The Bullies Who Rule Bahrain

For more on the crackdown in Bahrain, see today’s coverage from Global Voices.

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FYI: Last year, the Kingdom of Bahrain became one of 15 nations where the new Arabic edition of National Geographic is available. Yes, the government bullies its own people, but at least the powers that be care deeply about cheetahs.

CELEBRATING NGM's NEW ARABIC EDITION (from left) Editor of National Geographic Chris Johns, Executive Vice President of National Geographic Terence Adamson, Emirati Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak al-Nahayan, Editor of National Geographic Al-Arabiya Mohammed al-Hammadi (Photo: AFP)

Mapping the Middle East

An advertisement in this month’s edition of National Geographic Traveler (UK edition) has triggered a volley of complaints from readers — prompting an investigation by Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

From the January/February 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK edition)

The ad — called Travel Palestine, and paid for by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities — includes language that implies the state of Israel does not exist:

“… Palestine lies between the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East….”

“If you consult the map of this region you will see that this is like describing Portugal as lying between the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean,” said London lawyer David Lewis in a letter to the ASA, which has so far received 60 complaints about the ad.

Another point of contention is the ad’s list of destinations — “Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and Gaza…” — which the Zionist Federation of the UK says gives the “false impression” that Palestine is a country and that Jerusalem is part of Palestine.

For the Advertising Standards Authority, this is familiar territory. Last year, they banned an Israeli tourism poster that included a photo taken in East Jerusalem of the Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock in the background. The image “misleadingly implied” that East Jerusalem was part of Israel proper, which the ASA considered a violation of truth-in-advertising guidelines.

Could this controversy be a sign of things to come for our Society — especially now that National Geographic publishes an Arabic edition? We wonder…

•  How will our publishing partner — the Abu Dhabi Media Company — draw its maps of the land “between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River”?

•  Will the editors of the Arabic edition provide any cartographic recognition of Israel? Or…

•  Will our publishing partner follow the lead of many Arabic textbooks, which refuse to acknowledge Israel’s existence?

Most important:

•  How did our Society address this (painfully obvious) issue in our licensing agreement with the Abu Dhabi Media Company?

John Fahey, CEO of NGS, rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
But we’re asking for one — partly to hear his answers to these questions —
and you can help by clicking “Recommend,” below.

Don’t have a Facebook account? Or prefer not to show your face? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally by one.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

Zahi Hawass: Our Man in Egypt

Dear John,

Dr. Zahi Hawass

Given the conspiratorial, dangerous, and inaccurate comments made by Dr. Zahi Hawass in this video, we’re wondering:

• Why is Dr. Hawass still a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence?

• Why was Dr. Hawass recently appointed to be an official adviser to National Geographic‘s new Arabic edition, which is now published in 15 nations in north Africa and the Middle East?

• If such comments don’t appall you enough to distance our Society from Dr. Hawass, what comments would? Just how nasty would his conspiracy mongering need to become before you publicly said something like this:

“Dr. Hawass is a smart, accomplished, and very influential man, but he is spouting inaccurate and extremely dangerous nonsense that the National Geographic Society hereby condemns.

I know this criticism will not please Dr. Hawass, who might exert his power in Egypt to deny National Geographic access to the pyramids and to Pharaoh’s many unexplored tombs. The result: We’re probably giving away the next installment of Tales From the (Egyptian) Crypt to our chief competitor — the Discovery Channel.

But you know what? That’s okay with me. As President of one of the world’s largest educational non-profit organizations, I don’t have to slake the thirst of rapacious stockholders. I don’t have to placate labor unions because we don’t have any. I don’t have to answer to a Member Council because that doesn’t exist either. I’m pretty much a free agent. And, to be honest, all those mummies and gold trinkets begin to look the same after a while.

Which means I am blessed with a special gift: I have the freedom to do the right thing. In this case, I choose to stop underwriting Dr. Hawass’s poisonous worldview, which undermines cross-cultural understanding, co-existence, and peace.

Now that National Geographic publishes in the Middle East, I feel an especially urgent responsibility to fulfill what has long been our Society’s unwritten mission: to seek and to follow our better angels.

