Al Arabiya Producer Nabil Kassem: Arab media are living in denial over Darfur
Issue 2, Summer 2007
Two years on, Nabil Kassem is still profoundly affected by his experiences in Sudan. Back in 2005, the documentary film maker was given the job of producing a $50,000 film for Al Arabiya about the crisis in Darfur. What he witnessed there, and recorded in his film, were scenes of unspeakable brutality and untold suffering, scenes he thought would surely wake up an Arab public all too willing to let Darfur pass by. But such was the indictment his film made on the Sudanese government and Arab Janjaweed militias, the final cut of Jihad on Horseback (Jihad ala Al Jiyad) never made it across the airwaves. In this highly charged interview with Co-Editor and Publisher Lawrence Pintak, Kassem speaks of how with the help of a telephone Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir prevented the broadcast of perhaps the most provocative documentary film ever made by an Arab director. Listen here.
Pintak: The documentary has been very controversial. Why is that? What is so controversial about covering Darfur for an Arab media outfit?
Kassem: I think it was the testimonies I got in Chad from the refugees. I found a woman holding a baby, she’d been raped. And the baby belonged to one of the Arabic attackers. She told me that this son’s father was from the Janjaweed. I found too many pregnant women who’d been raped from the Janjaweed.
Controversial—I don’t think it’s controversial. I think the Arab countries, especially the Sudanese, who are following the government now, they’re not ready to see the truth. What’s going on there—it is the truth. You know why? Because if you are an American, and two million of your people are sent away and thrown in the desert with no food and no water, I think there is a problem.
You have to feel. You have to see. You have to say no.
Most of the Arabic—Sudan is Arabic—they are living and denying what is going on in Sudan for the African tribals, and they are Sudanese also.
Pintak: What about Arabs, what about Arab governments and Arab media?
Kassem: They’re living in denial also. They don’t want to see. I think they thought the conflict is between the African and Arabs there in Darfur. I think they have to know that the conflict is between one people who hold one identity—all of them are Muslim—and sharing the same religion. The African tribes are Sudanese and they have their Sudanese identity and passports, and the Arab tribes they are also Sudanese.
I think it’s a war of race. When I interviewed the ministers there in Sudan and Musa Hilal (the United Nations says he’s responsible for genocide there in Darfur), I think they’re looking in a way that’s not that equal to the Africans, to the Sudanese Africans. So far in the Arab world they don’t know that it’s our race. It’s not an Arab conflict with another African conflict, it’s with Arab and African sharing the same land.
There was a genocide there—I saw too many graves. There were so many people who have been buried there.
I saw one million children, old women and men just like this on the desert. You don’t know why. And there are no Arabic organizations looking after them. Just Médecins Sans Frontières—a French organization—that is looking after them.
I thought then that maybe there is no justice in the world, I don’t know, maybe there is no God in that land. How come you throw a million people like this, like this, like this—whomever you ask why you are doing this, they told you, “Ahh this is not our conflict, this is an American and Israeli conflict, they want I don’t know what—there is diamonds here in Darfur, and there is fuel here and petrol and I don’t know what.” It’s ridiculous. I couldn’t believe this. Musa Hilal—you heard about Musa Hilal? Musa Hilal he told me, “But the government gave me guns to defend our lands.” But I thought, “How is he defending the land by throwing over a million people in the desert and in Chad?” He told me, “You know I have 20 million Arabs under my control?” I told him, “Why don’t you go and make yourself a president of Sudan?” He told me, “I’m thinking of doing this.” And imagine that a criminal like Musa Hilal would be the president of Sudan? They are liars and they are assassins. This is my personal view. This is not related to my station or to me as a journalist, this is my personal view.
Pintak: There’s a terrible line, statement in American newsrooms when African crises come up: “It’s just more flies on black faces,” meaning that it’s only Africans, who cares, it all looks the same. Is part of that what’s going on in the Arab media?
Kassem: I think so, I think so, I think so. Yes. The Arab media—I don’t know why they are denying this crisis as if it doesn’t exist. Omar Al Bashir, when he heard about my movie he started to call the king. I shouldn’t say this—you will publish this. He started to call too many weighty people to just stop this documentary. Because this documentary has testimonies, maybe he will fall down after if they publish it.
After all, after two years after Jihad on Horseback, everybody has started to know that we shouldn’t stand up and just turn our face like there is nothing going on. They have to do something, not analyzing all the time about petrol, about Israel, about America, about invasions from the West. I can’t see now that this is the problem.