Friday, June 13, 2008


By Dave Botti
Photos by Jasmin Bauomy

As we continue this program past our second week, I've begun to recognize that perhaps the greatest lesson we're all learning here in that of perspectives. Coming to the Middle East I thought I'd had at least a decent understanding of how people from the region viewed themselves and the United States -- but, this understanding was far too simplified. The problem is when I try and start to think deeper about this idea, my thoughts quickly turn into a gridlock of conflicting emotions.

Take for example our visit to Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha yesterday. Here we learned about their take on the use of the word "martyr." They spoke with near pride in telling us how these days the channel only applies the word to Palestinians who died as a result of violence with the Israelis. We also learned that "martyr" does not necessarily have to be used to describe a combatant. Al Jazeera staff killed while working in war zones are also considered martyrs.

Still, I'd venture to guess that for the average American the word martyr in the context of the Middle East, conjures up images of suicide bombers and masked men fighting in the streets of the West Bank. So, why does a news organization take no issue with using such (as many in our group called it) a "loaded word"? As far as I can gather it is because we have to understand how the Arab-Israeli conflict has affected the Arab world to it's deepest roots. This is something an American such as myself could never truly understand, or rather, feel.

The editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera Arabic took issue with the term "terrorist." He made the excellent point that we have no right to label a group this or that. We just call them what they are. As a journalist I agree with this. As an American this makes me incredibly angry. Walking out of Al Jazeera I wondered who gave him the right to use the word martyr to describe Palestinians fighting the Israelis, while we couldn't use the word terrorist to describe a group that killed over 2,000 people in downtown New York City. "Martyr" comes from the history of his people, and "terrorist" comes from the history of mine.

Yes, the word terrorist is overused, but in some cases I cannot help but feel it appropriate even though the journalist in me fights the use of this word.

The bottom line here is that there is still a lot to figure out. It is difficult to understand another perspective, respect it, and try to treat it with as much care as I would my own. It is difficult to fight a natural instinct to defend the perspective of my own country, even though the journalist in me still strives for middle ground.

The challenge here can be overwhelming at times, because it's far easier just to throw up our hands and criticize or hate. That seems to be what a lot of people do -- and, that's what results in a lot of the news that we all have to find a way to cover.

1 comment:

Ethar El-Katatney said...

So true.

The truth is, it's so easy--like I said on the post about objectivity--to slant your writing if you're a reporter in the Middle East. There are no repercussions (for the most part) and if you're clever, you can use your writing to support your ideologies.

This is where you separate the real journalists from the not-so-real ones. The real journalists are the ones who choose their words very, very carefully, and consider the meaning they convery to their readers. Personally, I completely agree that loaded words shouldn't be bandied about, which is why I objected to the below post titled "Life Behind the Veil."