Symptoms of a sick culture are not difficult to find in the Middle East. State-sponsored (and popularly embraced) anti-Semitism, violent fundamentalism and barbaric treatment of women and minorities are endemic in the region. For many years now the world has been waiting for a generational break between the fundamentalists and a new intellectual class borne of increased access to information and technology longing for a society based on acceptance, truth, and diversity.
As satellite dishes becoming more prevalent throughout the Middle East, Western pop culture and news are becoming the hook that tugs at the heart strings of those who hope to be free but have only known oppression. (Look at polls of young Iranians’ positive views of America, for example.) That success has been countered by the dark forces of Islamic fundamentalism.
There are suicide bomber trading cards, video games where children can control a “martyr” on a mission to kill Jews, and the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah even has it’s own satellite channel, al-Manar (“The Beacon”), founded in June 1991. One of the Syrian/Iranian funded network’s newest and most popular programs is a game show called, “The Mission.” Contestants answer questions about the American-Zionist conspiracy for points. For every question a contestant answers correctly, they are allowed to move another step closer to the goal of Jerusalem on a large map. Sixty points lands a contestant on the holy city while the Hezbollah anthem plays in the background. The refrain “Jerusalem is ours and we are coming to it” rings out as the contestant collects a $3,000 check.
“’The Mission’ follows a standard game show format, with contestants quizzed about history, literature, geography, science and the arts,” according to a recent New York Times article. “But at least half the questions revolve around Palestinian or Islamic history, and at least one contestant is usually Palestinian.”
Throughout the show, the host praises the exploits of suicide bombers and pleads for viewers to keep the faith that one day Arabs will “recapture” the land stolen by the Jews.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is about the most kind-hearted programming the channel has to offer.
Another show, “Sincere Men,” profiles suicide bombers.
The station was the first to break the story that 4,000 Jewish World Trade Center employees were warned about the September 11 in advance and didn’t show up to work that day. The attacks themselves were perpetrated by, “Jews, Israel, and Mossad,” of course. Before the 2000 pullout of Israeli forces from Lebanon, the station aired live pictures of attacks against Israeli soldiers and broadcast threats against the Jewish state in Hebrew.
Today, not much has changed. Al-Manar, aside from a couple sports shows and an “entertainment hour” for children, is almost non-stop propaganda. Speeches by well-known Hamas and Hezbollah figures are broadcast over and over again. The well-orchestrated marches of the same terrorists get similar coverage.
Of course, there are nearly endless images of the Israeli military cracking down, including a new documentary series which promises to expose “crimes perpetrated by the Zionist enemy” and “recalls the Zionist massacres, and brutal practices” that take place on the day the show airs.
An upcoming two-and-a-half hour special will celebrate the fourth anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, following “24 students from across the world” (including two from the United States) as they tour the formerly “occupied territory.” One student told the Lebanon Daily Times that the trip to Southern Lebanon meant a lot to him, “because it is liberated, and gives me hope as a Palestinian that the Gaza Strip will soon be liberated, too,” adding that he “took a lot of photographs, and it gives me the chance to convey the revolutionary spirit to others.” Ah, al-Mansar, spreading the love.
Those waiting for peaceful or conciliatory messages from Hezbollah in the post-occupation period may as well not hold their breath. According to its own mission statement, Hezbollah formed al-Manar to showcase the suffering of “Israeli arrogance” and focus the people on “resistance activity…hoping to formulate a resistance-nation.”
Part of that resistance is against America now, particularly coalition troops stationed in Iraq. The station makes time in its programming now for pictures of gruesome scenes from Iraq. “The people of this region will receive you with their rifles, with blood, with martyrdom, and martyrdom operations,” a Hezbollah official warned Americans during one broadcast. “Today, as the region fills up with hundreds of thousands of American troops, our slogan was and will remain ‘Death to America.'“
Avi Jorisch, a Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote an exhaustive study of al-Manar, Beacon of Hatred. He quotes al-Manar’s chairman of the board, Nayef Krayem, describing the relationship between Hezbollah and al-Manar: “They breathe life into one another,” he tells Jorisch. “Each provides the other with inspiration. Hezbollah uses al-Manar to express its stands and its views, etc. Al-Manar in turn receives political support for its continuation.”
Jorisch quotes an al-Manar employee explaining that certain programming is meant to “help people on the way to committing what you in the West call a suicide mission. It is meant to be the first step on the process of a freedom fighter operation.”
And it is not only the Jews Hezbollah had set out to combat with al-Manar.
“Despite its huge burden on every Lebanese, the occupation was not the one and only concern,” the station‘s website reads. “Lebanese TV channels have been overwhelmed by a trend of movies and programs that can only be described as immoral…Numerous TV channels have been broadcasting programs that would decay one’s ethics and provoke his or her instincts, instigating violence and identifying with western living patterns which are quite remote from our Islamic and Eastern values and culture.”
Right. Western culture, not Hezbollah fundamentalism, “instigates violence.”
But the message here is plain: Despite all the talk among the liberal intelligentsia about the inherent worth of every culture, Hezbollah recognizes that if there is a choice between Western culture and Islamic fundamentalism, terrorists will lose out. Their only choice is to attempt to counter with fear, intimidation, and conspiracy theories.
We should rejoice at this development. The war is far from over, but, as the world becomes an ever-smaller place, the victory of the civilized world is assured. Islamists fear Western music and movies more than they fear precision guided bombs because even within the most ridiculous Hollywood film there is a nugget of truth and the vision of another way of life. Once that cat gets out of the bag, it’s going to be hard to explain to a people why it is in their own best interests to subjugate themselves to a violent creed that was proved itself a flawed prescription for mankind centuries ago. Hezbollah’s favorite TV station intends to stall that day – violently, if need be.