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Eclipse of reason: the media in the Muslim world.

Following the March 1993 killing of 10 suspected Islamic militants and the wounding of 21 others by government security forces in Upper Egypt, a British correspondent in Cairo scoured the English-language Egyptian Gazette to see how these events were covered by Egypt's official media. The Gazette's lead story the following day, however, was about the flaring of violence and clashes between protesters and security forces in the Israeli-controlled West Bank. The second story was about the shelling of Sarajevo by Serbs, while the third was about clashes between Islamic militants and security forces in Algeria. The previous day's bloodshed in Upper Egypt was buried in a three-paragraph story on page two. On that same day, the government-controlled television news also ignored the arrest by the security forces of 118 so-called Islamic extremists.(3)

This kind of government news management is not exclusive to Egypt. In fact, compared to many other Arab and Muslim countries, the Egyptian press is rather free and vocal -- if lacking in credibility. The Egyptian opposition papers likely printed some exaggerated account of officially ignored government operations against the militants, leaving the reader to guess at the truth, somewhere in between the two accounts. In countries like Saudi Arabia, however, the media are far more tightly controlled; for example, the Saudi public was not officially informed about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait until three days after the fact. This led Saudis to turn en masse to foreign radio stations; radios soldout quickly in the days following the invasion.(4)

Still, Riyadh's manipulation of news and information is little different from the information control practiced by other authoritarian governments for decades. This media control, however, is not confined within Saudi borders. For example in July 1987, the Saudi police broke up an Iranian demonstration during the pilgrimage in Mecca, causing over 400 deaths. According to the Saudis, the Iranians had instigated the violence and the Saudi police had only responded. Not surprisingly, the Iranians claimed that the demonstration was entirely peaceful, and that the behavior of the Saudi security forces was completely unwarranted. Neither side, however, was willing to mention the other's viewpoint, although some elements of the Iranian version could be gleaned from the vitriolic Saudi account.

More significantly, media outlets from Jakarta to Casablanca, while carrying the Saudi story, made no mention of the Iranian version. Had it not been for a few Western magazines and newspapers, Teheran's side of the incident would have been essentially non-existent.(5) This is evidence that the Muslim world is witnessing what some Arab and Saudi journalists are beginning to call the "Saudi Age:"(6) Over the last two decades, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf countries have gained control of the most influential publications in the Arab world and expanded their influence to Europe. Even the Western press has noted the distorting effects of Riyadh's growing power over media outlets in the Middle East, particularly the print media and satellite television.(7) Moreover, the Saudis are not alone. They and their regional rivals -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria -- have been struggling for an absolute monopoly over publications and television and radio stations targeting Middle East audiences.

Fearing the use of independent media by political opponents or dissident groups, the governments of these countries have sought to suppress any criticism of their policies or leaderships, as well as to avoid damaging revelations about personal or political scandals. After excluding hostile material from newspapers, magazines and the airwaves, some have then used the media as a vehicle for their propaganda.(8) The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, want to buy peace to enjoy their riches unmolested; all have sought to suppress any ideas that might emerge to challenge their government's monopoly on power. In the process, they have managed to force independent voices from the Muslim world using market manipulation, bribery and sheer intimidation.

The result is a blanket dark age extending from Indonesia to the Atlantic with long shadows falling over London, Paris, New York and other centers of Muslim exile. Debate is stifled, publishing stymied and free thinking all but eliminated in the Muslim world. This situation is, sadly, not new, as demonstrated by a French observer's 1907 account of the press in Ottoman Constantinople:

For thirty years, the press [have] ceased to exist in Turkey. There

are indeed newspapers, many of them even, but the scissors of the

censorship cut them in so emasculating a manner that they no

longer have any potency. If I dared, I would call them ... eunuchs.

Far be it from me to mock at an infirmity which they are the first

to deplore.... They are to be pitied. I can understand that they

prefer this diminished life to total death -- I would do the same -- with

the patience the more resigned in that their virility will sprout

again of its own accord the day their persecutor disappears.(9)

These lines could be written today to describe the state of the media in the majority of Muslim countries. What makes the present situation more hopeless, however, is that Gulf oil money has so easily co-opted Muslim intellectuals at home and abroad; their "eunich-like condition" is beginning to be seen as natural and permanent. The Saudis do not need to coerce the journalists who flock to work for their papers and television stations in London -- the high salaries offered by these organizations are far more effective. As a result, there is no clamor for freedom by those who would benefit from its expansion.

Dissent, therefore, comes only from those denied petro-dollar largesse, and can be easily dismissed as sour grapes; when bondage is embraced with contented resignation, liberation is unlikely. Nonetheless, a volcanic explosion from below is in the making that could topple the edifice of monied power and coercion. The media stranglehold by a conglomerate of authoritarian regimes is not stifling protest, as the latter had hoped. Instead, it is channelling protest to new and dangerous avenues. The explosive acts of violent protest echoing in many Muslim capitals are caused and intensified by the lack of free debate which could have helped address the problems besieging Muslim communities.

Media manipulation is having opposite effects in other ways as well. The Muslim masses have learned to decode skeptically messages from their discredited media organs.(10) As a result, the messages of the co-opted media are either not heard or are read quite differently than intended. A counterculture, mainly based on rumor, has developed which represents "unofficial news channels," frequently contradicting the content of the official media. As far back as 1984, an American professor in Saudi Arabia wrote that one was "likely to feel he lives amid a vast rumor, whose centre is nowhere and whose circumference is everywhere."(11)

While the conclusions reached in this article may relate mainly to the Arab Middle East and Iran, media control there has historical, theoretical and ethical implications for the entire Muslim world. As this article will show, it constitutes a malaise that is most acutely manifested in the Arab heartlands of Islam, but which has gripped the whole Umma (the World Muslim Community) in its tentacles. The impact of this phenomenon reverberates all over the land of Islam, reflecting another aspect of the Umma's abiding unity.(12)


The contemporary crisis of the media in the Muslim world is closely linked to its introduction as part of the nineteenth-century western political and economic penetration of the Ottoman Empire. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte introduced the first periodical publications to the Muslim world during his occupation of Egypt.(13) The novel institution soon caught on, and in 1828, Egypt's ruler, Muhammad Ali, established al-Waqai' al-Misriyya (Egyptian Events) as the first journal in the Muslim world.(14) This was soon imitated by the Ottoman Sultans and many other publications appeared, some sponsored by reformist governments, others depending on private initiative. Because most of these papers were socially progressive and secularly oriented, frequently run by Syrian and Lebanese Christians and sometimes associated with Muslim reformism,(15) they were sometimes accused by traditional Muslims of being part of a sinister plot to destabilize the Muslim world and infect it with the germs of Western corruption.(16)

At a more sophisticated level, some contemporary Muslim thinkers have questioned the very compatibility of modern media with Islamic ethics. Professor S. Abdullah Schleifer, the leading proponent of this skeptical view, has argued that the introduction of the modern media should be seen as an intrinsic departure from traditional Muslim notions of morality. For Schleifer:

[the] dawn of mass communication ... is the late fifteenth-sixteenth

century overthrow of the pulpit by the printing press and the

overthrow of the priest by the printer-businessman as the arbiter

of what is relevant information and what values inform that


The invention of printing, Schleifer argues, removed control over the reproduction of literature from religiously trained scribes and monks and gave it to business-oriented printers. This combination of what Schleifer calls "hard technology" and profit-oriented publishing has meant that such mass communication is essentially desacrilising, "since the sacred is by definition personal and qualitative."(18)

In Schleifer's view, the secular media's self-image as advocates of the public's right-to-know contradicts Muslim ethics. The characteristics of the Western media -- aggressive violation of individual privacy, the relentless exposure of the failings and mistakes of public figures and the emphasis on criticizing social life -- represent gross violations of the divine injunctions against spying, backbiting and emphasizing the negative traits of fellow-believers.(19) By this definition, the censorship of information by state authorities or other subversion of the public's right-to-know is not a problem; rather, the problem is the media's arrogant belief that such a right exists in the first place:

... Many of the acceptable modes and techniques of modern journalism

must be particularly repugnant to an Islamic perspective.

