The Women of Al Jazeera

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Published: Jul 03 2017, 01:01:am

Monday, July 3, 2017.

     We’re now a month into the 2017 Gulf crisis. The latest bit of Middle Eastern nastiness, it began on June 5 with Saudi Arabia and its vassal state Bahrain joining Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in severing diplomatic relations with Qatar. Claiming shock, shock that their sister state was a supporter of “terrorism,” the sin-free quartet imposed a blockade that closed their land, air and sea borders with the peninsular nation.

    Some 19 days later, the gang of four issued its list of non-negotiable demands, a  set of insults to Qatar’s sovereignty that includes the demand to shut down the Al Jazeera Media network. As someone who has come to respect the work of the Al Jazeera English news team — the practitioners of some of the best broadcast journalism currently available — that hit close to home.
    In an attempt to understand the origins of the dispute, I read a lot of news commentaries. Most of them trace the Saudi-led action to the May 20 visit by Donald Trump to Riyadh. Curiously, the chief executive of the U.S., a country with a constitution that enshrines freedom of the press and religious practice, made his first overseas trip to a totalitarian state. There, he lavished praise upon hereditary tribal chieftains who respect neither of those principles.

    (His next stop was Israel, America’s best buddy in the world, despite its establishment of an official religion and an apartheid governance system.)

    In much the same way that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein understood that he had U.S. permission to invade Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious crown prince Mohammad bin Salman believes that he has Uncle Sam’s permission to bring the recalcitrant Qataris to heel. And, like the press-hating Trump, the 31-year-old prince really, really hates Al Jazeera, an organization that practices journalism rather than a proper state-supporting stenography.

    Since its founding in 1996, the Arabic news organization has been a thorn in the side of the region’s ruling elites. In 2006, Al Jazeera English went on the air, becoming available in Canada in late 2009. Though not perfect, AJ’s English-language service is about as good as it gets in today’s international news environment.

     Its proclaimed commitment — “giving voice to the voiceless” — played a role in the promotion of the Arab Spring, the source of no end of anxiety in the Middle Eastern palaces where “stability” depends on absolute rule.

    That said, I personally think that what really bothers the crown prince are the women of Al Jazeera. The spawn of the misogynistic Saudi royal family, he represents the future of a medieval monarchy that adheres to the Wahhabist branch of Sunni Islam. His is a fundamentalist interpretation of the faith that’s roughly analogous to the Christianity practiced in The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Clearly, he shares Donald Trump’s view of women as silent appendages to their male owners. Born to unearned wealth and dynastic privilege, Mohammad bin Salman can only view the TV network’s whip-smart female correspondents and presenters as a threat. I can imagine that the very sight of Inside Story discussion moderator Dareen Abughaida challenging a less-than-forthcoming interview subject causes this son of Saud to soil whatever it is he wears under his Klan robes.

    And it’s not just Concordia University graduate Abughaida that challenges the androcentric nonsense that such primitives as the prince hold dear. Seeing Newshour anchors Richelle Carey, Jane Dutton or Folly Bah Thibault receiving reports from field reporters Jacky Rowland, Teresa Bo, Rosalind Jordan or Step Vaessen, well, that just flies in the face of everything bin Salman learned during his frat boy years at Riyadh’s King Saud University.
    Alas, I also understand that life is not fair. Although Saddam did not get his way in Kuwait, the reactionary Saudis just might prevail in the Gulf. So far, Qatar has rejected all of their demands, but the House of Saud has powerful supporters, and much to fear from an informed public demanding a voice in their own affairs. The men and quite extraordinary women of Al Jazeera may yet be among the collateral damage.

    Yes, it’s been a bit since I’ve posted to Reeling Back. Since my last blog entry, there’ve been 15 additions to the archive, including:

CLEARCUT — With First Nations’ issues now an important part of the national conversation, it’s worth recalling films such as director Ryszard (Richard) Bugajski’s 1991 examination of environmental destruction and indigenous anger. Graham Greene stars as an activist who appears on the scene to embody one man’s just rage at its most basic.  (Posted June 21)

UNDERCOVER BLUES — Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid are delightful as the Blues, Jane and Jeff, a married couple who also happen to be secret agents in director Herbert Ross’s 1993 action comedy. On maternity leave, they still manage to save the world while bonding with their newborn daughter. (Posted June 19)

SNEAKERS — The issue of computer security was still the stuff of movie thrillers when Phil Alden Robinson directed this 1992 tale of freelance hackers. Robert Redford stars as the head of a group blackmailed into doing a little high-tech industrial espionage for the government. (Posted June 17)

VANCOUVER EAST CINEMA — After five years managing an independent alternative cinema on Vancouver’s culturally diverse Commercial Drive, Donna Chisholm felt it was time to “take a break” from the movie business. In an interview, she discussed the changing scene in local film exhibition in 1990. (Posted June 15)

HOOKERS ON DAVIE — Activists as well as documentarians, the directorial team of Janis Cole and Holly Dale were taking a new approach to non-fiction filmmaking with this 1984 look at life on the streets of Vancouver’s West End. (Posted June 13)

BLAZING SADDLES — The master of anarchic parody, director Mel Brooks, took aim at the Western in this 1974 feature. An unrelenting outrage, it stars Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in a tale of mixed race partners saving the day in a frontier town. (Posted June 11)

SHADOW DANCING — Pop musician and movie music composer Lewis Furey’s directorial debut, this 1988 supernatural romance is set in a Toronto theatre with a sinister history. An A-list cast of Canadian actors provide support for the top-billed Nadine Van der Velde and James Kee. (Posted June 17)

THE LONGEST DAY — An historically skewed version of the events of June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day, are presented in this 1962 epic. The work of a trio of directors, producer Darryl Zanuck’s feature includes an appearance by almost every major male star of the era. (Posted June 6)

THE ‘BURBS — Live-action cartoon director Joe Dante turned his attention to the madness of middle-class suburbanites in this 1989 comedy. Tom Hanks co-stars with Carrie Fisher and Bruce Dern in a story of neighbourly misadventure. (Posted June 4)

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: THE ROLLING STONES — During its 1972 visit to Texas, Mick Jagger’s rock band was accompanied by director Rollin Binzer’s film crew. The result was this 1973 concert documentary, designed to be enjoyed “in Spectacular QuadraSound!” (Posted June 3)

ARN SABA INTERVIEW — Recognized today as a Canadian comic art legend, Katherine Collins was still known as Arn Saba when we sat down for this 1975 interview. The subject of our conversation was the debut of Saba’s funny-animal comic strip Neil the Horse. (Posted May 19)

HIGH — Although the story of Vancouver feature filmmaking began in the early 1960s with Larry Kent, the director made his national impact with this 1967 drama shot in Montreal. Banned in Quebec and Ontario, it was shown to the press in Toronto under federal protection — in a National Film Board screening room. (Posted May 16)

DEATH BECOMES HER — Innovative director Robert Zemeckis may have been past his comedic best-before-date when he offered us this 1992 zombie jamboree. Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep co-star as Los Angeles frenemies for whom death is just the beginning of their story. (Posted May 14)

HÔTEL TERMINUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE — One year after the 1987 trial of the Second World War’s “Butcher of Lyon,” French documentary filmmaker Marcel Ophuls released this 266-minute feature examining his story. (Posted May 11)

B.C ELECTION 2017 — British Columbians woke up on the morning of May 10 to the news that it was far from over. In this Editorial (aka Blog posting), I note that B.C.’s provincial election, in common with recent outcomes in the U.S. and France, emphasized divisions and set the stage for another round of social and political chaos. (Posted May 10)