Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Shadid

Remembering Anthony Shadid

When I first met Anthony Shadid he was sitting across the table from me in a Doha conference room in 2003 eagerly jotting down quotes in a tiny notebook.

There were about 10 of us in the room– young, enthusiastic journalists from several countries that had been hired as the first staff writers for Al Jazeera International. It would eventually become the television channel Al Jazeera English.

I wrote this four years ago, but still resonates today. Thank you for the advice, Anthony.

From our archives on this day in 2012…

Anthony was there to interview us for his piece on Qatar’s media ambitions at the time. I remember being fascinated by his ability to use such a tiny notebook (about the size of a pack of cigarettes) to capture so many voices at once.

But being young, idealistic and vocal, I was also terrified by what he was going to use and barely slept that night! Thankfully our comments didn’t make into his story, and fears of being snatched at night by mukhabarat never materialized.
I ran into Anthony several more times over the years, at conferences and news events, even at the gym in Beirut.

“Hope all’s well with you,” he wrote me a year ago. “If you’re in Beirut, I’d love to get coffee when I get back.”

Having known more than a few egotistic journalists over the years– whose talents don’t compare to his– Anthony was very humble for a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

He encouraged my work on this blog and printed out a draft of my in-depth piece on the Lebanese Jewish community, “a subject that is really dear to my heart,” and promised to read it. I always planned to follow up with him and now regret not having had the chance to do so.

Though our encounters were often brief, what sticks with me the most about Anthony, in addition to his insightful writing and humility, was his perspective on the role of a journalist: “My job is to bear witness,” he told a 2005 conference in Texas, explaining that “conversations… are probably the best thing we can encounter as journalists.”

He said listening to and recording the thoughts of average people was often more important than the punditry of leaders and analysts that claim to speak for them.
He further elaborated on this theme at a 2008 AUB conference saying:

“If I’ve learned something after more than 12 years of being a foreign correspondent… (it’s that) the journalism we can be least proud of is the journalism that comes from claiming to know too much, of acting like someone we are not.”
He also discussed lessons learned while revisiting his own work–articles he had written during the 2003 invasion of Iraq–while writing his 2006 book “Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War 

He said of his previous articles:
“The articles that I felt held up over time were the ones that gave voice to the people I met there over those weeks (in Baghdad), that describe their sentiments, their fears, their hopes and their ambitions.
The ones that felt dated and cliched were the ones where I put forth my own views when I said with too much certainty what was going in a country that wasn’t my own.”
Note: I posted an extensive review of his book on his hometown Marje3youn
 
Here is the full lecture:

May Anthony’s words live on, and continue to inspire other journalists as they have inspired me.
       

 

Hey Vox: Can you Explain this Map?

Vox was co-founded by Melissa Bell and Ezra Klein, late of the Washington Post, and former Slate blogger Matt Yglesias (fun picture here! scroll down), the three of whom lured a posse of young-ish writers to join the staff, including, from the PostMax Fisher, who compiled the “40 Maps.”

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Another deconstruction of a bad @voxdotcom explainer map.

This one on Arabic dialects, by @meriponline

Vox is perhaps the most prominent of the new sites devoted to “explainer…
Chris Toensing published this May 24, 2014

In early May ,the website Vox made a small splash on the Internet with “40 Maps That Explain the Middle East.”

Vox is perhaps the most prominent of the new sites devoted to “explainer journalism,” a genre of primers that combine key data with brief analysis, often in attention-grabbing, multi-media formats.

The motivation for starting Vox, according to Klein, was to ameliorate the “anxiety” that he imagines readers must feel when approaching major news stories for the first time.

“There’s a problem in journalism,” he says in a YouTube promo. “We call certain topics that we cover the vegetables, or the spinach, as if they’re gross, and people should be reading them, but they’re not going to want to.”

“Explainer journalism” has drawn some fire for condescending to its audience, assuming as it does that readers don’t read regular coverage, at least not carefully enough to comprehend the story.

As James Hamblin puts it at The Awl, “An explainer is an article that breaks down an important topic into just the things you care about and need to know. It’s unlike all other kinds of articles in that way.”

Other critics complain that the genre is rather insulting to journalists as well, implying that old-school reporters are too lazy, jaded or unskilled to convey what readers need to situate daily news in proper context.

Says Democracy’s Nathan Pippenger: “This issue is even more sensitive when it comes to foreign affairs, since many old-fashioned print journalists (like Daniel Pearl and Anthony Shadid) have died in war zones in order to bring what Klein calls ‘vegetable’ stories to American readers.”

These objections notwithstanding, some might think that Vox is doing a service, explaining the background to current events in easily digested bite-size form. (MERIP might not exist, after all, if the corporate media was not often derelict in its duties.)

Alas, early offerings with regard to the Middle East suggest otherwise.

Yousef Munayyer, for instance, has thoroughly debunked a set of maps that purport to explain the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The adjacent map depicting the geographic distribution of Arabic dialects is equally misleading to the point of misinformation.

This map, which seems to have been compiled (or perhaps just lifted) from Wikipedia, is downright inaccurate in several places.

Chris Stone is associate professor of Arabic at Hunter College. Before he began his doctoral work, he lived in Yemen for three years, teaching English in the Peace Corps.

It would be bad enough, Stone says, “if the map claimed just one dialect for Yemen, but to claim that all of Yemen and coastal Somalia speak the same dialect is patently absurd.”

