The Authority Of the Arabic Press
From The Arab Voice, undated
With the flood of Arab immigrants, some Arab intelligence agencies have tried to exploit the situation to propagandize on behalf of organizations based in their countries of origin. Some of them publish Arabic-language newspapers under the guise of providing cultural and information services to the Arab immigrant community.
However, the Arab immigrant mind tends to shun the influence of the East because it rejects the dictatorial mind-set governing the behavior of such organizations. Thus, the immigrant community has unmasked and utterly rejected many such publications.
Many copies of these newspapers are printed, only to be found later in trash bins because they have no readers. These organizations were mistaken in believing that these publications could find local support at a time when immigrants are wary of newspapers that purport to speak for all Arabs. That is to say, the news and cultural resources of a regional newspaper speak mainly to the interests of the region that support it financially to the exclusion of news and culture from other Arabic-speaking regions, so it is not too difficult to discover the propaganda organs and to avoid them.
With that criterion in mind, we can say that the prime example of such a publication is the Arabic-language Daula ["Nation"], which is trying lately to whitewash its reputation among the immigrant community.
With increased emigration, some journalistic amateurs, who cannot find an outlet for their ideas in their native lands before they emigrate because they are lacking in professional and artistic ability, are crazy enough to publish newspapers they finance themselves, without advertising, especially if their idea of the journalistic profession sees nothing wrong with putting out a paper with contents plagiarized from overseas publications. Such newspapers dont enjoy the broad support they need to survive, so the publisher becomes the financier, writer, distributor, and editor in chief. Many such papers appear only irregularly, and their proprietors often publicize the amount they mortgaged their Jeep for in order to bring out a single issue. If the publisher digs up enough advertising, he can cover his distribution costs. If not, hes still half-asleep when he loads up his Jeep to fulfill the orders himself.
In the last ten years, however, some who practiced journalism professionally in their native lands have dramatic changed the way they operate, relying on self-financing in the beginning and then finding that the Arab-American classifieds market is capable of supporting a quality publication. The Arab Times was a pioneer in that field. It was followed by al-Watan ["Homeland"], originally published in Washington and then relocated to California, and as-Saut al-Uruba ["Arab Voice"], published in New Jersey for the last ten years. These newspapers have extended their distribution to numerous states and increased their wholesale business to an extent that enables them to develop artistically and professionally and to thrive economically.
Indeed, the managers of these newspapers have grown more confident over time, and have begun to cover the cultural and intellectual interests of all Arabs in addition to the political programs they believe are in the best interest of their readership.
However, these newspapers remain too widely separated geographically to become a truly influential voice in American society. Only if they merge into a single publication will they be able to widen their distribution to a sufficient degree. Moreover, there are no mature, powerful Arab financial institutions to help create this influential voice. There are many reasons for this, chief among them that the owners of these publications have not yet cured themselves of the illnesses they brought from their native lands. When they came to America, the viruses of the old world continued to gnaw at their bones.
The Role of the Arab Immigrant Community in Newspaper Development
The Arab immigrant community in the United States has played a fundamental role in the development of Arabic-language newspapers in this country, and not just the three I singled out above, but the Arabic press as a whole. Different communities, however, have flooded these publications with distinctly regional ideas and opinions. If a newspaper is Egyptian, for example, then Egyptian news is the first priority. If its Palestinian, news of Palestine is of primary interest, and thats what the paper reports. This is what makes Arabic-language newspapers overly dependent on the size of immigrant audiences from specific regions. Its a problem that continues today, which is why you find that the papers that get read are the ones that are distributed to the same immigrant community to which the publisher belongs.
We realize full well that this is the practical reality we have to deal with, despite the efforts of some to ignore it. And it leads us straight to the issue of the relationship of one immigrant community with another, an issue that affects all the institutions that immigrant communities have tried to establish. That is, the idea of a place that caters to Arab immigrants in general is not received with universal enthusiasm. If you have a meeting place for Palestinians, for example, Egyptians will tend to congregate at another place of their own. If you have a faction from Morocco, you will also have a separate faction of Iraqis. Thats just the way the Arab world is.
In my view, some try to emphasize cultural differences at the expense of cultural unity in support of a nationalist agenda that has nothing to do with a common language and a common history. This is simply the practical result of the diversity of Arab political cultures as they exist in our Arab East. What leads us to emigrate is our own concerns about the politics of our native land, and never mind the political concerns of Arabs from other countries.
But some Arab institutions have succeeded in moving away from this parochialism, such as the Arab-American Institute, which numbers among its members a mixture of Arab peoples, although concerns itself solely with political matters.
American society is indeed foreign to us, and this strangeness is not confined to the humiliating experiences of Arab immigrants. Other immigrant communities suffer from the same affliction.
Thus, if an Arab immigrant carries with him to America the afflictions he suffered in his native land, then other immigrants, such as those from Latin America or Eastern Europe or China or Japan, suffer from the same condition. Latin Americans, for example, have different concerns and interests, despite sharing Spanish as a common language. Just as Arabic dialects differ from region to region in our world, as they do in English and French, so the afflictions these immigrants suffer are resistant to all attempts to cure them. On the other hand, newspapers that have been published by these immigrant communities are more widely distributed than Arab immigrant newspapers because these communities are often much larger.
American Jews have distinguished themselves from these other immigrant communities by establishing newspapers published in both English and Hebrew. For the most part, the only newspapers that get published are those that agree with the Zionist viewpoint and employ all their resources to further its ends. There are examples here and there of Jewish newspapers not dedicated to the Zionist cause, but these have no influence to speak of.
What concerns us here, however, is the publication of Arabic-language newspapers for Arab immigrant communities. There are a number of solutions that might bring about the hoped-for results, if we can agree on how to implement them, which is no easy matter.
First, the problem of the Arabic newspaper can be solved through the spread of financial and administrative institutions set up to support such publications and provide them with the necessary licenses.
Second, the possibility of merging several publications in order to pool artistic and editorial talent in order to raise the journalistic and intellectual level of the paper, and to support these people with everything they need to succeed.
Third, to negotiate the principles of a journalistic culture that would be able to speak on behalf of Arabs in general, and that would balance regional with common concerns.
(Translated from Arabic by Colin Brayton)