After a long day of working with local researchers on corruption issues, your blogger finds himself awake and channel surfing at 4am. As it turns out, jihadist propaganda movies should never, ever be used as a jetlag cure.
I flip on the tube, and with a few clicks get appalling clips of Israeli/Palestinian combat footage, selectively edited to show only Arab suffering and resistance, fast cut and set to crashing rock music. It’s horrible stuff. Wide awake now, I ventured on.
What started as a bleary attempt to entertain myself became a crash course in Arab media. My hotel room has an impressive selection of Arab satellite TV, and I spent some time watching each of the news channels for coverage of the new American president.
It’s focused on the same press conference clips that the BBC is running — Obama’s call to change and a withdrawal from Iraq, though I couldn’t assess the spin. Al Jazeeza is notable for covering both sides of the Gaza conflict, and in Arabic.
Meanwhile, CNN makes passing mention of Obama’s new lobbying restrictions, but spends more time talking about Obama’s kids, Joe Biden’s dancing and the “controversy” surrounding the swearing-in redo. Fox News, in my unscientific sample, apparently skipped Obama but was intensely covering some lady who maybe killed her daughter. Great.
It’s really stunning how bad American TV news can be compared to what was on the other European English-language channels. CNN and CNN International are like different networks (the international version, competing with the BBC, simply has more news on it).
And then I circle back to the Arab propaganda channels. They’re now running an action movie in which a cunning Die Hard type outwits (and assassinates) a variety of corrupt Arabs and Israeli commandos. I’m struck by how terrifyingly violent and hateful and endless the propaganda is.
I also can’t help but note that the action movies feels like a shot for shot remake of the popular American propaganda series “24” — now in its forth season. The storytelling is remarkably similar – the cuts, the hero, the enemy, the violence.
The “24” plotline is notable for being discussed as if it were real — “a fictional but we think plausible scenario involving terrorism” — in a 2008 Republican primary debate. Among the GOP candidates, only Ron Paul and John McCain spoke against the enthusiasm for TV-style “enhanced interrogation” (in “24” the hero threatens, knife in hand, to stab the eyes out of a prisoner). McCain, rather more familiar with torture than the rest of the field, noted then that “it’s not about the terrorists, it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are.”
Seeing media — like Hamas propaganda clips — that’s not aimed at you makes one more aware of the media that is aimed at you. It’s like suddenly all the flash and rattle of TV messaging is, for an instant, painfully contrived, a window into how politically useful a permanent state of war can be. And it’s scary stuff on both sides of the ocean.