Spying and seeking to confirm suspicions (e.g. most investigative

reporting) are forbidden by Quran and hadith [the reported sayings

of the prophet] as are slander and backbiting, which means spreading

stories, even though true, which injure the feeling and honor

of a Muslim. Slander is not simply a legal error or an occupational

hazard; it is a great sin. In numerous hadiths the Muslims are

forbidden to publicize their own and others' faults; on the contrary,

the Muslim is urged to cover up or hide faults.(20)

For Schleifer, "Islamic journalism" can at best be a necessary evil, demanded by the need to present an alternative to the onslaught of the modern "international secular culture based on mass communication," which threatens to overwhelm the Muslim world.

Schleifer's position is deeply rooted in what he terms the neo-traditionalist perspective, an attitude dominant among European and Western Muslims since Muhammad Asad.(21) By "neo-traditionalist," Schleifer refers to a special emphasis on preserving the Muslim community's non-western heritage and a rather romantic attachment to pre-modern forms of Muslim life; its advocates are appalled by, the way traditional Muslim institutions have been weakened by the forces of westernization and modernization.

This romanticized view of the Muslim past is, however, historically flawed. While the modern media has somewhat replaced the pulpit as a focal point for social communication in the Muslim world, this obscures the fact that the mosque was never its exclusive locus. While the mosque was a central gathering place for learning and education, news distribution, cultural activities and even government, there were alternative centers such as the marketplace, the street and the ruler's court. The mosque often maintained hegemony over those alternative centers, but the practices of poetry recitation and music broke free because of its hostility toward them.(22)

Poetic production provides an interesting historical model for understanding the modern Muslim media. Poetry and oratory were the primary vehicles of mass communication in pre-Islamic, primarily oral, Arab culture. The poets and gifted orators were the "journalists" of the time, possessing those indispensable skills that needed to be wooed, bought or intimidated by the seekers of power. Most rulers were aware of the power exerted by poets, and they were very generous to the more prominent among them. Poets repaid this generosity by singing the praise of their benefactors. The few who expressed defiance usually suffered. Orators were less fortunate and did not fare as well as poets, but they too were either wooed or coerced. As poetry broke free from the strict confines of Islamic ethics and became a profession geared toward earning money through hagiography or pure entertainment, it became a decisive element in shaping communication within traditional Muslim society.

Poetic production also exhibited some features common to the modern mass media: maximizing audience impact with aesthetic and artistic excellence; exploiting erotic themes; and appealing to tribal and other prejudices. Classical Arabic poetry was more akin to advertising than a newspaper editorial: it was mostly paid for by a ruler or a prince; it extolled the client's virtues and criticized his opponents with little concern for objectivity or veracity; and it exploited artistic skills to sell the product to the wider audience, for whom it had to be attractive and enjoyable if it was to have an impact.(23)

Along with poetry, books were another important medium for the dissemination of ideas. Their content was mainly religious, although later literature, poetry, philosophy and the sciences became popular subjects. Nonetheless, the role of books was limited because of widespread illiteracy and the absence of printing presses for mass reproduction.(24)

Clearly it is inaccurate to claim that the modern mass media have displaced the mosque and the pulpit; there were many forms of social communication in traditional Muslim society, not all of which were religiously based, or even sanctioned. Poetry and music were part of lifestyles not even considered Islamic, and frequently represented values diametrically opposed to those of Islam. Wine drinking and illicit sex, for example, were frequent themes in classical poetry.(25)

Schleifer's analysis of Islamic values is equally flawed, privileging the status quo in an effort to resist change. His emphasis on the values of privacy comes at the expense of the Islamic value of upholding justice and speaking out against corruption.(26) The privacy argument cannot be used to protect the criminal and the corrupt, and I would argue that the principal problem of the Muslim community has been that too many crimes have been left unchallenged, not that too many defects have been unnecessarily publicized.

The romantic ideal of a past in which Muslim communities were supposedly autonomous, and members could gather together in the mosque to resolve all problems, is neither accurate nor practical. There can be no alternative to developing effective channels of communication to strengthen Muslim society; such a pan-Islamic communication system is a precondition for the affirmation of the unity of the Umma. While such channels were once constituted by international cosmopolitan networks of 'ulema (religious scholars), by turuq (sufi brotherhoods) and by the Madhahib (major schools of legal thought), these mechanisms are inadequate for the challenges faced by the contemporary Muslim world.(27) Further, since many of the issues facing Muslims concern the Umma as a whole, a pan-Islamic communication system is needed so that these questions can be resolved via ijma' (consensus), resulting from an Umma-wide dialogue, which presupposes an atmosphere of free debate without coercion or the manipulation of information.(28) The very existence of the Umma as a durable united community thus depends on open channels of communication.


The perception that media in the Muslim world have not lived up to expectations is fairly common, but is usually blamed on so-called media imperialism. The culprit is seen as Western, particularly American, hegemony in the field of international communications. The issue was the subject of intensive debates in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly within the U.N. Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) where fierce campaigning on behalf of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) was ultimately futile.

The central complaint put forward by the proponents of NWICO was that the West, by virtue of its domination of world media resources, had tended to impose its cultural norms, political perceptions and economic interests on the rest of the world. This phenomenon reflects the unfair advantage that major industrial, -- especially Western -- powers enjoy in the field, controlling as they do most of the major output of television, cinema, radio, press and news organizations.

Third World spokesmen in this debate pointed out the need for a more balanced flow of news, "news values that are more sensitive to Third World countries' needs and plight in economic development, political stability and cultural integrity... a sharing of communication resources; development of training opportunities for Third World journalists," in addition to the encouragement of South-South communication.(29) The main concern of Third World spokesmen appeared to be for political stability and cultural self defense.

Many in the Third World were not satisfied by mere negative demands for fairness in the media, but sought to take practical steps to redress the balance. Some national news agencies, such as the former Yugoslavia's Tanjung, Iran's IRNA and China's Xinhua, have played a pioneering role in giving an international voice to Third World causes and concerns. Further attempts were made to pool resources among Third World countries, leading to the Inter-Press Service, the Non-Aligned Nations News Pool, the Pan-African News Agency and the International Islamic News Agency (IINA). Publications such as South, Inquiry and Arabia -- all of which emerged in London in the 1980s -- represented further attempts to offer an alternative voice to Western media institutions: All either collapsed or lapsed into ineffective twilight, leaving the West's dominance in the field unchallenged.(30)

The Muslim Response

Among the Muslim attempts to create their own media voice, the most ambitious was a monthly magazine, Arabia, The Islamic World Review.(31) Arabia and its parent company, The Islamic Press Agency (IPA), were a deliberate attempt to counter perceived Western hegemony and bias in the international media. The IPA differed from the IINA -- the latter launched in the 1970s by the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- in that it was owned by entrepreneurs with an Islamic vision based on dialogue with the West. Both attempts to make an impact in the international media community ended in failure. The IPA closed in 1987, because of managerial and financial difficulties; its publications and ventures -- which included advertising and audio companies -- failed to be profitable, and the resulting disagreements among the agency's directors led to its breakup. The IINA continues, but is hobbled by the need to appease 45 member-governments.

