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Not Your Father's Islamist TV: Changing Programming on Hizbullah's al-ManarIcon indicating an associated article is peer reviewed

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            Another program discussed silence (negative silence, al-samat al-salbi) about domestic abuse and rape (wijhat nathr, 4/10/08). Eastern culture, stigmatizing a woman for crimes committed against her, was explicitly condemned in favor of Western practices. “In this, an Eastern country, if you breathe in the north,” an unveiled woman stated, “they are listening in the south.” Civil society, aiding women in the west, was hailed as the answer but was lacking in Lebanon. Other countries have safe houses as a solution, here she stays oppressed, another stated. Having a profession or at least a job and being financially independent are advocated as solutions for women. When a caller stated that we in Lebanon should not be subject to the norms of other people's cultures and need to stick to our own, especially since Lebanon's culture is under attack, he was ignored entirely (wijhat nathr, 2/28/08) and the discussion continued seemingly uninterrupted.

 

            Individual rights and social responsibility are promoted, while violence is rejected. Numerous programs discuss rights for women and children, using the language of human rights and even the international posters delineating the rights (in French). Violence in the family and society against children (by teachers) is condemned. The law, civil society, and knowledge are viewed as the solution, following and obeying the law is important but civil society needs to identify and lobby against violations of rights and the use of violence. Hosts discuss the rights of women in Lebanese law, and state that women must fight tradition for their rights. Women's rights organizations are profiled, and warning signs of abuse discussed ('ashreenat, 4/11/08).

 

The rights of youth against their families are acknowledged, and children are asked what they want from their parents that they do not receive. Many answered respect and trust (wijhat nathr, 4/3/08), including a young unveiled woman who acknowledged the parents may be concerned because she is a woman and unveiled, but she wants her own freedom. Social responsibility and volunteerism are promoted, encouraging the audience to help themselves and each other. Programs advocate community solutions for problems typically viewed as generating the bulk of Hizbullah's legitimacy--Hizbullah's monopoly of social aid for much of the Lebanese population. Programs criticize the government's lack of social services and inform the audience how to obtain aid or medicine from government institutions.

 

            Much of the programming is self-critical, ranging from criticism of current practices and tradition to leadership in the Arab world. In one case, mediating a dialogue between loyalists of Fatah and those of Hamas, the host countered a statement blaming Israel by stating, “OK, we know that is the enemy, but what about the other side, the Arab states? What about their responsibility?” The host then asked people what they wanted from the Arab states (qadaya al-nas, 12/2/08).

 

            A few examples illustrate the popularity and relevance of topics on this part of al-Manar, and their distance from directly supporting Hizbullah’s militia, politics, or perspectives often considered typical of Islamism. One episode of the program “20s” (ashreenat, 4/11/08) dealt with violence, primarily within the family. The guests were three (unveiled) young women from a woman’s rights organization. The hostesses were three (veiled) young women. Violence was depicted as violence against women, children, and even verbal violence. The laws were scrutinized and criticized: domestic violence must be punished, but here there is no law for it one woman stated. Yet all Semitic religions prohibit such violence, they said. The example of a man hitting his wife because she did something he did not approve was mentioned, and one of the women guests discussed the necessity of recognizing that he did something wrong. There are reasons for it, he can have a weak character or his family treated him that way, but there are programs to change such behavior. Statistics from the United States on violence were mentioned, not as a demonstration of the negative American community, but as a general example of how much violence is probably occurring in the family, since that goes unreported often in Lebanon, and can occur in society. Violence on television and its harmful effects was discussed, as was Internet and game violence.

 

            In another program, Youth (shebab, 11/6/08), an episode highlighted creativity and its importance. This program brings four young adults who are successful in their fields from around the Arab world, usually with a mix of men and women. The host, a young man, asks questions and moderates a discussion among them. This episode had three young men and one (unveiled) young woman. The Arab world does not encourage innovation, a guest stated, and people do not invest in Arab projects. One guest had a project for sports, while another was an artist. Examples of successful investment and creativity in the United States were offered as positive role models that the Arab world does not follow: Walt Disney, Rambo, and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s business model. The artist discussed how creativity differs from high grades in school. The host asked what the role of government in supporting these should be. The mentality in the Arab world and the politics of governments needs to change, one guest stated, and others agreed.

