, Norway,
France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Egypt, Pakistan, Israel,
China, Russia, the United States, Sweden and Finland.
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Risto Kunelius and Elizabeth Eide in the chapter ‘Mohammed Cartoons,
Journalism, Free Speech and Globalisation’ explain how the idea for the
book was provoked by ‘The Economist editorial, ‘“I disagree with what you
say even if you are threatened with death, I will not defend very strongly
your right to say it”. That with apologies Voltaire seems to have been
the initial pathetic response of some western newspapers of several cartoons
of Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper in September’
(The Economist, editorial, 11 February 2006)
According to Kunelius and Eide, the cartoons issue which transformed
into a global event was a great opportunity to analyse and compare how
the news media explicitly discussed one of its key values of legitimating –
that is, events don’t happen, rather they are constructed and framed by
the media. The media’s role is constructing realities, and this was no more
evident than in the case of the ‘caricature or cartoon controversy’.
The most common theme that continued to preoccupy the research,
and appeared as a common thread in the reports from most of the four-
teen countries studied was the notion of the ‘clash of civilizations’ and ‘to
what cost (to) freedom of speech’ can that be?
The study revealed that although many western journalists felt that
they had to defend free speech and many referred to the ‘the clash of
cultures’, they were cautious not to open up the ‘clash’ discourse too
widely. In the book this was more evident in the editorials from western
countries, where journalists pride themselves in the belief that journalism
and journalists are objective. However, this is not the case with eastern
countries where journalists had no hesitation to discuss what was obvious
to them, most of the initial editorials pointed to a conspiracy theory and to
the belief that it was the inevitable clash of civilizations that is bound to
occur as the West does not understand Islam and the East.
As Kunelius and Eide explain it: ‘Orientalism and its counter-discourse
were clearly at play’, that is the West saw the reaction to the cartoons as
‘irrational’ while the ‘East’ believed it was ‘western insensitivity and funda-
mentalist secularism’.
In the area of broadcast news the reality was very different in the West;
the clash was exaggerated through the types of images projected on TV
news coverage. Therefore even if the print editorials from western countries
hinted at the clash of cultures syndrome, the TV coverage confirmed it
through broadcasting stark images of violent demonstrations and giving a
lot of air time to extremists and their actions.
Kunelius and Eide explain this phenomenon: ‘Journalism reflects both a
surrender and resistance to the “Huntington syndrome”. But instead of
merely saying this is a question of both attitudes being present in journalism,
we can suggest how they coexist in the structure of journalist discourse. On
an explicit, rational and argumentative level journalism struggles against the
image of cultural clash. However, on a more explicit, routine and descriptive
level journalism appears to base its news criteria and choice of images on a
logic that enforces and reproduces the imagined clash of civilizations.’
In the early chapters the notion of press freedom is mentioned and the
authors make it clear that they are aware of how media is tied to govern-
ments and interest groups. However, throughout the book they present us
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with enough facts and findings so we can make up our own minds about
subjects like press freedom.
This is never more evident than the chapter on Germany by Oliver
Hahn, Desiree Gloede and Roland Schroeder who describe the background
against which the editorials were written and which paper said what.
However, it is only in the references page that we find the interest groups
behind two of the biggest newspapers in Germany, throwing the whole
issue of freedom of the press out of the window.
For example the editorials in two of the biggest German newspapers,
Die Welt and Bild belong to the publishing house, Axel Springer AG, which
is the only independent media company to have five preambles that serve
as the fundamentals for publishing activities that every journalist working
for this company has to sign and accept. Among these preambles is ‘to
promote reconciliation of Jews and Germans and support the vital rights of
the State of Israel’. Therefore the view that the cartoons controversy
should be seen in the context of ‘the clash of civilizations’ was first trig-
gered off by the Bild newspaper in Germany. While one opinionated article
published in Die Welt written by German feminist Alice Schwarzer in 2006
considers the cartoons controversy to be a red herring to take off the
media agenda the debate about Iran’s alleged nuclear armament.
Britain was a typical example of how the political climate of a country
can cloud a thorough analysis of the ‘real story’, how politics can influ-
ence and shape social ideas and, in the process, journalists. The United
Kingdom under Blair was a country that was dealing with the ‘biggest
threat to peace from “Islamo-fascists” and “Islamic Extremists”’. After
9/11 the government had introduced a series of measures aimed mainly
at Muslims, detainment of suspects was up to 30 days without charge,
police stop-and-search statistics against Muslims had increased drasti-
cally, and every day there was one story or another demonizing Muslims.
However, this reality described is not quite highlighted in the chapter
‘The UK: A Very British Response’ by Angela Phillips and David Lee, but
they do highlight an important point on how news coverage of the car-
toons controversy lacked a thorough analysis and instead it had focused
on sensationalist footage of violent demonstrations and ‘jihadists’ rather
than examining the motives of the editors at Jyllands-Posten, or the fact
that the paper had a close affiliation to the Danish government, the fact
that Muslims in Denmark had been under pressure for some time and the
fact that the current Danish government was not friendly to ‘foreigners’.
Even though the British papers did not print the cartoons, according to
the study, the media moved fast, aligned closely to the existing government
policies. The focus from freedom of the press moved very quickly to tighter
government controls, for example the Daily Telegraph was quick to point to
the failure of the government to condemn the demonstrators and to the
failure of the police to take action against the demonstrators.
