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A New Morning - Nil lil-Akhbar TV (Hosts: Sharif and Mona Guest: Annie Higgins)
At present, nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little. We cannot act collectively. We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation to generation.
George Orwell, 1984.

Dr Annie C Higgins, Cairo • 3/4/2003

I am including this talk show synopsis, followed by my letter regarding an American newspaper's view of self-censorship, i.e., that Egyptians have less free speech in their media than Americans, to give a moment to consider who is asking questions about what topics. Bear in mind that this is the newspaper whose Middle East editor hoped that things weren't as bad as the Mayor of Khalil/Hebron told him, and spoke of a solution which would keep the illegal Israeli settler safe but ignored any Palestinian rights and concerns. One wonders who is censoring that news service.

This program has a fifteen-minute early morning spot. The hosts are very bright and quick, and the advantage is that they focused on volunteer work and media coverage of it. In these fifteen minutes, I found more intelligent interest in the topic than interest I have tried in vain to generate over the period of a month with university students!

The hosts knew of me generally, but five minutes before we went on camera they learned of a few essentials, like my teaching at university, and my activities in Palestinian refugee camps. Sharif asked if I pronounce my name "Heinz" or "Haynes," to which I responded, "Higgins"! They incorporated all this into their introduction and comments as if they were my most intimate friends, and as if they had been investigating these issues for some time. Their attitude was that of participation in the topic, and their questions were incisive and well-ordered. I have developed stereotypes about talk show hosts in spite of not watching much television; but Sharif and Mona caused me to change my opinion.

I should know that the language of a discussion like this is Fusha/Formal Arabic, as I teach my students, but somehow I was still in the `Amiyya/Colloquial mode when the camera came on. Mona began with flawless Fusha/Formal in her unrehearsed opening comments. She introduced me respectfully with her newly-learned pronunciation and details: "Not only does Dr. Annie Higgins teach Arabic language in America, but she also deals with topics in Islamic history and religion." Ah, that sounded good! In spite of my respectable-sounding credentials, I followed Sharif's example, and spoke `Amiyya/Colloquial throughout!

Sharif asked me how I came to be an exception to the usual American ignorance about the Arab world and Islam, so I explained my usual story about reading the news and wanting to hear Arab views directly, and my eventual interest in Palestine.

Mona asked about volunteers - how many are there from America, and are they funded by organizations? I admitted that I am not clever with statistics, but I felt that volunteers to Palestine number in the hundreds, and I mentioned organizations such as the International Solidarity Movement and Christian Peacemaker Teams, some of which have stipends for basic sustenance for their participants. Having mentioned in the opening that I had participated first with the ISM, they also spoke of people who go as independent volunteers, like myself currently, and of all of our communications with people back home.

I said that we share reports with one another, and that all who come to Palestine act on the feeling that we need to report on what we are seeing, even though most of us are not journalists.

Sharif picked up on this point, and inquired about media receptivity to our reports. I had to admit that interest from mainstream newspapers and media outlets is quite low, with occasional exceptions. I told of contacting my local newspapers and radio stations, particularly one that deals with international and Palestinian issues, when I first returned from Jenin, two months after the April 2002 invasion. The response was a vacuum, although the editors and hosts were polite and concerned for my safety. I told of spreading the word through e-lists and internet publications.

Mona mentioned the tragedy of Rachel Corrie's murder in Gaza by an unnamed Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer, and related this to volunteer activities and media coverage. [She had just learned of Rachel's Gaza location twenty seconds before we went on the air - really, I am impressed with the way they picked up on crucial details and wove them into their commentary.] I said that I had been reading Rachel's reports and that nobody would be angry when I say that she was one of the best at articulating issues in a fair and constructive manner. [Rachel had looked forward to being able to answer questions about Bush, in Arabic, by explaining that he is a tool of other people.] I spoke of the constant question posed by all, including small children, "Do you like Bush?" I answer by saying that I like fair treatment of humans. The questioners, including children, agree that this is more important than liking or disliking a person. I also mentioned that at least five Jewish organizations in America are pressuring Congress to pass a Rachel Corrie bill.

Sharif asked more specifically about what prompted me to come to Palestine, and I spoke of my special responsibility as an American citizen whose taxes support the Israeli military's weaponry. He picked up on my desire to provide a balance for my country's destruction of human rights.

Mona also asked about American and European volunteers in Iraq, and if I hear their news. I told of a friend in Amman reporting that many foreign volunteers, including Japanese and Koreans, are arriving daily and participating in demonstrations en route to Iraq. I also mentioned receiving reports from them, often sent by e-mail by someone who has spoken with them by telephone since internet connections are becoming rare. They describe guarding water treatment plants and visiting the injured in hospital, to the accompaniment of the whistling sound of American missiles.

Sharif brought the discussion again to media interest in foreign volunteers and their hosts in places such as Iraq and Palestine. He said that it seems people in Arab countries have a deeper appreciation of our efforts than our own compatriots do. I had to agree, in general, with thanks to all who are willing to listen.

They closed by wishing me success in my efforts. I am quite sure that Sharif said, "May God bring you fulfillment in your endeavors," which is formulaic but sincere. I mention this only because it would probably sound noticeably religious if you heard it on American television, but it is just normal in an Arabic context. Even people who do not consider themselves religious keep God in greetings and remarks.