 

            Another program, geared often toward women’s issues, discussed the common practice of spanking children in the Arab world (wijhat nathr, 2/28/08). This program is live, with a studio audience, guest experts, and callers. The program includes a segment interviewing people on the street on the topic of the episode. (In this episode children were asked their experiences of being disciplined by their parents.) The guest expert (an unveiled woman) on this program continued to drift into French, generally a sign of a Christian Lebanese upbringing. The audience was almost completely women, roughly evenly split between veiled and non-veiled, including Christians and Muslims (demonstrated by the names), working and stay at home mothers. All agreed they should find alternatives to spanking, but were frustrated how they could still discipline their children. A caller decried the entire discussion, seeking alternatives to spanking, saying that especially at this time of cultural onslaught we Easterners and Lebanese should stick to our culture. He was referring to the common idea that spanking was an Arab way of parenting, while not to do so was Western. He completely ignored by the women in the audience and hostess; the women in the audience enthusiastically picked up the conversation precisely where it had stopped before the caller, as if he had never spoken, jumping in and passing the microphone among the audience to state their opinions and situations, seeking another way of disciplining children. A stay-at-home mother stated that work had nothing to do with it—she could not discipline her children and she was home with them all the time. Alternative methods of disciplining and detecting root causes for children’s behavior were discussed.

 

The new message of al-Manar

 

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* Author’s note: The views here are the author’s alone and not that of the U.S. government or any other institutional affiliation. The author thanks the AMS editors and reviewers for help and comments.

[1] This view is most polemically portrayed by Mark Dubowitz, "Watching Al-Manar: Violence in the Media," National Review Online, no. 17 July (2006). On Islamist television of the Salafi variety, fitting much of this description, see Nath Field and Ahmed Hamam, "Salafi Satellite Tv in Egypt," Arab Media & Society, no. 8 (2009).

[2] Hizbullah and al-Manar maintain that they are separate entities, but Hizbullah almost wholly finances the television, and the ties between the two are not seriously disputed. The question of journalistic and professional independence of the station, and goals unique to media (audience share) remain to be investigated.

[3] Assessing how audiences receive and process programs is a complicated and multi-faceted issue; I do not deal with it here but instead depict the media presentation of interaction with other communities on the station.

[4] By non-political I refer to the human-interest programs distinct from news, political talk shows, religious programs, documentaries and spots overtly promoting Hizbullah and its military. These human interest programs form a significant percentage of all programming and air on prime time, including the prized Thursday night spot. To date, there has been scant academic analysis of these programs; writing has focused on overtly political programs, not common concerns, or what some would view as everyday politics. This bias reflects one common in social science. As I argue below, by neglecting this realm, analysts remain ignorant to the future that Hizbullah views for itself and that is projecting to viewers, including its constituency.

[5] This article is the beginning of a larger project on al-Manar's multi-communal public sphere and the influence of political constituencies and audiences in Hizbullah. Al-Manar over the internet can be found at http://www.almanar.com.lb/NewsSite/ManarLive.aspx, accessed through the home page of almanar.com.lb. Alternative portals also provide access to the station over the web.

[6] Joseph Elie Alagha, The Shifts in Hizbullah's Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology, and Political Program, Isim Dissertations (Amsterdam: ISIM/Amsterdam University Press, 2006), Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

[7] Mona Harb and Reinoud Leenders, "Know Thy Enemy: Hizbullah, 'Terrorism' and the Politics of Perception," Third World Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2005).

[8] Walid Charara and Frédéric Domont, Le Hezbollah : Un Mouvement Islamo-Nationaliste (Paris: Editions Fayard, 2004), 170.

[9] Hugh Dellios, "With an Eye toward Politics, Hezbollah Recasting Its Image; Savvy Tv Campaign Credited in Group's Battle with Israel," Chicago Tribune, 13 April 2000.

[10] Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 59.

[11] For academic accounts of the early al-Manar see Frederic M. Wehrey, "Hizbullah's Psychological Campaign against Israel in South Lebanon," Small Wars and Insurgencies 13, no. 3 (2002), Ron Schleifer, "Psychological Operations: A New Variation on an Age Old Art: Hezbollah Versus Israel," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 29, no. 1 (2006).

[12] Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah, 60.

[13] Robert Fisk, “Television news is secret weapon of the intifada,” The Independent (London), 2 December 2000.

[14] Avi Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hizballah's al-Manar Television. Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004. While based on research, Jorisch’s work is also directly tied to a political goal, that of banning al-Manar, and lacks an understanding of context. As an example, the lack of context is apparent in the interpretation of a phrase used by the station, “Jerusalem, we are coming,” as a threat. The line actually comes from a well-known song by the Lebanese (Christian) singer Fairouz, about religious unity, worshiping in Jerusalem by all religions, and Jerusalem as a city of peace. The viewing audience would know this song and tie the phrase to it. Avi Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hizballah's Al-Manar Television (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004), 67, 85. See Fairouz's song in Arabic at http://www.fairouz.com/fairouz/special/poem.html#arabic.