And you know the best part of all? Here at NGS, following our better angels helped create an incredibly successful business. The Society’s 122-year history demonstrates that people are drawn to us when we seek the light — and not just the kind that shows up in a photograph.

The take-away: By doing good, we can do extraordinarily well.”

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Becoming Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki

Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Anwar al-Awlaki visited the headquarters of the National Geographic Society. He had been invited by a senior NGM editor to be part of a panel discussion that was convened as a briefing for NGM staff; Awlaki served as the expert on Islam.

Today, Awlaki is one of the world’s Most Wanted Men. He is a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He served as a spiritual mentor to Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter) and has ties to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Underwear Bomber) and Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square bomber). He’s allegedly involved in the recently thwarted bomb attack on two cargo planes. And the Obama administration has targeted him for assassination.

When did Awlaki become the terrorist we know today? Given National Geographic’s regional and cultural expertise — and given 20/20 hindsight — did we miss any red flags back in 2001? What questions should we have asked that might have shed light on who Awlaki is, or was in the process of becoming? What have we learned from this encounter?

We’d welcome the opportunity to pose the following questions to John Fahey, CEO of NGS:

1: Given our current awareness of the grave threat posed by Awlaki, what questions do you think NGS might have asked in 2001 that would have helped shed light on his ambitions and worldview?

2: What criteria does National Geographic apply to help readers distinguish a moderate Muslim or moderate Arab leader from a radical Islamist?

3: On October 1, 2010, National Geographic began publishing its new Arabic edition, which is now available in 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. What questions did NGS ask our publishing partner to be certain they will uphold our Society’s standards of accuracy, civility, and tolerance?

Zahi Hawass

4: Dr. Zahi Hawass is the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities — and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. He was also just appointed to serve as an official adviser & contributor to National Geographic‘s new Arabic edition. He recently wrote that “the idea of killing children, old people, and women and ignoring taboos runs in the blood of the Palestinian Jews.” In an attempt to explain his beliefs, Dr. Hawass has said his choice of words was “tailored to convey my emotions to other Arabic speakers in an idiom that they would appreciate.”

• What exactly is this regional “idiom”?
• Is it okay for National Geographic magazine to describe “Palestinian Jews” one way to its Arabic audience (per Hawass), and another way to its English-speaking audience?
• Many observers believe this communications strategy — saying one thing to Arabs, and something entirely different to Westerners — has done irreparable harm to the Middle East peace process. What do you think, John?

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John rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
But we’re asking for one — partly to hear his answers to these questions —
and you can help by clicking “Recommend,” below.

Don’t have a Facebook account? Or prefer not to show your face? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally by one.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

_______

“Everything Deserves a Why”

Why
does the National Geographic Society
elevate & support a man who says things like this?

Dr. Zahi Hawass

“It seems that the idea of killing children, old people, and women and ignoring taboos runs in the blood of the Palestinian Jews…. When we talk about their ideology, we do not mean their religion itself, to which they also do harm. They falsify it and put in it all their poisons, which are against all humanity.”   (source: drhawass.com)

“For 18 centuries, [the Jews] were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world.” (source: MEMRI)

Zahi Hawass, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, was recently appointed to be an adviser to National Geographic’s new Arabic edition.
(source: The Straits Times)

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Are you curious
why the National Geographic Society
elevates & supports a man who says such things?
So are we — but John Fahey, CEO of NGS,
declined our first request for an interview.

Would you endorse
our second request for an interview?
If so, please click the “Recommend” button, below.

(Thanks.)

Don’t have a Facebook account? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally by one.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

_____

Does our Society support open societies?

President Obama calls for global commitment to open and accountable government during a speech at the United Nations on September 23, 2010.

“Experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And I believe that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred. America is working to shape a world that fosters this openness, for the rot of a closed or corrupt economy must never eclipse the energy and innovation of human beings.”

President Obama’s message is one that National Geographic used to understand and communicate in the pages of our Society’s official journal.