The creation of Arabia was followed by two publications of similar orientation: South, supported by the now discredited Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), and Inquiry, a pro-Iranian radical publication. The first attempted to support a broad Third World perspective, while the latter followed a radical Islamic line. Both folded by the end of the 1980s.

The failure of these two projects further suggests that the earlier demise of the IPA and Arabia was not accidental, but rather the result of a structural condition affecting all media ventures with audiences in the Muslim world.(32) Although all of these efforts collapsed because of low distribution, negligible advertising revenue and weak markets, there was also a broader political reason for their economic failure. Publishing in the West meant high publishing costs for these ventures, while their markets lay mainly in the Muslim world, which has limited purchasing power.(33) While some have claimed that the IPA was located in London to facilitate dialogue with the West, the real reason was that no Muslim capital would accept an independent and free news organization. The economic failure is thus a symptom of a deeper malaise affecting the Umma.

While other publications like Asharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat -- based in London and sold primarily in the Arab world -- continue to flourish, their success comes at a price. First, they have accepted full control by the Saudi royal family. While Asharq al-Awsat was a Saudi venture from the beginning, al-Hayat flirted briefly with independence during its first year, before first accepting part-ownership from a prominent member of the Saudi royal family and -- soon after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 -- full ownership by the Saudis.(34) These publications find such support necessary for some of the same economic and political reasons that doomed Arabia. As Western publications sold in poor Arab and Muslim countries, they cannot hope to break even from sales alone: Besides sometimes receiving subsidies from the Saudis and other Gulf governments, they need access to Gulf markets -- which these governments control -- to attract multinational advertisers; in addition, Gulf readers have the purchasing power to buy such expensive publications. Saudi and other Gulf rulers have sought to exploit this advantage, demanding loyalty from publishers seeking to reach their markets or begging for their subsidy.

More recently, the Saudi authorities' decision to allow advertising on Riyadh's local, and satellite- and land-based television stations aimed at the Gulf from London and Egypt, made it even more difficult for publications to get sufficient advertising revenue. This shift has made direct subsidies even more important.(35) The oil-rich Gulf countries, being the only patrons willing to offer such subsidies, are now increasingly insisting on full editorial control.

Thus Saudi Arabia -- as well as Iraq and Libya -- have bought or corrupted major Arabic-language publications and media outlets in Europe. The few remaining independent broadcasters and publishers are facing ruin or are reduced to begging for support. For example, Radio Spectrum's Arabic service, which broadcasts for two hours daily out of London, encountered financial difficulties soon after being established. This coincided with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, giving the station the opportunity to benefit by backing Kuwait. At the end of the Gulf War, however, funding apparently stopped, and the station was bought by a pro-Iraq financier. In 1992, the financier's license was withdrawn, and Radio Spectrum's new owners have been writing to Arab embassies in London begging for financial backing. The likely outcome of this process is obvious. A similar radio station in Paris is owned by the Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who has been closely associated with the Saudi King Fahd.(36)

Thus the lack of a suitable base for pan-Islamic or pan-Arab media organizations anywhere in the Muslim world has created a vicious circle of high-cost, low-revenue prospects for any media organization seeking to benefit from the relative freedom available in the West. This situation has strengthened the stranglehold of petro-dollars on such expatriate media ventures.

Controlling The Media

The Muslim world has suffered with the rest of the Third World from the lack of strong and independent media organizations at home. The preponderance of authoritarian regimes and the lack of any meaningful or durable democratic systems during the crucial post-colonial period has worsened the situation. In particular, the Muslim world has yet to come to terms with its Islamic heritage; the definition of the modern Umma; and how to achieve freedom, stability and prosperity without a loss of fundamental values. The leaders of Muslim countries have been unable to resolve the contradiction between the popular commitment to the Umma's Islamic heritage and the elite perception of how a modern Muslim society should function. Instead, these leaders have consistently opted to stifle free debate on vital issues; they have sought to ignore the contradiction in hope that it would eventually disappear.

Their intellectual failure to achieve a synthesis between Islamic tradition and Western-defined modernity, in a way that appealed to the masses, was thus coupled with an intellectual and moral crime. Those who failed to think wanted to ban others from doing so. Anti-intellectuals, mediocre military officers and second-rate politicians -- from Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk onwards -- set limits to the debate dictated by their own mediocrity.(37) This has perpetuated and worsened the original contradiction, seemingly eliminating any chance of resolving it by democratic means.

The section of ARTICLE 19's 1991 World Report dealing with the Arab heartlands and Iran makes depressing reading, alleging massive restrictions on freedom of expression, tight governmental control of the media, harassment of journalists and stifling of free debate in the region.(38) Most repressive are Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia; not even the slightest anti-government sentiment is allowed, and dissent is punished severely. Such conditions have sometimes persisted for decades, to the extent that their citizens have almost forgotten the meaning of free speech.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, ARTICLE 19 reported signs of improvement, most importantly in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt. The precarious liberalization in Algeria, however, was completely reversed after the coup of January 1992. In both Jordan and Egypt as well, severe laws were passed during 1992, further eroding the previous -- albeit limited -- press freedoms. Even before these reversals, the process of regional liberalization was far from complete. The report indicates that in Morocco and Tunisia, draconian measures continued to restrict press freedom. More significantly, the press that flourishes in these countries mainly backs the government. Independent newspapers are either banned, harassed out of existence or otherwise find it difficult to survive.

The situation is only slightly better in non-Arab areas of the Muslim world. In Turkey, criticism of Ataturk, as well as the basis of the secular political and social system he imposed, is prohibited. A Turkish journalist who fled to Britain to avoid prosecution and a possible five-year sentence, reported that authorities sought to try him for writing a humorous column asking readers to cheer up and dissipate the gloom surrounding their country.(39) The journalist was charged with denigrating Ataturk, because the column was published on the day of the official commemoration of his death. In Indonesia, all political and social organizations -- including the media -- must profess adherence to the official state ideology, the Pancasila, or face being banned. Criticism of the regime is prohibited, as are foreign publications that have revealed corruption involving the president's family. In Iran, numerous dissident publications have been closed down or continue to be harassed. In Malaysia, one of the most democratic Muslim countries, the ruling party and its associates own all major non-government publications.

