Mission Al Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World, the title of a new book by U.S. Marine Cpt. (ret.) Josh Rushing, definitely captured my attention right off. As I read through his experience working in the U.S. Central Command media office in Iraq, Josh's story opened my eyes to a new “front” in the Iraq war that isn’t debated nearly as much as soldiers, tanks, and weapons: the media.
Josh’s perspective is particularly insightful because he was there. As a military spokesman to media outlets around the world, he was the officer in charge of engaging the largest Arab media outlet: Al Jazeera Arabic. He believes this channel is not meant to undermine or attack anyone, but is instead an important voice in the Arab world.
Unfortunately, military and political leaders have taken a very hands-off and at times even hostile approach towards Al Jazeera. That’s why Josh –- an officer with no expertise in Arab culture or language -– became the face of the West to the 35-55 million viewers across the Arab world during the current Iraq war. Based on the cultural experience he gained from working with Al Jazeera reporters, he considers the U.S. failure to truly work with the Arab media a huge strategic mistake. It is also a failure in a larger war of information, ideas, and explanations about the U.S. role in the Arab world.
That’s part of the reason why Josh works for Al-Jazeera English today. He truly believes that misunderstandings, and particularly cultural misunderstandings, fuel ongoing conflict.
Al Jazeera English launched in November of 2006, and is viewed in 100 million homes worldwide. Yet only Ohio and Vermont have picked up the channel in the United States. Thus most of America is missing out on a new model for international news that is building a bridge between cultures by having local people report on their issues to an international audience. Viewers in America wouldn’t get an American perspective on Iraq; they’d hear from Iraqi journalists.
Sometimes this might be difficult. As Josh noticed, Al Jazeera videos can be disturbing to watch because they provide a more accurate portrayal of war realities than what we’re used to seeing in the United States.
This is part of what Josh describes as getting to the “Ground Truth.” That's where, by listening to those closest to the issues, you can start to reach a truly substantive debate. Even solutions.
While Josh writes honestly about mistakes in Iraq, he also has hope for the future. A lot of people in the military and political realm want to better utilize, understand, and work with the media. And, he points out, Americans want to become better informed about the world around them. Modern technology makes building these bridges of information possible, so people can see, hear, and try to understand the Ground Truth.
And, as we get closer to the Ground Truth and push the debate deeper, we may even be able to change the world.