No shortcuts for peace and democracy

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We all prefer shortcuts. None of us likes to do things that require time and patience. Whether it is a visit to the dentist or world peace, shortcuts might be desirable, but they rarely produce the required results.

I thought of this yesterday as I was having a pleasant breakfast at the Amman Intercontinental. The discussion was with Eason Jordan, the head of the news department at CNN, and the topic was Palestine and independent media in the Arab world. Eason Jordan, along with many CNN staff members from the region and the world are in Jordan for the wedding of former CNN reporter Rym Brahimi to HRH Prince Ali.

It seems that in the areas of peace and democracy we are all impatient, and maybe we should be so, but things just take a long time.

Investigative journalism is a rare specie in the Arabic media, and local news is given low priority. There are tens of daily and weekly publications in Amman, but none in any other city. The Arab world is full of satellite television stations that cost millions of dollars, but hardly any money is spent on real production. They all put the money in the hardware of nice studios and satellite time, but barely any money in professional media practitioners or costly production costs. No wonder we rarely have entries in international media contests or documentary festivals.

When the issue of the Arab public image in the West came up, again the issue of a shortcut came up. Instead of spending real time and effort on understanding the West and the Western media, we either blame it all on a Zionist conspiracy or try to create our own English language television station. Again, all these shortcuts can’t replace hard work that would change our actions; neither can they replace some real effort towards promoting our own genuine narrative.

The hope of many of us for an open and independent Arab media is not satisfied. There have been changes, by the introduction of an audio-visual law, but it is taking a long time for government officials to accept the idea that someone other than a government official can run a local radio or television station.

If a free media in the region seems long to materialise, the chance for peace are equally lacking and the attempts at shortcuts increase. Many say that the chance to attain a real and lasting peace is next to impossible with leaders such as Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. Some think that blowing up busses or having Apache planes shell people in soccer fields can be a shortcut. Do walls act as a shortcut? Can the Intifada bring peace or can the attempts to crush the Intifada do the trick?

The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi was in the region recently, preaching non-violence. Everyone knows that this method is not a shortcut, but takes a long, long time and requires the two sides to have a change of heart and to refrain from taking revenge, a plague that has caused numerous deaths on both sides. After 15 Palestinians were mercilessly killed in revenge for the Beir Al Sabe’ suicide attack, even Colin Powell criticised Israel and started preaching against revenge. But like many before him, and no doubt many after him, these are words that will have little effect unless they are supported by a long-term plan.

There is plenty of guilt in our region. No one is innocent, but as long as we allow the events on the ground to dictate policies, we are in trouble. A serious, well thought out, long-term plan that can become the unflinching focus of the world’s superpower is badly needed to get us out of the quagmire we find ourselves in.

A university professor once pointed out that despite the presence of many higher educational institutes in the Arab world, we have few serious research centres. It all falls back on whether we have the time and money to invest in long-term solutions to our problems and our dreams, rather than waste it all on futile shortcuts.

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