[15] One of the chief programs substantiating the claim that al-Manar is anti-Semitic was a Syrian-made drama that the station said it purchased quickly without viewing the entire series in advance (the Diaspora). The series repeated stereotypical myths about Jews. When this came to light, al-Manar reportedly stopped airing the series. Whether this version of events is true or not is arguably less important than the station’s realization and public statement that airing the series was a mistake. Charara and Domont, Le Hezbollah, 171.

[16] Avi J. Jorisch, "Al-Manar and the War in Iraq," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 5, no. 4 (2003), Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred, ch. 5.

[17] Caroline Drees, “Manar TV as ‘Terrorist,” www.washingtonpost.com (Reuters), 17 December 2004; “Al-Manar TV to go off Dutch platform,” aljazeera.net, 17 March 2005.

[18] U.S. Department of the Treasury, "U.S. Designates Al-Manar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity; Television Station Is Arm of Hizballah Terrorist Network," ed. Department of the Treasury (2006). Two men were arrested for installing al-Manar in the United States. Pincus, Walter, "New Yorker Arrested for Providing Hezbollah TV Channel," The Washington Post, 25 August 2006; p. A10. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/24/AR2006082401461.html. One, a businessman providing access to a wide range of stations including pornography, was sentenced to six years in prison. Larry Neumeister, Associated Press Writer, April 24, 2009, “6 years in prison for airing Hezbollah TV in NYC,” posted, among other locations, at http://www.wtopnews.com/?nid=251&sid=1659031.

[19] For example, Daniel J. Wakin, “Hezbollah Seen Making Subtle Changes After War in Iraq,” New York Times, 11 May 2003.

[20] Dellios, "With an Eye toward Politics, Hezbollah Recasting Its Image."

[21] Qasim Qusayr, "Hizbullah Rearranges Its Information Organization to Confront Changes in Lebanon and the Region (in Arabic)," al-Mustaqbal, 9 March 2006.

[22] Daily Star, "Hizbullah’s Broadcasting Arms Garner Awards," 12 July 2002.

[23] Juhayna Khalidiyya, “Is this another step toward Lebanizing al-Manar? "Word to the nation": the opinions of prominent personalities regarding the maintenance of the resistance's arms...not its removal (in Arabic)." al-Safir, 17 August 2005.

[24] Lebanese Ministry of Information, 24 June 2005, Shameem Rassam, 19 November 2008.

[25] John Lancaster, “Hezbollah Tunes In On Profits; Party’s TV Station Airing U.S. Movies,” Washington Post, 19 June 2005.

[26] Madouna Sama'an, "'al-salam 'alaykum wa rahma allah wa barakatuhu' min kaneesa ghazeer waraqa al-tafahum taftah khataan askariyyan amam 'al-manar' fi fatouh kasrawan," al-Safir, 4 April 2006.

[27] Whether this is due solely to Hizbullah’s new direction or to a parallel professionalization of the media in its search for an audience has yet to be determined.

[28] Firmo-Fontan, Victoria. "Power, NGOs, and Lebanese Television: a Case Study of Al-Manar TV and the Hezbollah Women's Association." In Women and Media in the Middle East: Power through Self-Expression, edited by Naomi Sakr, 162-79. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.

[29] Over 50 random street interviews were conducted in Lebanon and Jordan on al-Manar in June 2005, in addition to intermittent interviews with Lebanese and other Arabs watching regarding al-Manar in 2006-present.

[30] Author interviews with Lebanese of Aoun’s party.

[31] Conway, Maura. "Terror TV? An exploration of Hizbullah's al-Manar television." In Countering Terrorism and Insurgency in the 21st Century, edited by James F. Forest, 401-19. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

[32] Eli Lake, "Israel War Effort Extends Even to Hezbollah Tv," The Sun, 2 August 2006.

[33] Matthias Gebauer, "Broadcasting from the Bunker: Hezbollah's Al-Manar," Spiegel Online, no. 8 August (2006).

[34] "IDF broadcasts Hizbullah's dead on al-Manar," ynetnews.com, 8 August 2006, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3288442,00.html

[35] Hasan M. Al-Rizzo, "The Undeclared Cyberspace War between Hezbollah and Israel," Contemporary Arab Affairs 1, no. 3 (2008): 400.Marwan Kraidy, "Hizbollywood. Hizbullah's Information War Viewed from Lebanon," The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 17 October 2006, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1426&fuseaction=topics.event_summary&event_id=201758.