I felt that our conversation had the substance of respect for the issues the hosts chose to spotlight, humanitarian volunteer work and the receptivity or lack thereof by the media. A New Morning/Sabah Gadid provided intelligent support for all who are volunteering and who will do so in the future. It was very encouraging to have such a receptive forum for broadcasting these ideas. Perhaps western media will eventually follow the example of their Arab counterparts in taking these issues seriously, even without the news-making catalyst of a death or injury.

Thus ends the synopsis of the broadcast as I recall it. As for the reruns:

They told me that I could watch the re-broadcasts at 5:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., and took me in to the viewing room to show me the logo with a Zorro-shaped Latin "N."

At 5:00 I realized what a crucial detail the "N" was in locating the proper channel.

I tried to watch the first rerun, but the show was over by the time the hotel guard obligingly located the channel from among the bootlegged satellite channels they have piped in without spending valuable cash on a satellite dish.

Hence I tried again at 1:00 a.m. at another venue with a similar television. As there is no channel number, and the pictures were streaked and blurry, the "N" was proof of the right spot. Right channel, but the program never showed up over the next hour.

However, there is a silver lining.

For the 1:00 rerun, my internet companions had directed me to a nearby café with a television. It is totally inappropriate for a woman to go to a traditional café, which generally has male patrons imbibing and smoking water-pipes to the tune of backgammon games both inside and on the sidewalk outside. But they didn't mind in the least. The proprietor set me up in front of Channel "N," with wooden backgammon boards folded shut and stacked atop the television, and with a forgotten green onion on the side. The galabiyya-clad gentleman beside me was most gracious.

At a nearby table, a man playing cards asked where I was from. Upon learning that I am American, he asked if I like Bush, immediately followed by a longer question about US aggression and democracy. He expounded a bit and I went back to listening to the program on Nablus. I thought to support the business, and ordered coffee, which they wouldn't let me pay for, because one of the patrons picked up the tab. Eventually I explained that I was waiting for my interview to come on, though it seemed not to be appearing. "No matter. What's important is that you are here and you have illumined the place!" said the questioner.

The television yielded to real life, and I had further discussions as several patrons discussed current issues with me. As always, they differentiate between citizens and their leaders, and do not hold ordinary people responsible. These men noted that Americans are being hurt also, with their sons sent to be killed in Iraq. I added that these young men are also hurt by being sent to be killers. I mentioned the article I had read from a journalist accompanying a tank unit, telling of how the soldiers had reveled in the permission to "kill the [civilian] vehicles" after they had lost comrades to defensive fire from Iraqis - innocent boys transformed to blood hunters.

One asked if she were an Arab or an American journalist, and I replied that he was foreign, i.e., non-Arab. Funny that the man assumed the journalist was a woman, but perhaps related to the question as to whether I were a journalist. I said that I am not, but that I write reports of my activities in Palestine on independent internet sites. Then my initial questioner asked me, really and truly, if I speak openly about what I see in Palestine, or if I hide things to protect myself from unfriendly attitudes. I told him that I speak openly, but that my own government might use this against me at some point. This elicited many invocations of God's protection, and the assurance that when one is working to benefit others, God cares for one.

People care, too! By now it was nearly 2:00 a.m., and a telephone call came in to the proprietor that my interview was being broadcast on another channel. One of the coffee-drinkers who had returned home was calling to report! But we did not find it.

When I bade them farewell, they all made me feel most welcome. While I am accustomed to this, even when I have crossed a social boundary, the question still occurs: If an Arab steps into an American coffee house and makes clear that he is Arab, will he receive such a welcome? Or will she?

The Christian Science Monitor
6 April 03
Re: War Coverage a Tough Balancing Act for Egypt TV 4 April 03
By: Danna Harman

Dear Sir,

Nile News conducted an interview with me on their "New Morning" show on 3 April 03, the day before Miss Harman's report. The producer set no limits to my comments for this live show in Arabic. Sharif and Mona, the highly intelligent hosts, gave me an open opportunity to discuss humanitarian volunteering in Palestine and Iraq.

They also asked about the western media's attention to my activities. Sharif's analysis was correct, that Arab media have a deeper appreciation of volunteers' eyewitness views than do American media.

Nonetheless, viewers in Egypt have a lower threshold of believability than Americans who tend to accept what their media present without question. A man who saw my interview twice felt that there were things I wanted to say but had been warned not to. I assured him this was not the case, and I have taken a public stand against US aggression in Arab lands.

Hassan Hamed's statement to you came from experience: "US coverage does not impress me at all." Look for this letter, like my previous one concerning the Christian Science Monitor's self-censorship, in Egyptian news media, government-sponsored and otherwise.

Annie Higgins





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



I have spent
many years of my life
in opposition, and
I rather like the role.
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Index: Current Articles

23 May 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Fair Trial
Bernadette McKevitt


Anthony McIntyre


Connolly on Religion, Women and Sex

Liam O Ruairc


Gareth O Connor
Joe Dillon


To the Citizens of Europe
Davy Carlin


A New Morning
Annie Higgins


19 May 2003


Disappearing the Truth
Anthony McIntyre


The Undesirables
Pedram Moallemian


Shadowy Forces

Eamonn McCann


The Adventures of
Steak Knife
Brian Mór


The Death of Cu Chulainn
Brian Mór


Henri Lefebvre - French Marxist Humanist
Liam O Ruairc


What They Say
Annie Higgins




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