The Search For Freedom

Since the nineteenth century, Muslim dissidents have sought to escape their rulers' constraints, either in Europe or in other more liberal Muslim countries.(40) Ironically, at the beginning of the twentieth century, British-controlled Egypt emerged as a base for publications seeking a freer atmosphere. After 1952 and the coup that led to the Nasser government, Beirut gradually replaced Cairo as the main center for the Arab press and the free exchange of views, although Egypt continued to be both a major market and source of financing.(41) Not only was there freedom of the press in Beirut, but it was also economical to publish newspapers, magazines and books for the whole Arab world. Given the low production costs, the purchasing power in most Arab countries could sustain many such publications.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, however, Beirut also began to decline as a press center. The war was followed by an economic slump that hit the relatively prosperous Lebanese publishing industry, significantly diminishing Beirut's importance as the common ground where rival Arab regimes fought their media battles. Beirut's decline was accelerated by the oil boom resulting from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries price hikes that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. While the rising wealth of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states did finance new print media empires in Beirut, alternative centers emerged -- particularly in Kuwait -- which drew journalists away from Beirut and Cairo to the Gulf states and later to Gulf-financed publishing ventures in Europe.(42) The Gulf states, however, were ill-suited to become new centers for the Arab press because of their governments' heavy censorship policies, although the relatively liberal atmosphere in Kuwait did offer some opportunities for journalists and Qatar pioneered some successful cultural and religious publications.

While publications remaining in Beirut had also become dependent on Gulf finance, the 1975 Lebanese Civil War -- and the resulting disintegration of state and society -- led to the eclipse of the Beirut publishing community. The war, which began in April 1975, pitted the Lebanese government against Lebanese Muslims and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and quickly led to the partitioning of Beirut along Muslim and Christian lines. Factional militia began targeting journalists and publications that they believed to be unsympathetic to their cause, forcing many out of the country. The result was a migration of Lebanese publications and journalists to Europe and the Gulf states. Syrian intervention in 1976 widened the scope of the conflict and caused more journalists to flee.

The exodus from Beirut, first thought to be only temporary, led to profound changes in the structure of the Arab press. While in theory Europe offered more resources and a better working environment, in practice the costs of European publishing were so high that the expatriate Arab press could not survive without access to Gulf markets and subsidies.(43) The result of migration to the Gulf and Europe was to stunt the development of Arab journalism and to contribute significantly to the cultural and intellectual stagnation that now engulfs the Arab world. Expatriate journalists developed a taste for expensive lifestyles, which made them even more dependent on oil money and decreased their incentives to write and report critically. The reluctance of expatriate publications to risk market access by offending Arab and Gulf regimes tended to become a cover for defeatism and corruption.

Even before their exodus to Europe, the Beirut newspapers were not immune to influences and inducements from Arab regimes. But production costs in Beirut were so low, and the diversity of publications so great, that these influences had comparatively little impact. Conscientious and dissenting journalists had ample opportunities to change jobs if they felt that their employers had been co-opted; they could even start their own papers. While outspoken journalists sometimes risked assassination, there were so many publications that the press could not be easily coerced or corrupted. In Europe, however, radical and conservative Arab publications were forced by the economics of expatriate publishing into a strange consensus in their coverage of the Gulf monarchies -- coverage that was consistently favorable. The lively diversity of the Beirut press was thus lost.

The Impact Of Oil Money

Karl Marx would certainly have claimed that the control of the Arab press by Gulf oil money vindicates his theory of the economic determination of ideas and political culture. In most Arab capitals, a journalist risks losing his job if he criticizes the Gulf monarchies, and some publications have been closed down.(44) Any editor who offends the Saudis not only faces the threat of losing lucrative Gulf sales, but could also draw the attention of his own country's security apparatus; Riyadh is not above using its foreign aid as a lever to pressure recipients to curb their domestic media.

A good example of such tactics is the ongoing battle for control of the pro-PLO, London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, a relatively independent newspaper that tilted toward Iraq during the Gulf war. Riyadh reportedly made normalization of relations with the PLO conditional on the paper's refraining from criticizing the Saudi government.(45) As a result, its editor was briefly dismissed last year, although he was later reinstated. After Saudi Arabia announced the release of some PLO funds it had blocked during the Gulf crisis, articles critical of Riyadh ceased to appear in the paper. Nonetheless, the Saudis are said to be pushing for more control over the paper and are seeking the permanent removal of its editor.

During the summer of 1990, just before the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait deported 30 mostly leftist Palestinian journalists, including Mahmud al-Rimawi, Tawfiq Abu Bakr and Ahmad Matar. Informed sources said the removal of these journalists was linked to Saudi pressures. Moreover, the Gulf states are said to maintain a so-called black list of Arab journalists who criticize their monarchies. Last year, the disclosure that many Egyptian journalists were on this list led to a fierce row in the Egyptian press, which debated the issue for weeks.(46)

Another tactic of Middle East governments is to conclude agreements with one another limiting criticism in their respective media. In December 1984, Ahmad Mahmud, editor of the Saudi daily al-Madina, was given one hour to clear his desk and leave because he had printed a Reuters report alleging the death of Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad. In March 1992, the editor of the Saudi daily Arab News, Khalid al-Maina, was summarily dismissed, reportedly for offending Cairo by reprinting an interview with the militant Egyptian Muslim leader Sheikh Omar 'Abdal-Rahman that had originally appeared in a U.S. newspaper. Also in 1992, a pact of media detente being negotiated between the Sudanese and Saudi governments fell through when Khartoum insisted that the Saudi publications in London should also be included. The Saudi zeal in adhering to such agreements indicates their sensitivity to criticism. Several times in the 1980s, Saudi censors banned issues of Arabia that criticized friendly governments in Kuwait and Morocco, even though neither government banned the magazine at home!

Saudi Arabia has sought to suppress media criticism, to a lesser extent, in most Muslim countries outside the Middle East. The 1980 case of the controversial television film "Death of a Princess" was an indication of Riyadh's willingness to extend the reach of its oil money to Europe and the West. The film, allegedly based on a true story of a Saudi princess and her commoner husband executed in the summer of 1977, was made by a British producer, for the independent television company ATV in partnership with the American PBS network and other companies from Holland, Australia and New Zealand.(47) Its showing in Britain in April 1980 was accompanied by a frenzied Saudi counterattack, as Riyadh openly threatened London with serious damage to its economic interests; the incident may ultimately have cost the United Kingdom about $500 million in lost exports.(48) This prospect led the British foreign secretary, then Lord Carrington, to express his government's "regret" at the showing of the film -- a move that occasioned severe criticism from the opposition and the press. British businessmen with Saudi connections also wrote letters to newspapers protesting the film.(49) The filmmaker later disclosed that -- at the time -- he had been offered substantial financial inducements to limit the distribution of the film, but said he had declined them.(50) With similar public attacks on the Netherlands, in which the film was later shown, and Saudi economic retaliation against all of the countries concerned, it is no surprise that few films which might so upset Riyadh have since been made.

An extreme case of the malaise and cynicism of the corrupted Muslim press is the flourishing of the "blackmail rag." These newspapers, usually employing minimal staff and using low-cost publishing techniques, reproduced the infancy of European journalism and have enraged critics like Schleifer. Irregularly published, these papers are used to blackmail the Gulf and other Arab governments. Those leaders who pay receive favorable publicity and their misdeeds are not reported; those who do not have many of their secrets and scandals exposed.(51) A curious episode in late 1992 illustrates the phenomenon: The entire editorial staff of the London-based magazine Sourakia, which had alternated between praising and denigrating the Saudi royal family in an incomprehensible pattern, resigned and established a weekly publication called al-Maskhara allegedly published in the Bahamas. At first, this publication -- which was distributed free of charge in London and carried no advertising -- concentrated its venom exclusively on the former editor of Sourakia and one of his associates, who had formerly been linked to the Saudi royal family. Later, al-Maskhara extended its criticism to the governments of Yemen, the Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, PLO chief Yasser Arafat and an assorted number of journalists and writers -- all known to be hostile to the Gulf monarchies. Mysteriously, al-Maskhara ceased publication in early 1993, amid reports that all its editorial staff had returned to the original magazine.