[36] Abu-Fadil, Magda. "Hezbollah TV Claims Credit for Ousting Israelis." IPI Global Journalist, www.globaljournalist.org/archive/Magazine/Al%29Manar-2004q.html, Marvin Kalb and Carol Saivetz, "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict," Press/Politics 12, no. 3 (2007).

[37] Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. "People say no." Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 3-9 August 2006, Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal, and Marina Ottaway. "Hizbollah and Its Changing Identities." Policy Outlook (Democracy & Rule of Law Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) 2007.

[38] For coverage on al-Manar after the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, black ops and guerilla warfare leader in Hizbullah, see Ajemian, Peter. "Resistance beyond time and space: Hezbollah's media campaigns." Arab Media & Society, no. 5 (Spring) (2008).

[39] Estimating viewership is difficult, due to the channel-flipping characteristics of the Arab audience and concomitant lack of reliance on advertising for funding. Paul Cochrane, "Bombs and Broadcasts: Al Manar's Battle to Stay on Air," Arab Media & Society, no. Feburary (2007). A Zogby poll puts the viewership of al-Manar at 2% of the Arab world, which translates to about $10 million. See Pro Publica’s Arabic Language Regional Television News comparison chart at http://www.propublica.org/special/arabic-language-regional-television-news. Al-Arabiya had 9% and one of the most popular Lebanese stations, LBC, 3%.

[40] Marwan M. Kraidy, "Arab Media and Us Policy: A Public Diplomacy Reset," in Policy Analysis Brief (The Stanley Foundation, 2008), 4.

[41] Hisham Sharabi, "Arab Satellite Channels and Their Political Impact after the Iraq War," al-Hayat, 18 July 2003.

[42] West Bank and Gaza Presidential Elections, Final Report, European Union Election Observation Mission, 9 January 2005. Available from www.amin.org/eng/uncat/2005/mar/mar002.html.

[43] Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred.

[44] Cochrane, "Bombs and Broadcasts." Goldman, Dudi, "War soars al-Manar popularity," ynetnews.com, 24 August 2006, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3295190,00.html;

Mizroch, Amir. "Al-Manar TV soars into ratings 'Top 10,'" Jerusalem Post, 25 August 2006, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1154525941045

[45] See Pro Publica’s Arabic Language Regional Television News comparison chart at http://www.propublica.org/special/arabic-language-regional-television-news.

[46] Petra News Agency, "Winners of the Inquirer Award 2007 Announced," Open Source Center, GMP20080302966007  (2 March 2008).

[47] Assaf David and Oren Barak, "How the New Arab Media Challenges the Arab Militaries: The Case of the War between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006," The Middle East Institute Policy Brief, no. 20 (2008).

[48] Lawrence Pintak, "Reporting a Revolution: The Changing Arab Media Landscape," Arab Media & Society, no. February (2007).

[49] As a religious party, Hizbullah receives tithes from the Shi’a community, which in Islam constitute one-fifth of individual income. Iranian funding of Hizbullah dropped dramatically in the 1990s.

[50] Pro Publica, Arabic Language Regional Television News comparison chart, op cit.

[51] Magda Abu-Fadil, "Hezbollah Tv Claims Credit for Ousting Israelis," IPI Global Journalist, www.globaljournalist.org/archive/Magazine/Al%29Manar-2004q.html.

[52] Avi Jorisch, "Al-Manar: Hizbullah Tv, 24/7," Middle East Quarterly XI, no. 1 (2004).

[53] For examples of recent media campaigns see Peter Ajemian, "Resistance Beyond Time and Space: Hezbollah's Media Campaigns," Arab Media & Society, no. 5 (Spring) (2008).

[54] Interview with Rassam.

[55] Kraidy, "Arab Media and Us Policy," 4-5.

[56] On Hizbullah’s modernity that is mixed with the practice of piety, see Lara Deeb, An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi'i Lebanon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). Deeb also highlights the prominent role of women in Hizbullah, corresponding to evidence from al-Manar.

[57] I have left out the entertainment series, discovery-type programs, games and children’s shows.

[58] French education and speech even at home is characteristic of segments of the Christian community in Lebanon.

[59] On Lebanon’s media sectarianism, see Paul Cochrane, "Are Lebanon's Media Fanning the Flames of Sectariansim?," Arab Media & Society, no. May (2007), Nabil Dajani, "The Re-Feudalization of the Public Sphere: Lebanese Television News Coverage and the Lebanese Political Process," Transnational Broadcasting Studies, no. 16 (2006).