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Interview with Professor Raja Halwani

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If you would like to send Raja a question please e-mail nbond@saic.edu. We will attempt to answer and post as many as possible.

Q: How do people form opinions about what’s happening in Lebanon and Israel?

A: I suspect there is no one general answer for all people. Depending on who you have in mind, people get their news from different sources. Arabs and Arab-Americans, for example, rely on satellite television when they can and on Arabic news from the Internet (in addition to the US mainstream media). Many of them go to particular Web sites, such as Electronic Lebanon or Electronic Intifada. I suspect also that many pro-Israeli Americans rely on their own particular Web sites and email lists. As to the general American public, I’m not sure. But many of them, of course, rely on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, in addition to the newspapers, especially NYT and others. 

Q: What is the best way, in your opinion, for people to gain a true understanding of the conflict, if that is possible at all? 

A: I do think there is a true understanding of the conflict, at least in its broad brush strokes. But to gain this understanding, I am convinced, it is not enough to rely on mainstream media or even alternative news sites. The public needs to get down and dirty and read academic books on the subject. For a proper understanding, I think this is essential. There are many good books out there that are aimed for the general public.

Q: What kind of job is the network/cable news doing, covering the conflict, in your opinion? What other sources should people turn to, in order to gain a better understanding? Do you find that people are inclined to seek out a better understanding of this conflict? Why or why not?

A: I think news sources such as CNN and MSNBC basically adopt the Israeli point of view. CNN, for example, calls the Israeli Army by its official (and misleading) name: The Israeli Defense Forces. CNN also recently did a story about an American family whose tradition is for its men to go fight for Israel, calling the latest installment of this tradition – their teenage kid, shown in multiple photos touting as many arms as possible in military fatigue – living “his own American dream” without a hint of irony; indeed, the story was pretty much cheering him on. I don’t even watch Fox cable as it makes mesick. Local media are awful in their own way: their coverage is usually ignorant and sporadic. 

As to whether people are inclined to seek different sources for news, I’m not sure. I think it depends on each individual. But my sense is that many Americans have become indifferent to what is going on – a sad state of affairs since the public has the power to do something about this and it also has a responsibility to do so, since US foreign policy is heavily involved in the area, since many of the predicaments the Middle East finds itself in are the direct result of this foreign policy, and since much of our tax money goes to support Israel. Finally, there are many alternative news sources. People can read on-line most of the major Arabic news sources (as almost all these have English versions). They can, for example, read theDaily Star (the Lebanese English daily) on-line, and they can read al-Jazeera on-line also. The Electronic Intifada, in addition to having news updates and political analysis, has a good historical archive that people can tap into. All these can be accessed simply via Google.

 

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