Yemeni dialects differ in pronunciation, cadence, vocabulary, idiom and syntax — not to the point of being mutually unintelligible but certainly to the point of requiring occasional translation.

The dialects spoken in northern Egypt and the areas marked olive green for Levantine countries (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine) likewise vary considerably, sometimes from valley to valley and village to village.

In Sudan and South Sudan, respectively, the map identifies Nubi Arabic in orange and Juba Arabic in deep beige. The first reference is a flat-out mistake: Some of the Nilotic peoples in the north of Sudan identify as Nubians, and they may speak the distinct language called Nubian as well as an Arabic similar to that spoken in Khartoum.

Nubi is an Arabic-based creole spoken in a few East African port towns. Meanwhile, according to MER editor Khalid Medani, who is from Sudan, there’s a missing dialect — Nuba Arabic, “a creole spoken in the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan. It is a mix of Arabic and Nuba not Nubian. Folks often get those two confused.”

Juba Arabic is also a creole, Medani continues, “spoken by the Nilotic Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk, especially in Juba where it is the second vernacular.” The Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk are not Arabs, by the way — more on that in a minute.

Surely the oddest error of fact appears in mustard yellow for Judeo-Arabic, which the map locates (solely) in central Israel. Indeed, linguists do speak of such a thing as spoken Judeo-Arabic, in which Arab Jews sprinkle ancient Hebrew and Aramaic terms.

Judeo-Arabic, however, normally refers to a written language, namely, classical Arabic written in Hebrew script. More to the point, while there were small communities of Arabic-speaking Jews in Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel, the large majority of Israeli Jews of Arab origin hail from other Arab countries and, if they still speak Arabic, they speak the dialect of those countries.

“Jews from Morocco, Iraq and Yemen speak the same Arabic dialect?” Stone queries. “I smell ideology.” (Incompetence seems just as likely, since all of the information in this paragraph is in the Wikipedia entry for “Judeo-Arabic languages.”

Maybe that entry needs an “explainer.” Or maybe the title does, since the plural is right there in the third word.)

We could list some more inaccuracies.

A bigger problem with the map is that the uninitiated Vox reader might think that Arabic is the only or most important language spoken across these swathes of bright color.

Berbers in blue North Africa would beg to differ, as would Kurds in the greenish-yellow lands of North Mesopotamian Arabic, Armenians in Lebanon and several other religio-ethnic communities, among them Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews. And the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk speak their own languages as the first vernacular, thank you very much.

The map’s cardinal sin, however, appears in the explanatory sidebar:

“Something to look at here: where the dialects do and do not line up with present-day political borders. In places where they don’t line up, you’re seeing national borders that are less likely to line up with actual communities, and in some cases more likely to create problems.”

In other words, Arabs are fighting other Arabs because of differences in dialect.

Sorry, Vox, this notion is cataclysmically wrong.

Leave aside the map’s implication that the conflict in Israel-Palestine is about the fact that Palestinian Arabs in the Galilee speak a different variety of their native tongue than the Judeo-Arabic speakers to their south.

Forget the idea that the Syrian civil war might be a clash of North Mesopotamian, Iraqi and Levantine dialects.

And don’t ask why civil strife continues to afflict central Iraq despite its uniform dark green dialectical hue.

Again, we’ll be charitable: Smart and patient Vox readers can refer to other maps in Fisher’s series and figure this stuff out for themselves.

But there are some other places where dialects do not line up with borders on the map and there is sometimes violent conflict.

One is the boundary between Morocco and Western Sahara. Nowhere in the “40 Maps” is there any clue as to the roots of this conflict in Spanish colonialism, the expansiveness of Moroccan territorial claims, the 1975 Green March, Sahrawi nationalism, the Moroccan Arab-Berber settlement of Western Sahara in violation of UN resolutions, the UN’s failure to enforce those resolutions, and French and US coddling of their client state in Rabat. Iron-deficient Vox readers are left to surmise that the conflict is about types of Arabic.

As for the two Sudans, indeed, the border between the state controlled by Khartoum and South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, roughly corresponds to the boundary line indicating where different sorts of Arabic are spoken.

But to suggest that the long civil war between north and south, or the decision of South Sudanese to secede, has to do with dialectical distinctions is to enter the realm of the ridiculous.

South Sudanese developed their Juba Arabic creole to cope with their northern rulers and do business with the northern merchants who set up shop in southern cities. Differences in dialect were a byproduct of conquest and conflict — not the cause thereof.

Again, we could go on. But why?

The kicker, as Stone says, is the map’s assumption of an “inverse relationship between linguistic unity and ‘problems.

Have the authors of the map not heard of India, where we are not only talking about a vast number of dialects, but actually different languages? What about Switzerland?”

In the end, this map reinforces the old Orientalist saws that Middle East conflict is understandable chiefly in terms of ethnic identity and that primordial ties are uniquely constitutive of politics (and certainly not the other way around).

If we can muster the energy, we may scrutinize a few more of the “40 Maps,” cursory inspection of which reveals more amazing feats of interpretive malpractice. Probably not, though — we should stay focused on our own efforts to go behind the headlines.

We do, however, have a question for Vox:

What good is “explainer journalism” if one fortieth of one piece requires 1,068 words of third-party explanation to correct just a few of its errors, without yet rendering it legible? (We’re not counting the words spent explaining explainers, or our editorializing here, just the “spinach” about the map itself.)

Please explain.

Note: Why Vox do not hire learned local people to do the investigations in the countries they want to explain?


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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