God Bless Al-Jazeera

[National Review ] David Keyes - Every Tuesday night Al-Jazeera superstar Faisal al-Qassem hosts "The Opposite Direction," far and away the best program in the Arab world. The show pits two guests against one another who, to put it mildly, hate each other's guts. Qassem will invite a Kurd whose entire family was killed by Iraqi forces and a Baath party loyalist who served under Saddam. He will invite a democratic Syrian dissident and an Assad lackey, a secular feminist and a radical Islamist. Guests storm off the show and regularly curse each other and threaten bodily harm. Few tools have done as much to break the wall of Arab ignorance and lack of accountability as Al-Jazeera. Debates that were previously thought unimaginable in the Arab world are now heatedly discussed night after night and broadcast to tens of millions. Vociferous secularist Wafa Sultan, Lebanese neocon Fouad Ajami, critic of radical Islam Daniel Pipes and terrorist-hunter Steve Emerson have all had significant face time on Qassem's show. They have defended secularism, democracy, and the West to tens of millions of Arabs. And Qassem's Arab guests are tyranny's most eloquent critics. Al-Jazeera still has a long way to go. Sheikh Qardawi's weekly program, "Sharia and Life," is an uncontrolled gush of irrationality and divisiveness. Qassem himself said in July 2001: "'Hizbullah' is a beautiful, mighty name, and as many have said, it succeeded in expelling the Zionists from southern [Lebanon] like dogs - my apologies to the dogs." Yet Al-Jazeera has set a new gold standard for Arab media. That Faisal al-Qassem is banned from most Arab countries and would be thrown in prison in Syria is a sure sign that he is doing a lot right.

2008-07-16 01:00:00

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