The Guardian, known for its independent reporting, added fuel to the
fire by shifting its focus to the Islamic fringe groups, giving coverage to
radical leaders like Anjam Choudary, seen as a key ally of the exiled leader
of the radical Islamic group ‘Al Muhajiroun’ and spokesperson for ‘Al
Guraba’ (a fringe radical group which was one of the first groups to hold
demonstrations in London). Studies showed that Choudary was mentioned
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18 times in the newspapers, while Al Muhajiroun, which is a small fringe
radical group, was mentioned 18 times. Moderate Muslim organizations
like the Muslim Council of Britain were mentioned only 6 times, while Sir
Iqbal Sacraine, chair of the council, was quoted only once.
Just before the cartoon controversy broke, the Incitement to Religious
Hatred Bill had been opposed by all newspapers and had been defeated in
the House of Commons. However all this changed after the cartoons furore:
the Glorification of Terrorism clause of the Terrorism Bill which makes it
illegal to praise or celebrate terrorism was passed at the end of February.
Elizabeth Eide in the chapter: ‘Pakistan: Critique, Anger and
Understanding’, examines the reactions to the cartoons in Pakistan, which
were strong and violent while most of the editorials pointed to a western
conspiracy.
Most journalists believed that it was a deliberate strategy, as this edito-
rial under the heading ‘The Clash of the Civilisations Continues’ explains:
‘Freedom of expression does not imply freedom from morals, values and
regulations but stands for the protection and respect of religious and social
values. Every enlightened Jew and Christian scholar and journalist is well
aware of Muslim sentiments and beliefs regarding Prophet Mohammed. In
this context the publication of cartoons and their defence on the pretext of
freedom of expression appears to be a well thought out strategy (Nawa-e-
Waqt, 8 February 2006)
The research highlights the contrast in approaches in the West and the
East. It clearly highlights how the western media vehemently defended
their right to free speech, and also what was blatantly left out of the western
media discourse was blatantly exposed in countries like Pakistan and
Egypt. Western countries were accused of double standards for jailing his-
torian David Irving for denying the authenticity of the Holocaust, Qazi
Mustafa Kamil from Nawa-e-Waqt called the western defence of freedom of
expression ‘false’ by referring to David Irving’s lack of freedom to express
his views (28 February 2006). Others pointed out Jyllands-Posten’s racism
by the fact that the paper refused to print cartoons of Jesus Christ, but did
not hesitate when it came to insulting billions of Muslims.
Pakistan, more than any other country during the cartoon crisis, revealed
the extent to which the media is tied to ‘governments, religions and markets’.
Elizabeth Eide begins her report on Pakistan by giving a description of the
state of affairs in the country. Post-9/11 Pakistani society was under heavy
pressure, and Musharraf had been under increasing criticism for aligning too
closely with Bush’s war on terror. The US invasion of Afghanistan and later
Iraq had led to increasing public resentment against the West, in particular
the United States. Pakistan to some extent had become a recruiting ground
for jihadists to fight against US occupation of Afghanistan.
The cartoons ignited a ferocious outcry against western imperialism
and this was used by various sections of the society to further their cause.
The fundamentalist forces that had gained popularity after the US invasion
of Afghanistan encouraged the demonstrations and ‘street power’ to
gather support for their cause; while Musharraf, who had lost quite a lot of
public support and was seen as Bush’s puppet, also came under attack
from the moderate camp who accused him of using heavy-handed measures
to quell dissent and justify his military rule.
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Reports from Egypt are not surprising as the Egyptian media is tightly
controlled essentially by the government. However, in the chapter by Ibrahim
Saleh on ‘Egypt: Coverage of Professional Disparities and Religious
Disruptions’ we see a society used to conflict but eager to avoid it: ‘Mob reac-
tion doesn’t deal with the Muslim rights to respond to the western blasphemy
but rather maximizes its negative effect’ (Al Fagr (a private newspaper),
2 February 2006); ‘We should avoid repeating this controversy with real dia-
logue and mutual understanding’ (Akhbar Al-Alyoum (a government-owned
newspaper), 11 March 2006).
The Working Papers in International Journalism are a series of publi-
cations and reports from research groups and projects relevant for the
international research community. This publication on Reading the
Mohammed Cartoons Controversy is highlights how to some extent the
media dealt with the cartoons controversy and how that dealing was
based on definitions and negotiations related to the political and cultural
arenas in which journalists operate.
As mentioned earlier the study was true to its objective, not to give opin-
ions but to report findings after researching focused materials, mainly news-
papers and magazines. Even though one can argue that newspapers and
magazines are more conservative in approach and that other media were
needed to get an overall picture, the authors did go one step further and gave
a short political and social background to every country mentioned. Thus
we get a general not a thorough picture against which the cartoons contro-
versy unfolded. However, what also gently unfolds as the book unveils the
situation in each country is how political and social ideas shape journalism
and, in the case of the cartoons, how social ideas about Islam and Muslims
were reported in the wider media at a time when Muslims were and are per-
ceived as some form of threat. The authors of the book state: ‘The cartoon dis-
cussion provided a particularly interesting case for looking at how the
“journalistic field is related to the political field” in different countries.’ As most
of the print media attempts to be objective and conservative in especially its
editorials, we can still see glimpses of the strategy and allegiances of the editors
or journalists.
The book is an important study that allows readers to study facts and
figures on how the Mohammed cartoons controversy was handled in each
country and leaves them to make up their own conclusions as well as
encouraging researchers to take up further themes of essential enquiry on
a key defining issue which unwittingly united the world even for a short
space of time in a global debate.
Contributor details
Shabana Syed is the editor of Islam Magazine, a political and current affairs maga-
zine, that looks at global issues from a Muslim’s perspective. She has worked in the
Middle East for a few years with various television channels as a journalist and
producer. Shabana is undertaking a PhD programme on ‘Muslim groups in the
West and the use of the Media’. Her research interests include political communi-
cation, Islamic orientated communication and disporic media in Europe.
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