Nir Rosen* has a great piece on his new blog, detailing some of the ways Al-Jazeera has contributed to the speedy eruption of the current Arab Awakening. It’s all thoughtful and worth reading. The money quote was this: “Jazeera is the new Gamal Abdel Nasr, the nationalist force uniting the region.”
Jim Lobe recalled that George W. Bush had reportedly joked to Tony Blair about bombing Al-Jazeera’s headquarters, and adds:
- consider which has been the greater force for human rights and democracy in the region: George W. Bush and those freedom-loving neo-conservatives who served him, or their nemesis, al-Jazeera.
As for me, I think the ‘Al-Jazeera Effect’ in the Arab world in recent weeks (and years) has been 100 times more important than the “Twitter effect” or the “Facebook effect”. Sure, Twitter and Facebook have helped people to do their organizing using online tools. But the organizing has continued, everywhere, even when the internet is cut off.
News flash! People knew how to do mass organizing even before the internet existed! Who knew!
Also, the organizing that is needed in all these Arab countries– pre-revolution, during the revolution, and after a revolutionary victory– is much more about food, sanitation, logistics, providing medical services as needed, keeping decent accounts, and above all building resilient networks of trust and accountability than it is about sustaining a Twitter account or having a million Facebook “friends”.
The difference Al-Jazeera has made– over a period of years, and most particularly in the past two months– has been to restore for ordinary people throughout the whole Arab world the sense of their shared Arab culture and connectedness, the idea of the possibility of successful mass action, and importance of having border-leaping common human values that cannot be dictated or enforced by any one ruler. (Those last two Al-Jazeera effects can– and indeed, to some extent, have– be felt anywhere, not just in the Arab world.)
That’s why Nir Rosen was right to describe Al-Jaz as the “new Abdel-Nasser”.
I also think the effect of all these “new” media together– but at their heart, Al-Jazeera– may prove to be as revolutionary in world affairs as Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type press, back in the 15th century. That invention had massive effects on the development of culture (and of print capitalism, and of nation states) in Europe, and thereafter in the whole of the world that was captured and colonized by those energetic new European nation-states.
Al-Jazeera’s principal political effect thus far has been, it seems to me, to considerably strengthen the idea of a post-nation-state order, and a post-colonial order, in world affairs.
Yes, of course we are all still, to some extent bounded by our linguistic constraints. But this Al-Jaz effect could soon become even huger. Interesting.
* I know that Nir made some thoughtless and unkind remarks recently, in a late-night Twitter feed, about a female correspondent for CBS News who had been subjected to sexual assault by a mob of unknown affiliation in Cairo. Nir has quite appropriately apologized for those remarks, and I feel confident he won’t be so thoughtless and unkind again. I’ve known him for a few years now– admired his gutsy, anti-war journalism for even longer; and I honestly don’t think that in general he’s someone who demeans or marginalizes women.