I wanted to thank Trivium and Palestinian Professor for actually linking to some Arab news sources to try to give us kossacks a clearer perspective on the Arab World's reaction to Obama's Al-Arabiya interview. I'll try to shed some more light on the interview's significance and the nature of Arab media more broadly. The discussion on Trivium's entry has almost gone off the rails a number of times - both to the right ("Al-Jazeera is Al-Qaeda's propaganda arm") and the left ("Obama knows Israel is the main cause of terrorists"). Why? Because people aren't bringing Arab media (or English-language reportage about it) in to back up their opinions. Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya are not Fox News or the BBC - to paraphrase Popeye, they am what they am. Read why after the jump.
Remember: you'll quickly become delusional if you impose an American corporate media framework on a wildly different Mideast media landscape. Read Marc Lynch's crash course in Arab satellite TV here.
First things first: smart, informed people disagree immensely about the upshot of Obama's Al-Arabiya interview. As a commenter pointed out earlier, earlier Obama skeptic Reza Aslan (who's Iranian-American, btw) was giddy about it. The normally grave Marc Lynch, a.k.a. Abu Aardvark, (who Joe Biden-literally wrote The Book on Al-Jazeera) was also absolutely thrilled by Obama's interview.
For one thing, Obama's interlocutor Hisham Melham's reaction was positive because Obama gave him the greatest scoop of his life.
Professor Asad Abu-Khalil, a.k.a. The Angry Arab, is a hardcore, old-school Arab Marxist (albeit one who enjoys The Economist), but don't let either of those things frighten you away. Swallow his invective as if it were medicine, because he's great - look at his outstanding analysis of Obama's interview's significance. He also explains why Al-Jazeera devoted as much airtime to Obama's Al-Arabiya interview as local American news devotes to wars in the Congo: they'rejeallll-ooous...
The fellows at the outstanding Arab Media Shack are writing an ongoing must-read series about Obama's Speech too (see Rob's initial take, his absolutely indispensable more considered take, and mregypt's Egyptian perspective on US Public Diplomacy). They're more skeptical than Lynch and Aslan, but there's no radical disagreement. Takeaway point: it's all about "words versus deeds," and the woman who accused Obama of having only the former during the primaries is now responsible for seeing Obama fulfill the latter.
And while we're at it on dangerous places we have well less than half a clue about, read this post aboutWestern media and Pakistan by Londonstani (a self-described "violent Pashtun") on Abu Muqawama's blog.
So that's the idea. This is tough stuff to grasp, even for the best minds on the case. We're all gonna have to be more informed and patient and rigorous in our thought if we want our children to see a peaceful Middle East. Otherwise, the whole place will resemble a copper mine fire.