Insiders have offered the following explanation for these curious events: The unfortunate editor and his associate made one too many extortionate demands of their Saudi patrons who -- tired of having to pay unreasonable sums and buoyed by their victory in the Gulf War -- decided to take revenge with their own paper, using the same writers employed by their former clients. Then the Saudis apparently decided to obtain more value for their money by using al-Maskhara to denigrate their political opponents as well. The whole exercise was no doubt meant to send a strong message to would-be extortionists. The dispute was evidently settled amicably, however, and the era of the blackmail rag is not over.

Even allegedly respectable expatriate pan-Arab publications such as the once fiercely independent al-Hawadess weekly magazine, now owned by a Lebanese publisher with Saudi connections -- operate on similar principles, with the market determining their editorial positions and reporting bias.(52) Market determination means that most publications now avoid criticizing Arab governments in general, unless paid heavily by rival regimes to do so. Sometimes only weak and marginal governments are targeted, just to relieve boredom. Most papers are very careful when it comes to criticizing the governments in Syria, Libya, Iraq or the PLO all of which -- while offering cash to supporters -- have few qualms about assassinating their critics. For example, in 1979, Salim al-Lauzi, then the editor and publisher of al-Hawadess, was assassinated in Beirut; suspicions centered on the Syrian intelligence services.(53) In 1987, Naji al-Ali, a leading Palestinian cartoonist working for the London edition of the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas was killed in London; the PLO was suspected.(54) In 1982, the Paris offices of the pro-Iraqi al-Watan al-Arabi were bombed, killing one passerby and injuring 60 others.(55) Iraq had many enemies then, and the attack could either have been carried out by Syria or Iran.

There remain some scattered centers of open debate in various parts of the Muslim world outside of the Middle East: Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Nigeria have sporadically flirted with press freedoms. But none of these countries has produced an intellectual movement that offered sustained guidance to the Umma. To be sure, during the Indian Khilafat movement and later through Pakistani intellectuals such as Iqbal and Maududi, Muslim communities in the Indian subcontinent appeared to offer broad intellectual leadership.(56) Yet South Asian Muslims gradually became more parochial in their preoccupations and abandoned all pretense of thinking on behalf of the world Muslim community. Once again, Gulf and local oil money played a role. Many Pakistani intellectuals migrated to the Gulf countries or became associated with Gulf governments, sacrificing their integrity in the process. Local corruption associated with oil money in Nigeria, and to some extent in Malaysia, has had similar effects.


Opposition to the free exchange of views has been a historical problem in the Muslim world, and can be traced back to the Caliph al-Mamun and the Mu'tazila intellectuals of ninth century Baghdad.(57) Al-Mamun (A.D. 813-833/A.H. 198-218), son of Haroun al-Rashid of Arabian Nights fame, ruled during the cultural, economic and political apogee of Islamic civilization. He was a leading intellectual, encouraging the systematic translation of Greek philosophical and scientific works, and showing particular favor to the Mu'tazila.

Al-Mamun, sided with the Mu'tazila when they argued that the Quran was created by God and that the alternative of an eternal Quran would contradict the uniqueness and unity of God, who alone existed from eternity. This position was rejected by the more traditional religious scholars and the Muslim masses who followed them. In what became known as the "Mihna (ordeal) of the Quran's Creation," al-Mamun sought to impose this view and persecute dissenters. Although the Mu'tazila attempt to impose their doctrine within the caliphate failed, the Muslim community passed through several dark decades during which majority opinion was suppressed and genuine debate forbidden. Most importantly, the imposition of religious doctrine contradicts Islam, which rejected the earlier custom -- typical of ancient societies -- in which rulers dictated the religious beliefs of their subjects. The Quran is very critical of such impositions, emphasizing that matters of belief are to be strictly determined by personal choice. Coercion in matters of belief is not only forbidden, but imposed beliefs are considered invalid, as they do not reflect an individual's moral choice.(58)

One reading of the Mihna, suggested by Richard Bulliet, sees al-Mamun as attempting to reformulate caliphal legitimacy through the creation of a centralized religious authority. "Had the Mihna succeeded, the caliphate would have been well on its way of becoming a papacy or patriarchate."(59) While al-Mamun's attempt to impose the Mu'tazila position would have resulted in the establishment of an authority monopolizing the interpretation of religious doctrine, it is unlikely, however, that al-Mamun was consciously trying to reformulate caliphal legitimacy in such terms. Rather than seeking to consolidate his authority and government, al-Mamun likely took his caliphal legitimacy for granted, and believed that it gave him license to impose his intellectual authority on the community. Indeed, al-Mamun squandered considerable political capital on this abortive project.

The Mihna was different from other conflicts in Islamic history in that the Mu'tazila and al-Mamun perceived themselves as an enlightened elite who did not need to persuade the masses and could impose their correct beliefs. Intoxicated by their imperfect attempts to integrate the Hellenic and Islamic traditions, the Mu'tazila derived a sense of superiority from its privileged access to this new knowledge, which they believed was too esoteric to be shared with the masses. The Mu'tazila demanded that the masses accept their views and support them. Against them stood the traditional religious scholars who believed in the authenticity of their religious heritage and took pride in it. Moreover, these scholars expressed their ideas in a language understandable to the masses, and embodied the values of self-sacrifice and integrity that appealed to a mass following. By contrast, al-Mamun and the Mu'tazila sought to impose their beliefs without persuasion and force of argument

The Muslim masses rejected the Mu'tazila; subsequent religious movements that did not respect and hold a dialogue with tradition were also eclipsed. Still, the elitist impulse remained. During the nineteenth century, as the Ottoman rulers sought to modernize their empire in response to European penetration, a new elite emerged in the Muslim world by virtue of modern learning and a monopoly on contacts with the West. Again they ignored Muslim society, refusing to initiate a dialogue over the ongoing process of social change and modernization. As a consequence, their policies failed to meet the Western challenge and ultimately caused the Umma to succumb to European colonialism.(60)

In the post-colonial Muslim World, secular nationalist elites attempted again to control debate and stifle dissenting voices during the process of state-building. Ironically, these new elites sought to replicate al-Mamun's failed attempt to centralize religious authority even when they claimed to advocate secularism. Ataturk in Turkey, Nasser and Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Suharto in Indonesia started their campaigns for secularism by taking control of mosques and institutions of religious learning. Like al-Mamun, they faced a rebellion from those who demanded that religious practice and interpretation be independent from state authority.


