A new message that purports to be from Osama bin Laden was sent this week to the al-Jazeera satellite television network. One founder of that news service speaks tonight in Ames, and Omar al-Issawi is not apologetic for carrying statements by the al-Qaeda leader, or others sent to the network allegedly from Saddam Hussein.He says it’d be unfair to characterize the network as being “pro” Osama or Saddam, as he notes once Westerners hear they’ve carried a message from those infamous individuals we don’t hear what critique followed on the air, by analysts from the Middle East or from the West. Al-Issawi says the network, which serves 30-million viewers in all 22 Arab countries and others where Arabic is spoken, is a radical change from other news coverage in the Middle East. The tradition was to have state broadcasters, who told a story as the local regime saw fit, and now al-Jazeera has people arguing their political, social and economic viewpoints out in the open. Al-Issawi says it’s encouraged others to come forth with opinions and report news and information. It’s encouraged the start-up of other broadcasters in the region and has broken old taboos in the Middle East about not talking about things. Al-Issawi says it’s part of human nature to always seek liberty and he thinks that instinct could use some encouragement. He’s not a pessimist who thinks the Middle east will remain as it’s been for decades, but thinks change has already begun. Al-Issawi says it would be wrong to blame al-Jazeera for presenting “bad news” to viewers in the Arab world and those in the United States and other western nations. In general, news organizations “rely on bad news,” he says, as they did long before al-Jazeera existed, and he says they’re not in business to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Al-Issawi says citizens of all nations have a moral obligation to inform themselves about news and events. He says it’s our duty in the increasingly globalized world with fewer boundaries or borders to be in communication with each other, to engage in constructive dialogue so we can understand each other instead of thinking in stereotypes. He says seeing how people live and act will bring both sides to understanding. There are human touches, he says, like the recent surgery in Texas to separate Egyptian twins, and he says nobody in the Arab world can say “It’s the Great Satan doing this,” since it’s an act of humanity. With more communication, al-Issawi says people in widely separated parts of the world will come to understand they share common goals. Al-issawi worked for BBC television news before he helped co-found al-Jazeera. He speaks at the ISU Memorial Union tonight (Thursday) as part of Iowa State’s World Affairs Lecture Series.
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