Tuesday, July 31, 2018

‘Arabhood’: A political story in ‘American’ English

Currying favors with the American president is not the most effective way for leaders of other countries to advance their national interest. Although a personal connection with him can be helpful, having the support of his constituency will take leaders farther.
The American electorate oscillates between Republicans and Democrats, thus making it necessary to exert effort to win the hearts and minds of the voting American population. This is a sure long-term strategy that trumps the fleeting situational mutual benefits that leaders around the world labor to strike with the US.
The drawback of securing the support of the American people is the long lead time it takes and the amount of sustained effort and financial investments it requires.
The upside is once the majority of Americans have a favorable view of a nation, so will the president regardless of the personality or political affiliation of the occupant of the White House. So how is it done? Simple, by creating an appealing narrative.

Tribal politics

Arab politicians don't know how to speak “American.” In order for the Arab governments to create a long-term positive rapport with the US, each for its own national interest, they will need to supplement their approach to go beyond forging a personal relationship with their counterparts in the US government.
Arab countries are “nations of men,” while the US is a “nation of laws.” Men come and go, but the law endures. The Arabic model provides a certain type of stability throughout the tenure of the leader.
While in the US it’s a relay where the baton of American law is passed from one president to the next every four or eight years (and there is a precedent for presidential resignation).
Arab countries are “nations of men,” while the US is a “nation of laws.” Men come and go, but the law endures
Walid Jawad
Arab leaders find themselves building new relationships with each elected American administration making for a volatile relationship. When the political calculations of the US changes so does its relation with Arab governments.
Numerous governments around the world have managed to create bonds with the “American people” ensuring a lasting affinity that transcends the American presidential election cycle. The British people, for instance, were able to move from America’s enemy, let us remember that America gained its independence from the British Crown.
But the most impressive case study is of the Jewish people who gained popular support leading to them wielding exceptional political influence.
It is the “story” of a people that compels a nation to sympathize with the Jews despite widespread conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic crimes and ongoing discrimination. Once the masses accepted the positive narrative, governments find it easier to create a bond with the White House and Capitol Hill.

Political reality check

The road to societal change anywhere in the world goes through Washington, DC. Regardless of country, change architects must factor Washington’s influence; support, neutrality, or opposition.
Securing political influence in the capital of the world is an identifier of success, if not the ultimate aspect determining the success of political and social change in countries around the world. America’s military, political, and financial powers are unparalleled.
The White House and Capitol Hill are the ultimate friends of world leaders, public figures, and activists. Washington does not do the hard work for any one leader or country, but it does empower.

Arabhood as a brand

Arab governments are negating their own efforts as they focus exclusively on advancing the flag of their own nations. This tactic only works government to government, thus for any Arab country to capture the imagination of the American people the story needs to be about the human condition captured through an Arabic story.
An inspiring example from other cultures which succeeded in winning over the American people is the Jewish example. All of us as human beings can’t help but feel for Anne Frank and her family. We all sympathize with the Jewish people who endured the Holocaust and mourn those who perished.
Despite the lack of public expressions of sympathy for their plight in light of today’s political complexity between the Israelis and the Palestinians, our humanity overrides our political stance on an individual level.
As we sympathize with the historical pain of the Jewish people we feel deep indignation on behalf of the Palestinian people as the offspring of Holocaust survivors relive their trauma, but this time as the aggressor in a twisted reenactment of the WWII tragedy.
Notice here how we can have sympathy for our Jewish cousins yet object and strongly condemn the Israeli tactics against innocent Palestinians inflicting oppression, inequality, and apartheid (particularly after passing the latest Israeli law, the Jewish Nation-State bill that abolishes the rights of Israeli Arabs).
So the question becomes how is it that the Arab world is unable to tell stories that resonate with the American people? The disastrous fate of the majority of the Arab people is being witnessed and recorded, but none of it is memorialized; no stories, fables, poetry, or songs.
The irony is that Arab artists, writers, and poets who can express the suffering in a way that would allow the audience to walk proverbially in the victims’ shoes are the same Arab citizens who will speak truth to power; the same people who if they dare to express their observations are quickly silenced.