The late 1970s and 1980s thus witnessed the stifling of free debate throughout the Arab world, with the silence extending to Muslim expatriate communities in Europe and elsewhere. While authoritarian Arab governments sought to maintain media monopolies at home and co-opt the expatriate press as part of a cynical attempt to retain power -- regardless of cost -- the great success of their efforts was made possible by the complicity of Muslim and Arab intellectuals who either collaborated with them or merely failed to protest. A whole generation of intellectuals abdicated their moral responsibility and chose silence or hypocrisy. But they have done so with an uneasy conscience. Today, the Lebanese, Palestinian, Egyptian and other Arab journalists in the offices of the Saudi-owned publishing houses in London -- as well as their Saudi managers and editors -- diverge radically in their convictions from the official line they are obliged to follow. Earlier this year, when the Egyptian authorities passed laws restricting the freedom of trade union organizations -- including the journalists' union -- most prominent journalists working in the official press refused to write in support of the new laws.(61) The situation was similar to that in Eastern Europe before 1989; the dramatic divergence between true and professed beliefs threatens a huge and uncontrollable explosion.

The betrayal of the Muslim community by its intellectuals has not been merely a result of money and fear. The 1980s were also the days of the Islamic revival and the collapse of the socialist and nationalist visions of the early post-colonial era. But the secular intellectuals rejected the tide of the Islamic revival that threatened to overcome them, and they sought to survive by joining forces with corrupt dictators and the oil-rich Gulf states. They convinced themselves that they were not deceiving themselves for money, but rather in the service of a good cause.(62) This is Mu'tazila disease: Intellectuals, unable to make their case to the Muslim community, again have sought victory by allying themselves with corrupt despots and waging war against free thought in the name of reason. The end result is that both freedom and reason have been lost. The secular intellectuals' admission of defeat and their inability to gain the support of the masses has led them not to come to terms with this defeat, but to steal victory by collaborating with despotic governments.

The limited pluralism now permitted in some Middle East countries continues to be fundamentally compromised; still, only publications controlled by government-approved parties or other political groups are permitted, and a nonpartisan press is prohibited. For example in Egypt, although the government has a monopoly on radio and television, a nongovernmental press is now officially permitted and free of overt censorship. As Robert Springborg notes, however, the government of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has quietly sought to destablilize opposition party-linked publications by denying them access to officially generated news, harassing them and seeking to induce them. to "go to excess, to report rumors as fact, to disguise advertisements as news stories, and to use intemperate language."(63) In Springborg's view, the Egyptian government has sought to cause the opposition press to discredit themselves as an unreliable source of information and thus boost the credibility of the government media.

This absence of a nonpartisan voice is precisely the dilemma facing the Arab and Muslim press as a whole. Even before the limited liberalizations, there has never been a shortage of partisan press. Competing Arab regimes have supported all kinds of publications, with the result that few points of view have been without representation somewhere in the Arab world or Europe. Still, all these manifestations of press freedom have been infected by hypocrisy. Publications of the Iraq-supported Libyan opposition have blasted Qadhafi but praised Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi opposition in Syria have attacked the Iraqi Ba'ath party but lauded its twin in Damascus. The Sudanese opposition press in Cairo has condemned repression in Khartoum but described Saudi Arabia and Egypt a model governments.

Still missing is an independent press that surveys these disputes from the outs de. It is difficult to find publications that give equal coverage to differing points of view and competing arguments, and try to act as impartial analysts. This situation was amply reflected in the coverage of the Gulf crisis. While there were outspoken publications espousing the Kuwaiti, Iraqi or Saudi points of view, each gave ifs favorite half of the truth, with the result that the Arab public had to resort to foreign media outlets such as the BBC World Service, Radio Monte Carlo or CNN to get something resembling the full picture. Although such venerable Western media outlets such as the BBC and the New York Times obviously have their biases, these pale in comparison to the blatant propaganda characteristic of the Arab media.

Far from offering security to authoritarian Middle East governments, information monopolies and the muzzling and discrediting of the independent press may be threatening the very existence of their societies. For example, the violence seen in Algeria and Egypt in recent months is linked to the breakdown of social communications, with the collapse of traditional institutions and the lack of a credible mass communications media to replace them. The brutal repression and suppression of dialogue has led to the emergence of small and very localized groups, such as Jihad and al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya, setting themselves apart from the rest of society and often expressing themselves violently.(64) The violent left-wing groups in Turkey, secularist underground guerrillas in Iran and the recurrent uprising in the Aceh region in Indonesia are also symptoms of the same malaise.

Often states seem to try to bury their heads in the sand when faced with the dissent. The Tunisian and Egyptian governments, faced with the growing popularity of the Islamic opposition, sought to suppress free debate in society about its significance. Last year, the Egyptian regime responded to the rising tide of the violent opposition by passing draconian laws further restricting press freedoms. The suppression of free mass communication not only contributes to the fragmentation of society, but compounds the problem by blocking the primary channels of social communication thus blinding publics and governments to important political and social trends, such as the ongoing Islamic revival. There was much surprise among Middle East analysts when Algeria, long regarded as one of the most secularized Muslim countries, voted overwhelmingly for the Front Islamique de Salut (Islamic Salvation Front) in December 1991.(65) The main reason for this surprise was the fact that the strictly controlled state media had hidden the importance of popular Islam in Algerian society.

The Saudi government was as surprised as anybody else when militant opponents critical of the monarchy took over the Holy Mosque in Mecca in 1979 and called for the overthrow of the House of Saud. They were similarly shocked in April 1991 when over 500 prominent intellectuals and religious figures submitted a memorandum to King Fahd calling for a radical overhaul of the political system and a more accountable and democratic government.(66) This act of unprecedented defiance was unanticipated mainly because all previous debate within Saudi society was necessarily conducted underground. The Saudi government, however, responded by further restricting the freedom of debate. The text of the memorandum was never discussed in the local press, further eroding public confidence in the official media -- already discredited by its handling of the Gulf war -- and leading Saudi citizens to seek information via the now ubiquitous cassette tapes, as well as foreign television and radio stations.(67)


Schleifer's thought-provoking critique of the media raises important and fundamental questions about how an ideal Islamic society should regard the role of the mass media. Whether the Western-defined modern mass media and its accompanying values are appropriate for Muslim societies is an important issue that the Umma must eventually address. The main problem facing Muslims today, however, is not that the media are corrupting them. Rather, they have corrupted the media, or their leaders have done so and blinded the reason of the community. One can thus sum up the problem of the modern Muslim world in the absence of free debate, a failure made more poignant and glaring by the inability of the Muslim world to develop a mass media capable of articulating the truth about itself and the world.

To avert the catastrophic disintegration of Muslim society, the credibility of its leadership must be restored. The easiest way to do this is to restore the health and freedom of the media. There is no alternative to the institution in all Muslim countries of a pluralistic system, giving full freedom of association and organization. A multiplicity of organizations supporting the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press must be allowed to form and work unhindered. The cornerstone of such systems must be the freedom of the press. Not only must independent media organizations be permitted, but they should be encouraged by unconditional government financial support, preferably dispensed through impartial institutions in accordance with agreed criteria and safeguards. The small ruling elites who fear the consequences of democracy for their lifestyles and freedoms should hasten to conclude a deal with the rising forces in society that would guarantee them a minimum of rights and freedoms before it is too late. Societies could thus be reconstructed around the formal guarantee of basic civil and political rights for all groups, and an undertaking of the democratization process.

The beginnings of such developments may already be evident in a number of Muslim countries, such as the Arab countries of Yemen and Jordan, and Malaysia. Malaysia, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country with a slim Muslim majority has overcome most of the impediments to democratization in its history and boasts a rapidly industrializing economy. While some have argued -- not without justification -- that Malaysia's democracy is not perfect, it outshines any other Muslim country and most Third World nations, allowing relatively free elections and reasonable press freedoms, and with exemplary policies of religious tolerance. Malaysia also has thriving political movements; its Islamic party has attained power in at least one state, and has been legal since independence.

