World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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The Age of Satellite Media (140) - Panel
 

· Date: TUE, 20 / 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:

Paper Presenter: Ehab Galal (Postdoctoral Researcher, Copenhagen University), “Mediated Storytelling at Islamic Arab Satellite-television”
A prevalent trend in the new Islamic satellite channels is the promotion of Muslim TV-preachers, e.g. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Amr Khaled, Moez Masoud, Tarek al-Suwaidan, Khaled al-Gindi, and al-Habib Ali al-Jifri. Very often they make use of a specific kind of storytelling referring back to the time of the Prophet Muhammed and his followers. The preachers’ manner of telling the stories reflects its function in the social and religious structure, thereby giving some insight into its social foundation. Another characteristic is the preachers’ way of addressing the audience appealing to its emotions and identification with the early Muslim figures. Storytelling as a way to remember the past, live in the present and create the future has been theoretically conceptualised within several research traditions such as history, literature, religion, psychology and anthropology. Not only is storytelling a mode of constructing a life story of the group or individual and thereby a collective or individual identity; storytelling is also a social practice. By emphasizing the focus of storytelling as a social practice or process, I want to explore what kind of relationship the preachers create to their audience through religious storytelling. The anthropologist Michael Jackson uses the phrase 'politics of storytelling' thereby referring to the storytelling as a way of changing the listeners (or the storyteller's) perception of a specific situation, event, or position of the storyteller or a social group. From this point of view it is possible too to explore the preachers’ storytelling as a certain kind of politics, may it be an Islamic or Islamist politics, including the storyteller's own politics for obtaining religious authority. The aim of the paper is to explore the relationship between firstly the programme content as a cultural product, secondly the programme mediation as a social, political and cultural practice, and thirdly the audience’s position within the storytelling. Questions are: 1) What stories are told? What historical periods and figures are specific prevalent? 2) Storytelling is not a new phenomenon as part of Muslim preaching, but how does satellite television change the transmission of the story? What are the narrative strategies? How do they combine the past, present and future by way of telling their stories? 3) How do the preachers address the audience through the storytelling? In order to answer these questions, the paper will include analyses of the narratives used by TV-preachers.

Paper Presenter: Omair Anas (PhD Candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University), “Determining Arab Public Sphere in Post Al-Jazeera Era”
Emergence of Al-Jazeera marked a shift in Public Sphere of the Arab region where media was under strict control of the state, religious authorities and self censorship. Al-Jazeera successfully broke many taboos and helped Arab Public Sphere to be more open and participatory. In Arab media scholarship, there is common discussion on how the Public Sphere of the region be made on par with European standard. However these expectations neglect the different trajectories of transformation. Habermasian Public Sphere was identified within nation state system of Westphalian era where gradual bifurcation of 'Public and Private' emerged and seeking legitimacy became necessary to stay in the state affairs. Contrary to that, modern Arab Islamic states are remnants of Ottoman Caliphate and Arabs audiences encountered with new political narratives under Nation State system within non religious and secular frameworks. The secular democratic narratives were considered alien to Islamic values and there was consensuses that return to Islamic caliphate was the only solution to regain Islamic glory. In this context post colonial Islamic discourse evolved and religion emerged as major determinant of Arab Public Sphere along with patriarchal state society relation. The globalization forces convinced Arab leaders to diversify their economy and lessening their dependency oil. Many Arab states are embracing market economy allowing market forces in defining future culture of the region. Emergence of new non state actors in cultural domain, apart from religious ones, has brought internal tensions on how to redefine culture, values and political system in changing situations. With religion remains no longer lone source of legitimacy, religious reaction against market forces has intensified in all Arab countries. Issuance of Fatwa against media professional has become more common. The recent surge in religious channels can be seen in state's quest to reconcile all emerging forces in Public Sphere and main stream channels as well are incorporating religious debates in their regular programming. This proposal aims at identifying determinants of public sphere in the Arab region especially in post Al-Jazeera era when number of channels in all genres have significantly increased. The study will also examine the increased tension between media and religious authorities and stats' response to these tensions. The study will help to understand dynamics of Islamic politics vis-à-vis Arab Public Sphere.

Paper Presenter: Christopher Phillips (PhD Student, London School of Economics), "Banal Arabism: Al-Jazeera and the Flagging of Arab Identity during the 2008 Beijing Olympics"
One of the most visible signs of Globalisation in the Arab world has been the dramatic growth of new Pan-Arab television stations. Whilst Arab television used to be limited to a few government channels, Al-Jazeera and its competitors now offer audiences from Morocco to Oman hundreds of modern and highly popular programmes. For the first time, Arabs from different states are able to watch the same television shows at the same time. By connecting living rooms across the Arab world, is pan-Arab television creating a new imagined community? Is it reviving Arab nationalism? Is it undermining Arab state identities? In 1995 Michael Billig claimed that Western national identities are sustained on a day-to-day level by being ‘flagged’ constantly in a state’s institutions, notably the print media. This paper seeks to expand upon and challenge his Banal Nationalism thesis by applying it to a case study of Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. By employing a content and discourse analysis of headlines and presentations on Al-Jazeera, this study will demonstrate that Billig’s methodology can be successfully applied beyond the print media into a discourse analysis of television reporting a more appropriate method in parts of the world with low literacy levels. It will also challenge Billig’s assumption that media confined to state boundaries alone can flag identity, by illustrating Al-Jazeera’s emphasis on its audience’s supra-national pan-Arab ties. Though its reasons may be more commercial than political, this study suggests that Al-Jazeera speaks to its audience as if they belong to one single Arab nation. However, this Arab discourse is alongside, not in opposition to, individual state identities. This study will also challenge the arguments of Khalil Rinnawi, amongst others, who claim that state identity is weakened by Al-Jazeera’s popularity.