"A Real Invasion"
Why the Muslim World is Afraid of American Television
by Robert Tracinski
The enemy has problems of his own.
I keep reminding my readers of this fact, because it is a crucially important context for today's events. It is easy to become discouraged as we watch our leaders dither over Iraq, and as we watch the press and the political opposition try to conjure up a new wave of Vietnam-era American self-loathing. But it is important to remember that the enemy has problems of his own--problems much worse than anything we face. Indeed, the Islamic world's desire to lash out at the West stems from the fact that it regards us as a mortal danger that will destroy Islam.
The New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff's recently published some fascinating cultural travelogues from Iran, a country he found to be dominated by pro-American young people who chafe at the regime's theocratic restrictions. These are well-written and observant pieces, despite being written by a New York Times columnist, and they indicate that Iran's theocracy will not long be able to maintain its grip on power.
Another piece that recently came across my desk highlights this issue.
A May 6 update from the Middle East Media Research Institute(www.MEMRI.org)describes how "reality TV" has come to Bahrain.
"The Saudi station MBC began to broadcast an Arab version of the popular 'Big Brother' reality-TV program that has previously aired in 24 Western countries. In the Arab version, dozens of cameras record the actions of 12 participants from various Arab countries who share an apartment."
This is the typical "reality TV" approach, which is to put a group of young people together and film whatever "drama" (usually of a petty nature) arises from their interaction.
Here is the reaction the show has received:
"Conservative circles organized mass demonstrations demanding that the broadcasts be immediately halted because of their damage to Islamic values. In contrast, liberal circles and Bahraini businessmen supported the broadcasts because of their contribution to Bahrain's economy."
Let's put aside the pragmatic defense of the putative Bahraini liberals. Let's look at what one of the "conservatives"--i.e., the Islamists--had to say:
"Recently, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and a leading authority in Sunni Islam, discussed reality-TV programs, saying: 'The aim of these programs is to mislead the [Muslim] nation and to keep it from its own reality, so that it will live [in the reality of] these lesser things. Anyone to whom the nation is important must rise up against these deviant trends. There is no doubt that [our] youth are human riches, and represent the future of the nation. We must not abandon these riches or waste them with these imported television programs that do not reflect the character of the nation, do not represent its true image, and are a real invasion.' "
He is right. This is the real American invasion of the Islamic world--an invasion spearheaded, not by Bradleys and B-1s, but by "Baywatch" and "Big Brother."
Continuing from the MEMRI dispatch, here is what the Islamists are afraid of:
"[T]he program's detractors insisted that it was against Islamic values. They pointed at the mingling of the sexes, the unveiled faces of the female participants, and the inappropriate behavior of some male participants--such as one boy who kissed a girl on the cheek."
And the threat to Islam is even worse:
"The mingling [of the sexes] in Bahrain is not limited to the 'Big Brother' program. It is everywhere, in the private schools and in the universities...."
Why are the Muslims so concerned--and especially so obsessed with the positive portrayal of sexuality?
The Islamists are afraid of anything that causes their young people to pursue the enjoyment of life in this world. That is the meaning of the sheikh's complaint that "Big Brother" will cause young Muslims to "live in the reality of these lesser things"--the "lesser things" being the joys of this world.
That message--which America radiates unconsciously, without deliberate intent or plan--is the most powerful weapon we have against the Islamic world. We don't know it, but the Islamists do--and in fact, they think that it _is_ a deliberate American strategy.
Bahraini columnist Faziyya Rashid puts it this way:
"It is completely obvious, and no secret...that the American intention is to take over the Middle East.... The plans to begin the occupation [of the Middle East]--whether directly via military occupation, as happened in Iraq,or indirectly via the occupation of the hearts and minds of the people--will come about in the framework of the American cultural, media, and political program aimed at changing [the face of] the Middle East, on the pretext of democratization and liberation. This will be done in the framework of a cold war [aimed at] infiltrating the minds [of the Arabs], and particularly the minds of the young adults who, according to recent statistics, make up 70% of the Arab homeland...."
The American goal: "to instill ideological, emotional, and spiritual change--that is, to infiltrate to within the individual and conquer his mind."
I see no evidence that there is a deliberate American effort to achieve this kind of cultural "invasion"--but there should be. As I wrote in the December 2001 issue of my magazine, The Intellectual Activist:
"We already broadcast to the oppressed peoples of the Middle East the Western message of liberty, prosperity, and happiness, in forms as low-brow as 'Baywatch' and as sophisticated as the Declaration of Independence. This is the 'imperialism' that terrifies Islamic fundamentalists--who should be terrified, because they grasp that their values cannot win in open competition."
"But we dare not leave the Americanization of the world to the haphazard forces of 'Baywatch' and the other, less benevolent products of popular culture. We must begin a campaign of education designed to export Western values to the barbarous East--a campaign that must be spearheaded by our intellectuals, not denounced by them. This war must be fought with televisions, radios, books, and movies--and by our political and intellectual leaders' intransigent defense of Western Civilization and its ideals of liberty and secularism."