By Saeed Naqvi
5 August 2012
Friends of mine, whose opinions I value, have in recent months been critical of my reporting on the Arab Spring or its exact opposite. Why am I always out of sync with conventional wisdom? They ask.
These are sympathetic friends who would like me to share with them the arena of intellectual harmony beneath the overarching canopy of conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom is a comfort zone the parameters of which are set by unidentifiable forces above. Discourse must be conducted within these confines, rather like lanes in an Olympic track event. In Islam, you cross the line to the left and you are a heretic, bear right and you are a renegade. The Quran and the Hadith are the reference points against which deviations are to be recorded.
The world of Persian and Urdu poetry is replete with instances of red lines drawn by the Quran-thumping clergy, being violated with impunity. Sarmad, the Faqir saint of the Aurangzeb era, said La Ilah (there is no God) and paused; Ghalib thought a Brahmin's unshakable faith in his "idol" entitled him to an august seat in paradise; Josh Malihabadi culls Satan's exhortation to the fallen angels, from Paradise Lost, "awake, arise, or be forever fallen". Josh says:
"Shaitan-wo-Abu Jahel ki
Azmat ki Qasam,
Sau baar Ghulami se
Josh applauds Satan's courage to revolt even against God in preference to blind, obsequious servility.
The lanes set for the management of discourse on current affairs, particularly international politics, have similar red lines, crossing which exposes you to the charge of being a conspiracy theorist.
The entire media is a part of the western effort (via the reliable agencies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) to unseat Bashar al Assad.
Just as in Islam the belief system depends on the Quran and the Hadith, conventional wisdom on current affairs in a globalised world is shaped by the media: CNN, BBC, Al Arabia and Al Jazeera. For print, all the columnists resident in the US and Britain have a free ride on the op-ed pages of many of our mainstream newspapers, conditioning our minds totally on issues like the developments in West Asia, specifically Syria.
The entire media listed above is, by some of their own admission, part of the western effort (via the reliable agencies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) to unseat Bashar al Assad. Why Israel's name never appears in the list reminds me of Arzoo Lucknowi's pithy couplet:
"Marg e aashiq pe farishta
Maut ka badnaam tha;
Woh hansi rokey alag
Baitha tha jiska kaam tha!"
(The Angel of death was publicly chastised for the death of one who stood for love. While he who had actually done the deed controlled his laughter in the shadows)
To revert to the media's distortions on Syria, a participant at the seminar screamed. "But Al Jazeera has great credibility."
Yes, that is why it is all the more disturbing that it has played a Mir Jaffer since Libya. This requires explanation. The Emir of Qatar, oil rich and independent, was never on the same wavelength as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Even though his Sheikhdom is the headquarters for CENTCOM, he took advantage of the BBC pruning its staff and employed them to launch Al Jazeera. It was a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, then involved in Afghanistan and Iraq. So livid was the Pentagon, that Jazeera offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed. Scholars like Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University, ran media campaigns against Al Jazeera. The network's credibility rose sky high. The about turn came when King Abdullah returned from convalescence in Europe to find fellow dictators in Tunis and Cairo gone. People's power, if not checked, would devour all monarchies unless "all of us clasp each other's hands". That is when Al Jazeera traded its credibility to join the regional jihad. Because of this somersault, the network has been the most effective tool in Libya and Syria.
"Seeing is believing" is the cliché I got myself attached to early in my journalism. It was far sighted of the think-tank I work for that it enabled me to travel to Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Israel. That is why I have a view which friends bound exclusively to the western media find disconcerting.
Ghalib said, "Travel, so that your narrow vision opens up with the abundance of the spectacle." As Bobby Taleyarkhan always asked, "Do you get me, Steve?"