The ethical imperative for the Muslims at this juncture is to exploit mass media potential to the fullest in order to launch a multiplicity of long-overdue debates over how the Umma should chart its future course. Our problems and moral failings are not from unnecessarily publicizing our shortcomings, but of remaining silent in the face of horrendous crimes being committed daily against the very existence of the Umma. The role of a community that was designated as a "witness unto mankind" is being subverted not only by its failure to give humanity moral leadership, but by its shameful acquiescence to moral decadence and corruption.(68) Our moral shortcomings are crying out of their own accord without the need for any mass media outlets to spell them out. We need an unfettered and inquisitive media, not to condemn what has already been condemned, but to seek the way out of the abyss and shed light on the road along the way.(69)

(1.) A fuller treatment of some of the major issues discussed in this paper can be found in Abdelwahab El-Affendi, An Age of Darkness: Media Failure in the Muslim World (forthcoming). (2.) Promises of confidentiality prevent me from directly citing the sources of some statements in the article. (3.) Robert Fisk, "Egypt Police Round Up |extremists,'" The Independent, 19 March 1993, p. 11. (4.) See Judith Miller, "The Struggle Within," New York Times Magazine, 10 March 1991, pp. 26-31, 38-9, 46. (5.) For a discussion of the 1987 massacre and its ramifications, see Martin Kramer, "Tragedy in Mecca," Orbis 32, no. 2 (Spring 1988) pp. 231-47. Cf. Muhammad Hassan, "Sacrilege in the Haram," and Mushahid Hussein et al., "Sacrilege in the Haram: Eyewitness Reports," Inquiry 4, no. 9 (September 987) pp. 8-11, 25-33. (6.) See Kathy Evans, "The petro-dollar press," The Guardian, 30 November 1992, pp. 16-17. (7.) Lara Marlowe, "The New Saudi Press Barons," Time, 22 June 1992, pp. 49-50. (8.) Given unchallenged state control of the broadcast media, this article will focus on the efforts of Middle East governments to control the print media. (9.) Paul Fesch, quoted in Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1961) p. 188. (10.) Miller, p. 26. (11.) Terry Caesar, "Outside the Inside of Saudi Arabia," Yale Review 73, no. 3 (Spring 1984) p. 457. (12.) See Daniel Pipes, In the Path of God (New York: Basic Books, 1983) p. 29. (13.) See Philip de Trazi, Tarikh al-sahafa al-'arabiyya (History of the Arab Press), vol. 1, (Beirut: al-Matba'a al-Adabiyya, 1413) p. 40. (14.) Omar al-Dasuqi, Fil-adab al-hadith (On Modem Literature), vol. I (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr al-Arabi, 1959) p. 38. (15.) For example al-Waqai' al-Misriyya was edited by the leading Muslim reformist of the modern era, Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, in the 1870s (al-Dasuqi, p. 268). (16.) Cf. Y.M. Abu-Hilala, al-I'lam fi daral-islam: bidaya wa risala (The Media in the Lands of Islam: A Beginning and a Message), (Riyadh: Dar al-Asima, A.H. 1408 [A.D. 1988]) pp. 33-55. Dates given as A.H. (for al-Higra, or after the prophet Muhammad's flight to Medina, the beginning of Islamic history) are according to the Islamic calendar. (17.) S. Abdullah Schleifer, "Mass Communication and the Technicalization of Muslim Societies," paper delivered at the Second Annual Conference of for Promoting Understanding & Unity in the Islamic World (Istanbul: October 1986) p. 2. (18.) ibid., p. 2. (19.) "O you believers, avoid most suspicion, for some suspicion is a sin; and do not spy upon one another, and neither allow yourselves to speak ill of one another behind your backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, you would loathe it." (Quran, 49:12). (20.) S. Abdullah Schleifer, "Islam and Information: Need, Feasibility and Limitations of an Independent Islamic News Agency," American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 3, no. 1 (Spring 1986) pp. 122-3. (21.) Muhammad Asad (d. 1992) was one of the best known European Muslims, and authored a celebrated English translation of the Quran. Born Leohold Weiss, from an Austrian Jewish family, he converted to Islam in the 1920s while working as a correspondent in the Middle East. His best-known book is The Road to Mecca, which is the first part of his autobiography. (22.) Mosques only began to be challenged seriously as centers of learning at the start of the third century A.H. when the Caliph al-Mamun established the translation center of Dar al-Hikma. The first Islamic academy, the Nizamiyya School, was established in A.H. 457. Nonetheless, many Islamic academies -- like the famous al-Azhar in Egypt -- were also mosques. See Thomas Arnold and Alfred Guillaume, eds., The Legacy of Islam (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1931) pp. 241-5, 336. (23.) For a classical discussion of poetic production and its techniques, see Ibn Qutayba, al-Shi'r waal-shu'ara (Poets and Poetry) (Cairo: Dar Ihya al-Kutob, A.H. 1364). See also Abdelwahab El-Affendi, "al-Shu'ara: Kana awwal ajhizat i'lam arrafaha al-'arab," (Poets: the First Media Organs known to the Arabs) al-Arabi, no. 216 (November 1976) pp. 26-30. (24.) The book trade was lavishly supported by Caliphs and other leaders. For example, al-Hakam II (961-976) of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) reportedly set up a library in Cordova in which over 400,000 books were available to students. See S.F. Mahmud, A Short History of Islam (Karachi and London: Oxford University Press, 1960) p. 183. In addition, every mosque had its own library. See Arnold and Guillaume, pp. 336-7. (25.) See Qutayba, especially pp. 20-4, where he discusses the employment of sexual imagery as a "selling technique" in classical poetry. (26.) "O you believers! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for f he sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents or your kinsfolk..." (Quran, 4:135). (27.) Throughout Islamic history, madhahib (sing. madhab) and turuq (sing. tariqa) created vast networks of dialogue, and communications united diverse sections of the Umma. The Hanafi madhab thus unites communities in Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt, while the Shafi'i school unites communities in Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia and Yemen. The Qadiriyya tariqa embraces communities in Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Senegal and Iraq. For a discussion of these networks in the eighteenth century, see N. Levtzion and J.O. Voll, Eighteenth Century Renewal and Reform in Islam (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1987). (28.) Ijma' is defined in traditional Islamic thought as the consensus or convergence of opinion of leading authorities in a certain field, and is seen as the third authoritative basis -- after the Quran and the Sunna (practice of the Prophet) -- of legislation and religious doctrine. See Muhammad Faruqi, "The Development of Ijma'," American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 9, no. 2 (Summer 1992) pp. 173-87. (29.) Jim Richstad, "Communication in a Dangerous World," in M. Emery and T. Smythe eds., Readings in Mass Communication (Dubuque, IO: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989) pp. 248-58. (30.) The author was managing editor of Arabia between 1982 and 1987. (31.) Cf. Schleifer,"Islam and Information." (32.) For a detailed examination of the complex reasons for these failures, see An Age of Darkness. (33.) For a discussion of the economic predicament of Arabic publications based in the West see Rashid Hassan, "Azmat al-sahafa al-muhajira," (The Crisis of the Migrant Press), al-Majalla, no. 376 (22-28 April 1987) pp. 52-60. (34.) See "Ra'y al-Hayat" (al-Hayat's Opinion), al-Hayat, 3 April 1993, p. 1, for the first public acknowledgement that the paper is now fully owned by a Prince