am including this talk show synopsis, followed by
my letter regarding an American newspaper's view of
self-censorship, i.e., that Egyptians have less free
speech in their media than Americans, to give a moment
to consider who is asking questions about what topics.
Bear in mind that this is the newspaper whose Middle
East editor hoped that things weren't as bad as the
Mayor of Khalil/Hebron told him, and spoke of a solution
which would keep the illegal Israeli settler safe
but ignored any Palestinian rights and concerns. One
wonders who is censoring that news service.
program has a fifteen-minute early morning spot. The
hosts are very bright and quick, and the advantage
is that they focused on volunteer work and media coverage
of it. In these fifteen minutes, I found more intelligent
interest in the topic than interest I have tried in
vain to generate over the period of a month with university
hosts knew of me generally, but five minutes before
we went on camera they learned of a few essentials,
like my teaching at university, and my activities
in Palestinian refugee camps. Sharif asked if I pronounce
my name "Heinz" or "Haynes," to
which I responded, "Higgins"! They incorporated
all this into their introduction and comments as if
they were my most intimate friends, and as if they
had been investigating these issues for some time.
Their attitude was that of participation in the topic,
and their questions were incisive and well-ordered.
I have developed stereotypes about talk show hosts
in spite of not watching much television; but Sharif
and Mona caused me to change my opinion.
I should know that the language of a discussion like
this is Fusha/Formal Arabic, as I teach my students,
but somehow I was still in the `Amiyya/Colloquial
mode when the camera came on. Mona began with flawless
Fusha/Formal in her unrehearsed opening comments.
She introduced me respectfully with her newly-learned
pronunciation and details: "Not only does Dr.
Annie Higgins teach Arabic language in America, but
she also deals with topics in Islamic history and
religion." Ah, that sounded good! In spite of
my respectable-sounding credentials, I followed Sharif's
example, and spoke `Amiyya/Colloquial throughout!
asked me how I came to be an exception to the usual
American ignorance about the Arab world and Islam,
so I explained my usual story about reading the news
and wanting to hear Arab views directly, and my eventual
interest in Palestine.
asked about volunteers - how many are there from America,
and are they funded by organizations? I admitted that
I am not clever with statistics, but I felt that volunteers
to Palestine number in the hundreds, and I mentioned
organizations such as the International Solidarity
Movement and Christian Peacemaker Teams, some of which
have stipends for basic sustenance for their participants.
Having mentioned in the opening that I had participated
first with the ISM, they also spoke of people who
go as independent volunteers, like myself currently,
and of all of our communications with people back
said that we share reports with one another, and that
all who come to Palestine act on the feeling that
we need to report on what we are seeing, even though
most of us are not journalists.
picked up on this point, and inquired about media
receptivity to our reports. I had to admit that interest
from mainstream newspapers and media outlets is quite
low, with occasional exceptions. I told of contacting
my local newspapers and radio stations, particularly
one that deals with international and Palestinian
issues, when I first returned from Jenin, two months
after the April 2002 invasion. The response was a
vacuum, although the editors and hosts were polite
and concerned for my safety. I told of spreading the
word through e-lists and internet publications.
mentioned the tragedy of Rachel Corrie's murder in
Gaza by an unnamed Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer,
and related this to volunteer activities and media
coverage. [She had just learned of Rachel's Gaza location
twenty seconds before we went on the air - really,
I am impressed with the way they picked up on crucial
details and wove them into their commentary.] I said
that I had been reading Rachel's reports and that
nobody would be angry when I say that she was one
of the best at articulating issues in a fair and constructive
manner. [Rachel had looked forward to being able to
answer questions about Bush, in Arabic, by explaining
that he is a tool of other people.] I spoke of the
constant question posed by all, including small children,
"Do you like Bush?" I answer by saying that
I like fair treatment of humans. The questioners,
including children, agree that this is more important
than liking or disliking a person. I also mentioned
that at least five Jewish organizations in America
are pressuring Congress to pass a Rachel Corrie bill.
asked more specifically about what prompted me to
come to Palestine, and I spoke of my special responsibility
as an American citizen whose taxes support the Israeli
military's weaponry. He picked up on my desire to
provide a balance for my country's destruction of
also asked about American and European volunteers
in Iraq, and if I hear their news. I told of a friend
in Amman reporting that many foreign volunteers, including
Japanese and Koreans, are arriving daily and participating
in demonstrations en route to Iraq. I also mentioned
receiving reports from them, often sent by e-mail
by someone who has spoken with them by telephone since
internet connections are becoming rare. They describe
guarding water treatment plants and visiting the injured
in hospital, to the accompaniment of the whistling
sound of American missiles.
brought the discussion again to media interest in
foreign volunteers and their hosts in places such
as Iraq and Palestine. He said that it seems people
in Arab countries have a deeper appreciation of our
efforts than our own compatriots do. I had to agree,
in general, with thanks to all who are willing to
closed by wishing me success in my efforts. I am quite
sure that Sharif said, "May God bring you fulfillment
in your endeavors," which is formulaic but sincere.
