Now We Know What It’s Like….

Josh Rushing, reading from his book, Mission Al-Jazeera, tells of operating out of Washington, D.C. for the English-language service of Al-Jazeera, the Middle Eastern news service. Doing a story in North Dakota on the dwindling populations of small towns, he found himself the object of a local reporter’s inquiries.

First, she was surprised he wasn’t wearing robes and stuff. Then she was surprised when, after writing an article, she was visited by a government agent. The questions asked were downright scary as was the manner of her interrogation.

She was alarmed enough to call her brother in another state who was himself alarmed by the whole thing and then freaked out when he looked out his window and saw a car slide by as a man leaned out and spray painted something on the curb outside his house. He took a picture of it.

Later, it turned out the spray painting was to mark the route of a bicycle race. But in the meantime, every person this perfectly legitimate reporter had talked to was in turn contacted by our security forces, thus drying up any possibility of follow-up interviews, the people were so scared.

They were scared because instead of asking about anything that made sense, the agent asked scary questions. Why would anyone ask scary questions about a reporter doing a story on small town America, especially a reporter who had spent 15 years as a U.S. Marine!

Rushing talked to the agent about why he was harrassing his contacts and the agent had no clear response. But in the meantime, the N. D. reporter’s brother had blogged about the incident and conservative bloggers, confusing Al-Jazeera with Al-Qaeda (can you imagine what we’re going to do with Chinese names?), raised the roof about terrorists at the Canadian border. It even made the ticker tape on Fox News (realllllyyy??).

Now, please comment and tell me how I’m a stinking terrorist sympathizer, but doesn’t that all sound exactly like the stupidity practiced in the Soviet Union? You can’t take pictures. You can’t talk to citizens. You can’t criticize the government. You can’t travel freely. Yes, it is EXACTLY the same thing. That’s what we have become and we had better turn back before simply the end of this adminsitration is not enough to save us from ourselves.

How much longer before the secret agents of this administrations are arresting American citizens who strike them as “suspicious”? And at least those reporters of ours they harrassed were not Soviet citizens (they probably just killed their own); Rushing is an American veteran who served in Iraq.

I know… by writing items like this one I’m pushing Wes, my blog guru, to open up a political blog for me. But how is this not germane to fl teaching? I taught Russian for 20 years and during the Soviet era. I railed against Soviet practices then, so why not these now?

The question for fl teachers then is, can we afford to be ethnocentric? When Soviet agents harrass journalists from foreign newspapers, that’s bad, but when American agents harrass an American citizen working for a foreign newspaper, that’s good. Can we equate Al-Jazeera with Al-Qaeda? The Soviets were convinced that Wall Street was working for their demise and so assumed that American reporters were working for them (their own reporters, after all, were expected to be government agents). We laughed at their lack of sophistication for not realizing that a reporter could even work for the Wall Street Journal and still be objective. Yet our government thinks an American veteran working for Al-Jazeera must be up to no good.

Don’t just practice name-calling. Tell me where I am wrong about this. Tell me what I don’t know about Al-Jazeera that isn’t also true of American newspapers. Be as specific as you can and give me something I can check out. Maybe Rushing and other well-known Westerners working for Al-Jazeera are missing something and will soon all resign in shocked horror upon discovering Al-Jazeera links to terrorism. After all, Linda Chavez and Walter Cronkite dropped off the U.S. English advisory board after they discovered that organization’s racist links. It could happen.

Meantime, I am developing a little empathy with those Russians who courageously opposed the regime because it was so STUPID. I’m not there yet; I still don’t want to lose my retirement or have my wife harrassed, but I’m beginning to sense the outrage at the sheer stupidity of these people

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