Today, though, our Society defends trees and glaciers instead of building upon what President Obama rightly calls “the strongest foundation for human progress… open economies, open societies, and open governments.”

Why has National Geographic

This troubling editorial trend reminds us of a breathtaking observation by Mike Fay, NGS Explorer-in-Residence and globe-trotting environmentalist. (It’s worth noting that Mike’s moment of candor came not in the pages of National Geographic, but during an interview in 2006 with Women’s Wear Daily.)

Women’s Wear Daily: But don’t a lot of the countries you’re working in have dysfunctional governments?

Mike Fay: Yeah, but wherever you go on earth, humans organize themselves in some way. I find often the less national influence there is in the management equation, the more successful you are, because you’re dealing with local warlords. You can go right to the guy in charge and say, “Hey, we’re seeing way too much decrease in vegetation here, way too much willy-nilly burning here, let’s do something about it.” That guy can make that decision right there. He doesn’t have to ask the president, he doesn’t have to ask some minister. I think you can make progress more easily there than you can in this country. That’s for sure. [emphasis added]

We can see the bumper sticker now:

How did our Society get into this terribly awkward position? It’s odd, especially since National Geographic was once a journalistic echo of President Obama’s declaration that…

“History is on the side of liberty.”

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P.S. In a bipartisan spirit, our Society’s recent dance with dictators also wouldn’t sit well with this Republican icon:

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≡  photo of President Obama via USA Today

How does NGS plan to bridge this Gulf?

When National Geographic referred to the “Persian Gulf” as the “Arabian Gulf” back in 2004, Reza Pahlavi of Iran visited NGS to “bring clarity to the issue.” (Iranians are Persians, not Arabs, so Pahlavi — the former Crown Prince of Iran — was not pleased with the name change.)

Reza Pahlavi with NGS President & CEO John Fahey (2004)

“The meeting with Mr. Fahey was an in depth and thoughtful discussion of the historic and academic facts regarding the Persian Gulf,” said Reza Pahlavi of Iran. “It was an opportunity to unequivocally express, on behalf of my compatriots, our unwavering national position on the sole usage of the name Persian Gulf.”

“I am pleased to have been reassured by Mr. Fahey that the National Geographic Society recognizes ‘Persian Gulf,’ as the undisputed historic name of the body of water south of the Iranian plateau,” the forty-four year old political leader added. (via payvand.com)

That promise came long before the upcoming launch of our Society’s 33rd local language edition — NGM-Arabic, which will debut on October 1st. (NGM does not publish a Farsi edition for Iranians.)

What will our new Arabic editors call that “body of water south of the Iranian plateau”? We have a hunch it will not be the “Persian Gulf.”

Consider: The Islamic Solidarity Games, which were scheduled to be held in Iran in April, were canceled because of a dispute with Arab countries over what to call the Gulf. According to the BBC:

The games federation in Saudi Arabia said the Iranian organisers had failed to address its concerns, particularly about the planned logo and medals. These bear the words “Persian Gulf”, but Arab countries, who call it the Arabian Gulf, reject the term.

So… does John Fahey’s “reassurance” to Mr. Pahlavi in 2004 still hold? Or will the editors at NGM-Arabic be allowed to apply their own cartographic conventions to depict the world as they see fit — in the Gulf and elsewhere?

How this issue gets resolved will speak loudly about what our Society has become — and where it’s going.

Dr. Hawass & his Arabic “idiom”

The new Arabic edition of National Geographic will be hitting newsstands for the first time in 15 countries on October 1, but the celebrations have already begun in Dubai:

(From left) Editor of National Geographic Chris Johns, Executive Vice-President of National Geographic Terence Adamson, Emirati Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak al-Nahayan, Editor in chief National Geographic Al-Rabiya Mohammed al-Hammadi. (Photo: AFP)

We note, with grave concern, that NGM-Arabic has named Zahi Hawass as one of seven experts who will serve as advisers and contributors.

