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Lynch, Marc. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera and Middle East Politics Today.

Lynch, Marc. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera and Middle East Politics Today. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006. Hardcover $24.00.

The main undertaking of Lynch's book "Voices of the New Arab Public" is to counter the hysterical claims that Al-Jazeera in specific and the Arab media in general are "jihad TV" or are collaborating with insurgents. The main thesis is that there appeared structural transformation in the Arab public sphere due to the constant public scrutiny of Arab governments and insistence on discussing reforms in the Arab world by the new media. Although the study focuses on questions of public opinion, it does not offer a full treatment of news coverage by Arab Media but the coverage done by the media on Iraq since 1991-1994. Lynch draws his analysis on a collection of debates on Al-Jazeera talk shows, in op-ed pages of pan-Arab daily newspapers, in Internet chat rooms with hot debates and actual interviews. He concludes that Arab media must be treated seriously by the west. It is not the enemy. The new media, Lynch contends, might push towards democracy and change in the region if understood properly by the west.

Lynch explains how the new Arab public sphere was a primary source of Arab identity for the past decade and a half. "What it means to be an Arab" was dependant on solidarity with the Iraqi people and their sufferings due to the imposed sanctions on them. Having some Arabic countries join the coalition in 1991 divided the Arabs. Following that, a dramatic change took place throughout the imposed sanctions years until the 1998 bombing of Iraq where there appeared a clear sympathy with the Iraqis. This support grew even more by the 2003 invasion. Sustained opposition of military action against Iraq was, by no means, accompanied by glorification of Saddam. In fact, the Arab public was often critical of the Saddam Regime. The Arab public in the post-Saddam era was struck by the formerly exiled opposition that came to dominate the new government in Iraq. The reason why once they came to power they criticized, closed media offices (Al-Jazeera), and treated the Arab media with suspicion, accusing them to be insurgency supporters.

The Arab media discourse was primarily inwardly directed and characterized by self criticism rather than addressing the West. Americans (government and public) have complained about the "lies" and "propaganda" generated by the Arab media describing them as an impediment in the success of Iraq. The new Arab public sphere, Lynch concludes, "... is a genuine public sphere, characterized by self-conscious, open, and contentious political argument before a vast but discrete audience" (248). But it is still a weak public sphere cut off from any viable means of influencing policies in the region. The United States approach in controlling the media by means of harsh attacks on Arabic language channels or by attempts to launch an alternative Arabic channel (Al-Hurra) have largely failed. This further contributed to skyrocketing anti-American sentiments. This book documents very well the debates on Iraq for almost a decade and a half and perfectly serves as an alternative to non-Arab speaking academics interested in the region. It successfully counters the continuous process of demonization of Arab media.
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Title Annotation:BOOKS IN BRIEF--SUMMER AND FALL 2006
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:539
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