The latest controversy to involve the Arab World concerns a TV program “A Rider Without a Horse” that started airing on Wednesday, Nov. 5th, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan on several Arab satellite channels. The source of the controversy is that the program is partly based on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the old forgery originating in Czarist Russia. Naturally numerous Jewish groups, the US, Israel and other countries and organizations have requested that the program be banned from the airwaves, without avail. What was left out from the intense media coverage is that there is significant opposition within the Arab world for this program; this article will furnish an argument on why Arabs themselves should oppose such a program and why they should campaign to take it off-air.
Before delving in the reasons why Arabs should reject the program, it should be noted that program timing and medium could not be worse, broadcasting during Ramadan nearly guarantees audiences in the tens of millions, and the widespread coverage on the efforts to ban it has only widened its appeal. Another real danger is that there has been a great trend in Arab societies toward visual inputs of information, where satellite television programs sometimes serve as the only conduit of information to the Arab family, such a trend will ensure that such a program will have credibility and that it will be viewed as historical facts, which is exactly why it should not be broadcast in the first place.
The main reason why we as Arabs should reject this program and the text it uses, is that it is an imported piece of anti-Semitic bigotry that was forged in one of the darkest chapters in European history, it has nothing to do with historical facts and more importantly with Arab world’s tolerant past where Jews were an integrated minority living in harmony with Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities. As a Palestinian currently living under a new Apartheid, I cannot but reject any ethnic stereotyping and demonizing such as advocated by the program, and I totally reject the notion that such programs will strengthen the support of the Arab world toward the Palestinians, any support generated by racism should be unwelcome by people suffering from it. It is very unfortunate that while we as Arabs have paid a heavy price for past European prosecution of Jews, we are currently importing and reviving the ugliest embodiments of that tradition of anti-Semitism.
Putting aside for a moment the amount of damage this program is causing to the image of the Arab world, it is morally and educationally wrong to introduce such intolerant stereotyping programs, instead of furthering universal values of tolerance and equality, we march in the opposite direction, propagating baseless hatred via mass media. It should be emphasized that the Arab- Israeli conflict is not based on religious rivalry, but on the fact that there is an occupied land and people enduring the last occupation on earth. The ferocity of the Palestinian and Arab opposition to this occupation would be the same if the occupiers were Muslims, Christians, or Buddhists instead of Jews.
A big part of the trend of importation of anti-Semitic bigotry (especially in times of heightened Israeli-Palestinian warfare) is simply based in ignorance, because of deficient history education and the lack of a culture of self-learning; most Arabs have little or no knowledge and understanding of the European past prosecution of Jews and how these events are always resident in the Jewish psyche in particular and western one in general. Such ignorance might explain but does not excuse what “Rider without a Horse” is about, the producers of the show might be thinking that they are trying to help the Palestinians with anti-Israel piece. They are doing exactly the opposite; they are affirming the views of the extremists in Israelwho say that Arabs will never accept the presence of Jews in the Holy Land and who are now advocating the forced transfer (another term for ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from Palestine to elsewhere in the region.
In conclusion, there should be forceful internal Arab action by wide sectors of the educated classes to stop airing this tainted program, and it should be done for solely internal reasons, not in the context of bowing to foreign pressure. Bigotry should be rejected, regardless of who it is directed against, feeding Arab families (including the children) carefully measured doses of hatred is morally repugnant and will eventually come back to haunt us when this cycle of bigotry start enveloping the next target. Taking the program off-air will be a victory for reason, universal values, and the old Arab tradition of tolerance that now seem to be under constant attack. This fight should be as much about our internal image as about our external one.
Qais S. Saleh is a business consultant currently living in Ramallah, Palestine.