Four women and a satellite dish are changing everything. A day or so ago, Kyra sent me a link to the documentary film Dishing Democracy. I spent the next couple hours watching four women change my mind about the Middle East. Here is a weekly TV show Kalam Nawaem (Sweet Talk), with women commentators, modeled on “The View.” It is watched by 200 million people in The Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the USA. It shows and discusses controversial themes. It is a satellite TV MBC show taped in a studio in Beirut, Lebanon, owned by a Saudi businessman named Sheik Wali Ibrahim. This show encourages public discourse, is about challenge, question, and debate. Because the media is so strong today, it can’t be stopped. There is a Content Committee that looks over the material, and brings in experts, so it is difficult for the governments of Muslim countries to interfere. Here are the four women:Rania Barghout is a Lebanese woman from Lebanon, Germany, and London, who is married with two children and lives in Beiruit. Muna Abu Sulayman is the first Saudi woman on international satellite TV. She is a PHD candidate in Arab/American Literature; Farah Besiso is a Palestinian former actress who was proposed to on the show and was filmed at the birth of her daughter, Habiba, because she feels she wants to stay connected with the people who watch the show. Fawzia Salama is a prominent Egyptian Journalist who is a generation older than the other three and supplies the calm, wise perspective.
While Kalam Nawaem pushes social boundaries carefully, with each hot topic that brings controversy, there are more viewers. One theme was how men are becoming more unsatisfied with their wives due to images of young beautiful women seen on TV; that divorce is on the rise. On another show, Fawzia asks about the public manifestation of the sexual phenomenon of homosexuality, not accepted by either society or religion. Have people become more daring? And what is the effect on our traditional society? This is a super taboo. The man who was supposed to come on TV was threatened so they interviewed him on the phone. He says society is wrong to condemn him as a homosexual. Rania asks for a public response. An imam condemns homosexuality based on his interpretation of a passage in the Qu’ran. Meanwhile people at cafes all over Egypt, Libya and Syria are discussing this question. It is no longer whispered about behind closed doors.
Another time Farah reads from a letter saying they are all going straight to hell, except for Muna who wears a hijab. She speaks to the man who wrote the hate letter: “I want to say Islam is a religion of kindness and respect. Allah knows what is in our hearts.”
Then there is the documentary, Dishing Democracy. [link posted below.] Filmmaker, Bregtje Van der Haak, says she made this film because she hopes “the Western viewers will get to know a different side of the Arab world.” Bregtje continues, and says, “The difference between Arab and Western feminists is that Muslim women focus on the happiness of the community rather than the individual. What also inspired me is the fact that I noticed that in the Arab world, professionals, working women, working men, are driven not only by individual goals, individual happiness, and making money, but they are really working as a community to make something happen. And this is something that I miss sometimes in the West. It really touched me, and I want to learn from it as a media professional. And I want to understand what it means not to put the individual first. And I learned a lot from the team of Kalam Nawaem. And I hope I can use it in my practice, in my professional life, but also in my own personal life.”
I feel this is hopeful and exciting bridge-making! Please check it out. <> Episodes and intro. to KalamNawaem http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/episodes/dishing-democracy/introduction/973/
<>Interview with the filmmaker of Dishing Democracy: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/episodes/dishing-democracy/filmmaker-notes-bregtje-van-der-haak/1842/