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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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            Sectarianism, or the promotion of one sect, its politics or religion, is sidelined. In religion, an ecumenical view is dominant outside the few specifically religious shows. Far from hate speech against Jews, several programs discuss the common, positive, values of the Semitic religions, specifically stated as such, which encompasses Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (for example, ya’shouna baynana, 11/5/08). Christian religious authorities appear on the programs. One program was set at a Bishop's house in southern Lebanon, and a priest was the guest speaker on another. Shi'a religious authorities are careful to use terms available to all the monotheistic religions, speaking of God in general and not any one religion's precepts. Religion is not generally depicted as the solution to problems. Hosts ignore the few comments contending that religious practices are the solution, suggested by the audience or callers. In one case, an audience member stated that memorizing the Quran was a solution to the day's question, which focused on raising the self-esteem and confidence for all family members (wijhat nathr, 10/7/07). The hostess interrupted and did not repeat the question to the guest to answer. "Never mind," she stated, and moved on to ask the guests another question. During the same show, a caller attempted to remind the audience of the need to confront Israel and the needs of the nation, and the hostess cut him off. An attempt is made to differentiate between religion and country, between Jews, Judaism, and Israel. Further, the station tries to eliminate negative ad hominem comments, although due to the live nature of many programs it is not always able to do so. In the program ma` al-mushahideen (With the viewers), people call in and express their feelings and opinions on a particular subject. On one, a viewer called a leader of Israel a dog, to which the host replied that was not appropriate language, that they were discussing issues, and that he would be cut off if he persisted. He persisted and was cut off with apologies from the host regarding such language (3/7/09).

 

            Others programs put aside political differences, as in 'ashreenat's introduction of a young woman who had created a project to promote dialogue in Lebanon (12/13/08). "Not March 14th or March 8th," the announcer stated, but any day in March, referring to the government-supporting coalition (March 14th) versus the opposition (March 8th) of which Hizbullah is a member. Hizbullah's politics are vehemently against the March 14th coalition, but this woman's project cut across the two and aimed at establishing a national dialogue. Some programs are meant to heal sectarian divides, as after the confrontation in May 2008 between opposition, mainly Shi'a and pro-government (primarily Sunni and Druze) armed groups. Programs brought mixed couples to discuss how they were coping and how the Lebanese could begin to heal from this. In one, the host stated that we all made mistakes in this conflict, some more than others, but now we were beginning to patch up the wounds and learn from what happened (5/20/08). Repeatedly, if guests promote one side's politics, particularly if they laud the political stance of Hizbullah, the host interrupts and reminded them that politics are to be kept out of this forum. Political confessionalism is depicted as negative. Instead, political battles that do not conflate religion or race with political stance are to be emulated. The American elections were referenced repeatedly in this respect, as guests discussed the positive example of how politics is run in the United States on numerous programs.

 

            Education, creativity, and an orientation toward the future are themes running through the various programs. Arab education is decried for relying on rote memorization and failing to encourage creativity and critical thinking, just as academics, NGOs, and USAID complain. Creativity and innovation were the subject of shebab (11/6/08). Young Arab inventors and artists from various parts of the Arab world discussed the importance of free-thinking. American business models were lauded, from Kentucky Fried Chicken to Walt Disney, and Edison's numerous failures and ultimate success held up as an exemplar of perseverance. Guests stated that what needs to change is a mentality that resists creativity and new ideas, along with governments that do not encourage, or work against, innovation. A female artist (unveiled) discussed her problems being taken seriously as a woman, and her desire to express what women experience. So important is creativity that coverage of innovations and new practices form the bulk of the weekly program "Twenties" ('ashreenat) and the weekly safahat mulawanna. Episodes of 'ashreenat cover the latest, cutting edge gadgets and technological advances, such as a yoga mat with built-in streaming video and mp3 speakers, and profile successful youth or those proposing new projects. Advances in robots appear regularly, and green or environmentally-friendly advances are reported with admiration. Street plays against war by young Lebanese youth are highlighted.

 

            To accomplish the goal of innovation, the value of time and planning were the subject of another episode of "Youth" (11/13/08), simultaneously discarding concepts of fate that have been interpreted as resignation. The notion of al-rabbaniyya, or relying on God for the future, was rejected as not useful or valid. The result may be up to God, but the person has to do his duty, working, planning, and creatively imagining new futures. The management of time, a quintessential enterprise of modernity, was emphasized as necessary for success and direction.

 

            By itself, the modern mind-set of the station, imparting a belief and duty for people to creatively alter their world for the better, would be unexpected given common views of Islamism or political Islam. Shows on al-Manar do not stop there, but also take on patriarchy and promote an ideal of working women and male responsibility for household chores. Change from tradition is a strong theme. Tradition is viewed as negative, something to be changed, and was directly confronted in segments dealing with male authority, marriage as oppression, views of divorced women, men doing housework, domestic violence including honor crimes, countering the norm of silence against abuse, and choosing a spouse (3/17/08-10/13/08). In all these, the views presented did not differ extremely from those promoted by the West. Killing a woman because she was raped or committed adultery (honor crimes) is condemned, as is domestic violence against women and children. Divorced women should not be viewed with suspicion or seen as loose, and women should be free to stay single and not marry. In many of the more controversial episodes, those breaking traditional barriers, a religious cleric was either a guest on the show or called for his opinion. In all cases, the cleric affirmed what the experts had stated and did not contradict the tone or conclusions of the episodes, thus adding the stamp of religious legitimacy to new ideas.

 

            Common knowledge and inherited understandings are subjected to scientific findings in order to educate for change. Western countries are lauded for safe houses for battered women, creativity-inspiring education, and the strong role of civil society. Hostesses discuss needing to "think outside the box," stated in English and translated into Arabic, and the importance of quality time. Women as caretakers are not assumed. A hostess was careful to correct a guest and instead use gender-neutral terms. Whoever prepares the food, be it the lady or the man of the house, should know how to handle meat properly, the hostess stated, as opposed to assuming a woman would always do the cooking.

 

The programs promote more equitable distribution of responsibility and tasks among all family members, not limited to women only taking care of the family and home. This includes more responsibility for men in the family, from chores and child caretaking to encouraging wives in their careers. Relationships within the family between parents and children have become subject to new norms for the optimum relationship between individuals. The goal and the role of the parent on these programs are to treat each child equally and obtain compliance without the traditional stick of force. Further, parents should promote creativity and self-worth for all family members, including the elderly. Each one needs to feel affirmed, valued, and celebrated, and their individual talent encouraged. Parents should not project their own lack of accomplishment or their own goals onto their children, but let them choose their own path. Work is also seen as fulfillment for women, an outlet for her to have a separate source of self-esteem. When a woman had a rebellion problem with her children, the first thing the guest experts wanted to know was if she had her own life and work (mushkila wa rai', 2/4/08). Without a separate life away from home, the woman could feel empty and unfulfilled, and thus place her life expectations onto the children, which would be negative.

 

 

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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).