I mention this only because it would probably sound
noticeably religious if you heard it on American television,
but it is just normal in an Arabic context. Even people
who do not consider themselves religious keep God
in greetings and remarks.
felt that our conversation had the substance of respect
for the issues the hosts chose to spotlight, humanitarian
volunteer work and the receptivity or lack thereof
by the media. A New Morning/Sabah Gadid provided intelligent
support for all who are volunteering and who will
do so in the future. It was very encouraging to have
such a receptive forum for broadcasting these ideas.
Perhaps western media will eventually follow the example
of their Arab counterparts in taking these issues
seriously, even without the news-making catalyst of
a death or injury.
ends the synopsis of the broadcast as I recall it.
As for the reruns:
told me that I could watch the re-broadcasts at 5:00
p.m. and 1:00 a.m., and took me in to the viewing
room to show me the logo with a Zorro-shaped Latin
5:00 I realized what a crucial detail the "N"
was in locating the proper channel.
tried to watch the first rerun, but the show was over
by the time the hotel guard obligingly located the
channel from among the bootlegged satellite channels
they have piped in without spending valuable cash
on a satellite dish.
I tried again at 1:00 a.m. at another venue with a
similar television. As there is no channel number,
and the pictures were streaked and blurry, the "N"
was proof of the right spot. Right channel, but the
program never showed up over the next hour.
there is a silver lining.
the 1:00 rerun, my internet companions had directed
me to a nearby café with a television. It is
totally inappropriate for a woman to go to a traditional
café, which generally has male patrons imbibing
and smoking water-pipes to the tune of backgammon
games both inside and on the sidewalk outside. But
they didn't mind in the least. The proprietor set
me up in front of Channel "N," with wooden
backgammon boards folded shut and stacked atop the
television, and with a forgotten green onion on the
side. The galabiyya-clad gentleman beside me was most
a nearby table, a man playing cards asked where I
was from. Upon learning that I am American, he asked
if I like Bush, immediately followed by a longer question
about US aggression and democracy. He expounded a
bit and I went back to listening to the program on
Nablus. I thought to support the business, and ordered
coffee, which they wouldn't let me pay for, because
one of the patrons picked up the tab. Eventually I
explained that I was waiting for my interview to come
on, though it seemed not to be appearing. "No
matter. What's important is that you are here and
you have illumined the place!" said the questioner.
television yielded to real life, and I had further
discussions as several patrons discussed current issues
with me. As always, they differentiate between citizens
and their leaders, and do not hold ordinary people
responsible. These men noted that Americans are being
hurt also, with their sons sent to be killed in Iraq.
I added that these young men are also hurt by being
sent to be killers. I mentioned the article I had
read from a journalist accompanying a tank unit, telling
of how the soldiers had reveled in the permission
to "kill the [civilian] vehicles" after
they had lost comrades to defensive fire from Iraqis
- innocent boys transformed to blood hunters.
asked if she were an Arab or an American journalist,
and I replied that he was foreign, i.e., non-Arab.
Funny that the man assumed the journalist was a woman,
but perhaps related to the question as to whether
I were a journalist. I said that I am not, but that
I write reports of my activities in Palestine on independent
internet sites. Then my initial questioner asked me,
really and truly, if I speak openly about what I see
in Palestine, or if I hide things to protect myself
from unfriendly attitudes. I told him that I speak
openly, but that my own government might use this
against me at some point. This elicited many invocations
of God's protection, and the assurance that when one
is working to benefit others, God cares for one.
care, too! By now it was nearly 2:00 a.m., and a telephone
call came in to the proprietor that my interview was
being broadcast on another channel. One of the coffee-drinkers
who had returned home was calling to report! But we
did not find it.
I bade them farewell, they all made me feel most welcome.
While I am accustomed to this, even when I have crossed
a social boundary, the question still occurs: If an
Arab steps into an American coffee house and makes
clear that he is Arab, will he receive such a welcome?
Or will she?
Christian Science Monitor
6 April 03
War Coverage a Tough Balancing Act for Egypt TV 4
By: Danna Harman
Nile News conducted an interview with me on their
"New Morning" show on 3 April 03, the day
before Miss Harman's report. The producer set no limits
to my comments for this live show in Arabic. Sharif
and Mona, the highly intelligent hosts, gave me an
open opportunity to discuss humanitarian volunteering
in Palestine and Iraq.
They also asked about the western media's attention
to my activities. Sharif's analysis was correct, that
Arab media have a deeper appreciation of volunteers'
eyewitness views than do American media.
Nonetheless, viewers in Egypt have a lower threshold
of believability than Americans who tend to accept
what their media present without question. A man who
saw my interview twice felt that there were things
I wanted to say but had been warned not to. I assured
him this was not the case, and I have taken a public
stand against US aggression in Arab lands.
Hassan Hamed's statement to you came from experience:
"US coverage does not impress me at all."
Look for this letter, like my previous one concerning
the Christian Science Monitor's self-censorship, in
Egyptian news media, government-sponsored and otherwise.
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