Khalid bin Sultan, son of the Saudi Defense Minister and former joint commander of the allied forces in the 1991 Gulf War. (35.) Hassan, p. 53. (36.) See Lara Marlowe, pp. 49-50. (37.) For a discussion of this phenomenon see Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Turabi's Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan (London: Grey Seal Books 1991), particularly Chapter 1. See also El-Affendi, Who Needs an Islamic State? (London: Grey Seal Books, 1991). (38.) ARTICLE 19, Information Freedom and censorship: The Article 19 World Report 1991 (London and Chicago: Library Association, April 1991). (39.) Interview, London, August 1986. (40.) See Kazim al-Muqdadi, al-Bahth 'an hurriyat al-ta'bir (The Search for the Freedom of Expression) (Paris: Manshurat al-Alam al-'Arabi, 1984). Cf. Farouq Abu-Zaid, al-Sahafa al-'arabiyya al-muhajira (The Migrant Arab Press) (Cairo: Maktabat Madbouli, 1985). (41.) The nationalization of the press in Egypt and Syria in the late 1950s and early 1960s led to Beirut's flourishing as the main center of Arab journalism. See Hassan, p. 52. (42.) F. Manjouneh, Ana Kuwaiti (I am a Kuwaiti) (London: Dar Albardy, 1979) pp. 59-60. The Gulf of oil boom also marked the eclipse of Egypt as both the major market and source of finance for the publishing industry. Egypt's much diminished role as an Arab media center was finally ended by the 1978 Camp David accords with Israel. Its rapprochement with Tel Aviv left Cairo diplomatically and politically isolated in the Arab world; Egyptian publications were banned in countries like Saudi Arabia. (43.) In the 1980s, publication costs in London and Paris were estimated to be at least three times those of Beirut. (Hassan, p. 52). (44.) One such publication is the Nasserist Sawt-al-Arab, which was banned by the Egyptian government in 1988 for allegedly criticizing the Saudi royal family. See Barbara Koeppel, The Press in the Middle East: Constraints, Consensus and Censorship Washington, DC: Middle East Research and Information Project, 1989). (45.) Interviews with Arab journalists in London in late 1992 and early 1993. (46.) For a Saudi comment on the issue see Abdal-Rahman al-Rashid, "Ma'arik al-qawa'im al-sa'uda'" (The Black List Battles), al-Majalla, no. 657 (9-15 September 1992) p. 13. (47.) See Tawfiq Abdal-Hay, Mawt amira am mawt al-nizam al-sa'udi? (Death of a Princess or the Death of the Saudi Regime?) (London: Waklat al-Anba al-'Arabiyya, 1988) pp. 64-5. (48.) ibid., pp. 84-9. (49.) ibid., pp. 90-8. (50.) ibid., p. 274. (51.) Naming such publications would invite a libel suit. Nonetheless the headlines in the latest issue of one of the most notorious publications are illustrative. One headline refers to Kuwait and other Gulf emirates as being like a "a prostitute which extols chastity and honor." Libya's Qadhafi is described as "an adolescent demonstrating in the Streets of Tripoli." Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan, president of the United Arab Emirates, is described as a "rubbish dump" for dumping useless Western arms. King Fahd and his ambassador in London, however, receive two pages of devout adulation. It is obvious who was paying and who was not. (52.) On the anniversary of King Fahd's accession, one could read in al-Hawadess such headlines as: "The Pioneer of an Era of Prosperity, Stability, and the Comprehensive Modern Saudi Renaissance" or "The Wisdom of Fahd Confirmed his Closeness to Citizens" or "The View of Riyadh is the Compass of Islamic Positions." (53.) Koeppel, p. 3. (54.) ibid., pp. 12-13. (55.) ibid., p. 10. (56.) Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (1875-1938) was India's foremost Muslim poet and philosopher. A lawyer by training, he was widely respected in India and internationally for his efforts to engineer an intellectual Muslim revival; he is often regarded as the spiritual father of Pakistan. Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979) founded the Jama' at Islami, a revivalist Pakistani-based Islamic party with branches all over the Indian subcontinent, but mainly in Pakistan. Maududi's intellectual stature and influence far outshone the political success of his party. His rigorous and unapologetic espousal of Islamic values influenced militant thinkers of the Muslim brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. (57.) The Mu'tazila were members of one of the first schools of Muslim theology. They were distinguished by their trenchant rationalism and their insistence on subjecting all religious doctrine to logic and reason. They called themselves Ah Al-'Adl Wal-Tawhid (The Proponents of Justice and Unitarianism). This name derives from their insistence that God is bound to observe justice, hence it is inconceivable that He should not punish the wicked and reward the just. The Mu'tazila also insisted that the attributes of God must reflect His uniqueness from His creatures. (58.) Quran 2:256, 9:56-9. (59.) Richard W. Bulliet, Islam: A View from the Edge (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming) p. 154 of manuscript. (60.) For a discussion of how the Ottoman Empire sought to reform and modernize, see Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey. See also Algert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983). (61.) See the February and March 1993 issues of the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, which monitors the Egyptian press. (62.) During a conference on Human Rights and the Media in the Arab World held in Sicily, Italy in May 1991, most left-wing and secular intellectuals accepted the argument that despotic regimes are now a necessary evil to combat Islamic militancy. See Abaelwahah El-Affendi, "Mabadi wa ihtikam ilayha," (Principles and Appeal to Them), al-Hayat, 13 February 1993. (63.) Robert Springborg, Mubarak's Egypt: Fragmentation of the Political Order (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989) p. 193. (64.) For a discussion of the emergence and doctrines of these groups see Giles Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh (Londorf al-Saki Books, 1985). (65.) Pipes (p. 207), for example, decries Algeria in 1983 as "the most secularized and non-Shar'i country of all Dar al-Islam," a fact, he does not fail to remind us, that is "rarely recognizes"! (66.) See Abdal-Rahman, "al-Nizam al-sa'udi 'awasifal-taghyir" (The Saudi Regime Facing the Storms of Change), al-Jazeera ol-'Arabia, no. 7 (August 1991) pp. 10-13. (67.) See Miller, p. 26. Also Abdal-Ameer Musa, "Nasihat al-umma" (Advice of the Community), al-Jazeeraal-'Arabia, no.12 (January 1992) pp.39-46. The article contained the text of a tape said to have been circulated by dissidents critical of the government. One such dissident cassette tape is said to have sold more than one million copies in 1990, of which 60,000 copies Were distributed on the campus of Riyadh's university. (68.) "And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way so that you may be a witness unto mankind and that the Apostle should be a witness over you." (Quran, 2:143). Cf. Quran 3:110 "You are indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for mankind: you enjoin what is right and warn against what is wrong, and you believe in God." (69.) "In its struggle against [conditions in Germany] criticism is not the passion of the head, but the head of passion.... For the spirit these conditions is already refuted. In themselves they are not worthy of thought: rather, they are existences as despicable as they are despised." (Karl Marx, Early Writings, [Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1975] p. 246.)
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Title Annotation:Power of the Media in the Global System
Author:Affendi, Abdelwahab
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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