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Control Room is a documentary on the Arab television network Al-Jazeera, chronicling their coverage of the Iraqi war.

A friend recommended this to me, and I watched it mainly because I was curious about how the network worked, and not at all about the war, assuming that I already knew what had happened. And it did focus very tightly on the network - it introduced us to the people who produced the news, such as Samir Khader, the senior producer, an ex-Iraqi who wanted to send his children to the US to study, and Deema Khatib, a woman staff member, highly educated and eloquent, just to name two, and I found myself wishing that the discussions we see on the news today were anything near as thought-provoking as the ones they had with each other, with the American military reps. (Which isn't to say that I don't think they were biased - of course they were biased, being who they were, and of course we are biased, being who we are, and as Mrs. Khatib stated in the movie, it seems a bit pointless to harp on that. What mattered to me is that it was clear that they tried to understand the other viewpoint, and that their viewpoint was that of other educated Arabs, and one I almost never hear, living in the U.S.)


A one minute exerpt from the movie:

Khader: The Israelis and the United States are trying to change everything in this area in order to suit the presence of Israel in it, you know.

Ibrahim (a reporter): See, the problem with the middle east is that everything is an Israeli conspiracy. Everything! If a water pipe breaks in the center of Damascus it will be blamed on the Israelis, instead of blaming it on our incompetence. And don't tell me that it's Americanization. I mean, yeah, America is governating, but the rest of the world is not castrated. People are against this war, and people are resisting. And people matter.

Khader: I hope everybody in the world will get the american passport one day, so this world will be quiet.

Ibrahim: This is a defeatist attitude.

Ibrahim (sometime later): Eventually you will have to find a solution that doesn't include bombing people into submission. Democratize or I'll shoot you - this doesn't, doesn't work this way.


What I found the most compelling, however, was when the film focused on the war, the consequences of it - because I thought I knew what had happened, but I really hadn't. And, goddd. One of the most moving parts was of the day when America bombed Al-Jazeera headquarters in Iraq (along with the headquarters of two other Arab journalism outfits), stating that they had thought there were terrorists in those buildings. That the American military told such a simplistic lie and got away with it, the consequences that others had to face because of what they did. This is an exerpt from that sequence, of Samir Khader describing what happened on that day.

I shouted at them [the cameramen], telling them to move the camera out of the face of this guy [Tareq Ayyoub] because it has nothing to do with the event, the fighting, and they moved the camera.

Ten minutes later I was on the phone with another correspondent and he said that there's a plane turning over us and now it's coming towards us and it's pointing down, nose down, which means formation of attack. And the american plane came and launched an explosion against our office and the explosion killed Tareq Ayyoub.

When you announce that one of your staff was hurt you expect phone calls from the families of all these reporters and cameras.

We received only one phone call, from the wife of Tareq Ayyoub, saying, "what happened to Tareq?" We told her, "we didn't say it's Tareq". And she said, "I know, my heart tells me it's Tareq, and something happened to him."

What can you say to her?

So. It was a hell of a morning.


And just - there were so many parts like this, and perhaps what happened, what's still happening, can best be described by what Deema Khatib said: "The whole war actually is like an American movie. You know the end, you know who's the hero, you know the bad guys, they're going to die. But you still watch because you want to know how it's going to happen and what weapons they're going to use to do it."
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September 2015

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