BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. If one goal of the war in Iraq, according to the Bush administration, is to re-define Middle East politics, the U.S. may be getting more than it bargained for. Martin Walker, chief correspondent for United Press International, says that the war and the emerging Arabic media are feeling an explosion of pan-Arabism unseen in 40 years. He joins me now from Kuwait City. Martin, welcome back to the show.
MARTIN WALKER: Hello there.
BOB GARFIELD: So the Arab governments to one degree or another are mainly in support of the coalition in this war, but the Arab street seems to be very anti-war and anti-Western. Tell me what you're seeing in the press.
MARTIN WALKER: What I'm seeing is the creation or the, I suppose, the re-creation for the first time since Nasser in the 1950s, 1960s of a real pan-Arab, nationalist, patriotic consciousness, and I'm seeing this not just in traditional leftist papers or papers of radical governments but even in the newspapers of America's friends. When you read in Al-Akhbar which, you know, one knows to be a semi-official newspaper in Egypt "The evil axis of Bush and the evil forces will not gain their main political objective from the war to crush the Arabs. The Arabs are rising." -- it's really quite extraordinary. I mean I was looking at Al-Riyadh which is the offical Saudi government daily. Now the Saudi government we all know is secretly being very helpful to the war, but this is its editorial. "It's a surprising historical paradox that the most modern civilization is fighting the most ancient human civilization with false arguments in an attempt to vie for its resources." It's a kind of a, a mood of contempt for the West and its supposed hypocrisy and real patriotic flood of support behind the Iraqis.
BOB GARFIELD:It's interesting how these state organs or semi-official state organs are being used as means for these governments to play both ends against the middle, in grudging degrees supporting the United States in the war, and on the other hand to deal with their own internal problems by criticizing the United States and the war for public consumption. Is that the purpose of these editorials?
MARTIN WALKER: You know a month ago I'd have said yes. I'd have said this is part of the traditional Arab game through which authoritarian Arab regimes which like to stay in close contact with the West allow a kind of a safety valve to their people. But this is something new, and for example in Egypt, Al Wafd which is quite a popular newspaper, when it starts in a front page editorial writing hero-grams to, I quote, "the Iraqis' steadfastness and their brave resistance is noble and gallant, the pride of us Arabs, the pride of us all, and an inspiration to us all," I mean that rocks me back on my heels a bit. It's as though this is not simply a war against Iraq; it's now a war against the Arabs as a whole.
BOB GARFIELD:You invoked Gamal Abdel Nasser and a sort of neo-pan-Arabism that seems to have emerged as a result of this war. Is there any reflection in any of these pieces that you're seeing to how catastrophic pan-Arabism was for the various Arab cultures?
MARTIN WALKER: Absolutely not. No, there's no assessment of what in retrospect a dark era for human rights and for Arab economic development the pan-Arabist period of the Nasser era was, and I think we're in for something extraordinary in the Arab world. I'd always assumed that this new Arab independent media were going to have a, quite an effect up on internal Arab politics. Now it seems that they're building something rather more powerful, and we're not only talking about an Al Jazeera effect. The Arab airwaves are now absolutely blanketed with these so-called independent TV satellite channels. You've got one out of Abu Dhabi; you've got Al Arabier, a brand new one, coming out of Dubai. The Hezbollah movement in Lebanon has got its own satellite channel, Al Manah, and all of these TV channels are hero-izing not Saddam Hussein so much as the Iraqi resistance, and they are hailing these Iraqi guerillas as the heroes of the entire Arab people.
BOB GARFIELD:So do you think it's the pan-Arab cable channels that have in fact cultivated this pan-Arab consciousness or would this have happened absent Al Jazeera and the like?
MARTIN WALKER: I don't think it would have happened absent Al Jazeera and so on, and they in turn wouldn't have happened without the way in which a new pan-Arab press began to emerge in London over the last ten years, because that kind of free press couldn't emerge anywhere within the Arab world; it had to start in London. But I think there's something else unique to the television, and that is the way in which they are covering this war in much the same way that they covered the intifada -- the Palestine-Israeli war, which is to say the glorification of martyrs, which is to say a kind of a blood pornography, a lingering of the TV cameras upon scenes of extraordinary carnage and bloodshed, scenes of dead civilians, of flowing blood that for reasons of taste are never seen or very seldom seen on, on Western televisions, and it's creating a kind of -- I can only call it a media blood culture. It's pretty much all you see.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Martin. Keep your head down. Thank you very much.
MARTIN WALKER: Okay. Bye, bye.
BOB GARFIELD: Martin Walker, chief correspondent for United Press International joined us from Kuwait City.