Why are we troubled by this appointment? Here (once again) is Dr. Hawass in his own words:

Dr. Zahi Hawass, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

Further Remarks on Statements Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In an article about Jewish history that I wrote in January for El-Sharq El-Awsat newspaper, I wrote, “It seems that the idea of killing children, old people, and women and ignoring taboos runs in the blood of the Palestinian Jews,” a statement that has been interpreted as anti-Semitic. There are two important points that I want to stress in addressing this criticism. First, I was not speaking of Jews in general. I was speaking only of the “Jews of Palestine” – the modern state of Israel. I deeply disapprove of the policies of the Israeli government with regard to Palestine, and I felt that strong language was necessary to communicate the intensity of my emotions. In addition, I was writing in Arabic for a Middle Eastern audience. The cultural gulf between the West and the Middle East is so deep that I cannot blame people for misinterpreting my statements, but I would like for everyone to know that the tone that I adopted and the words that I chose were tailored to convey my emotions to other Arabic speakers in an idiom that they would appreciate….”

If that doesn’t make your stomach churn, perhaps this will. Or this.

Such demagoguery prompts these questions for Terry Adamson and Chris Johns:

• How does such unadulterated nastiness help build what Chris called a “bridge of understanding“?
• How do you see this local “idiom” shaping the coverage of NGM-Arabic under the guidance of Dr. Hawass?
• Why is Zahi Hawass still on our Society’s payroll?

Please feel free to share your answers in the comments, below.

What’s a “backward country”? A dictator’s definition

“… Clad in a faded sport shirt, khaki slacks, and worn leather slippers, Qaddafi presented a very different picture from the flamboyant figure in extravagant dress long familiar to the outside world. He looked tired. In the past 12 hours, he had talked with three African presidents and the Italian foreign minister, worked on plans for a summit conference, and given a stern lecture to the city fathers of Beida regarding unchecked development in the picturesque Green Mountains around the city. “We are a backward country,” Qaddafi said matter-of-factly. “People don’t understand that we are damaging the land, damaging the environment.”
— from Libya: An End to Isolation?, by Andrew Cockburn, National Geographic, November 2ooo, pp. 14-5

*     *     *

In related news: Later this year, National Geographic will begin publishing an Arabic edition that will be distributed to 15 countries, including Libya, which is home to one of the world’s worst human rights regimes and, wholly devoid of any independent media; indeed, it is consistently referred to as having one of the worst press freedom environments.”

Tyrants who care about the planet

National Geographic will begin publishing an Arabic edition in October, with distribution covering 15 countries — including Libya.

According to Menassat, a Beirut-based organization that focuses on press freedom in the Arabic-speaking world:

Muammar al-Gaddafi, who spearheaded a coup in Libya in 1969 — and who has controlled the country ever since.

Libya has one of the worst press freedom records in the Arab world. Reporters without Borders classifies the press situation in Libya country [sic] as a “very serious situation” – the bleakest category in their classification. It occupies rank 152 out of 168 in their Index of Press Freedom. … The World Press Freedom Review by the International Press Institute notes that Libya is “home to one of the world’s worst human rights regimes and, wholly devoid of any independent media; indeed, it is consistently referred to as having one of the worst press freedom environments.” Furthermore, the report states that “journalists are not free to express criticism of the state, the political system or the country’s leader and many sensitive topics, such as the plight of the Berber minority or high-level corruption are considered off-limits.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists Libya belongs to the ten most censored countries in the world. The Freedom House report on Freedom of the Press states that “Libyan journalists continue to operate under some of the most restrictive laws in the world and in an extremely repressive climate. Press freedom, like all other public political activity, is illegal, and harsh laws impose life imprisonment and even death sentences on those who dare cross the regime. A public opponent can face a firing squad if he commits vaguely defined violations such as tarnishing Libya’s image abroad or disseminating information that opposes the principles of the constitution.”

What is it about today’s National Geographic which enables it to receive such a warm welcome by Colonel Gaddafi, Libya’s Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution?

How did a magazine that in 1976 published a feature story called Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Freedom end up in this despotic neighborhood?

And perhaps most important: What has our Society sacrificed or changed in recent years to pass muster with “one of the world’s worst human rights regimes”?

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≡  photo of Colonel Gaddafi via Wikipedia

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.