The cockroach

This is not to dismiss all of the admirable attempts by many honorable men and women who dared tell stories, sing songs, and compose poems. The tide of the negative news cycle is beyond the power of those voices to make long-lasting change, yet it does help expand the narrative.
Arabs and Arab Americans have a duty to tell our stories – it is our burden. Thankfully, others who sympathize with us or have an affinity for Arab history and culture have been doing it in the “American” language that is most effective.
In Washington, DC 2004, I was walking in the neighborhood around 11th st and E St, NW, when I stumbled upon a sign that read “The Fate of a Cockroach,” a play by Tawfiq Al-Hakim. I walked down a few steps to sit in one of 20 seats in that makeshift theater.
It was an accurate translation and an impressive performance by an all American volunteer company (non-professional actors). I walked away wondering why can’t Arab embassies and well-off Arab American sponsor such events.
Last month the Mosaic Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center concluded its run of the play “The Vagrant Trilogy.” A wonderful story by Mona Mansour about a Palestinian scholar who gets stuck in the UK as the 1967 war broke out.
This play was brought to Washington DC by the Artistic Director Ari Roth. Ari is someone who earned the respect of Jews, Arabs and the greater DC community through his previous work for J-Street and the applauded work of his Mosaic Theater. He is a Jewish American committed to peace by exposing the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he features human stories from the conflict zone.

Positive change

It is humbling to have him effect positive change, with the support of his community, in ways that our communities never did. Out of the 300 or so donors contributing to his theater, I identified less than a handful of Arabic names.
Shirin Ghareeb, a second-generation Arab American has been single-handedly offering the Washington DC community Arabian Sights, an annual film festival featuring some of the most powerful movies from around the Arab world.
I have been surprised each year for the last 20 plus years when she pulls a miracle announcing the festival’s lineup. Truly, a labor of love built on hard work, dedication and a budget next to nothing by a staff of one.
Arabs must tell their stories in more effective and compelling ways. There is no lack of suffering in the Arab world to fuel inspiration. And it’s not a lack of talent or vision, but a lack of resolve and the scarcity of resources in an era of diminished believe in Arabhood.
Arab governments must keep in mind that the flags they honor and protect are not even a century old, while their Arab heritage goes back for millennia. Protecting the nation and the national interest is the ultimate duty, but know that without a long-term proactive strategy in dealing with the US, leaders will expend their resources and energy in a perpetual reactionary mode.
One element of a proactive strategy must be storytelling that connects with Americans on a human level. A human level that is deeper and lasting beyond the politics of the day.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Tuesday, 31 July 2018 KSA 18:08 - GMT 15:08

Why Trump impeachment is a really tall order

Any calls for impeaching Trumps are hollow, and any subsequent arguments to the contrary are mute. Impeaching Trump in the current political environment despite any of his actions and statements is unlikely.
The process of impeaching a president is a political and procedural one that doesn’t stand a chance of being successfully executed within the current power balance in Congress despite how much Democrats want it even if the balance in Congress shifts to them this upcoming elections.
In simple terms, the House of Representatives is the body authorize to formally start an impeachment process against the president of the United States and must pass its articles of impeachment for treason, bribery, and/or other high crimes and misdemeanors by a simple majority vote.
Once the motion is passed, the president is technically “impeached.” The process moves to the US Senate to vote for a conviction with a two-third majority vote leading to the removal of the president if passed otherwise the impeachment would fail.
This is such a tall order to achieve that throughout the history of the United States not a single US President was removed from office through an impeachment process.
Two presidents have the dishonorable distinction of being technically impeached; Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton while impeachment procedures were initiated unsuccessfully against Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
Now, the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, meaning that on partisan basis, the lower house will not initiate an impeachment process against Trump. However, the Republican control of the House will likely end this November as the American people cast their votes in the midterm elections.
The midterm elections will put every member of 453 Representatives on the ballots to face their constituency, a referendum on the performance of incumbents if you will. After the election, come January when the 116th Congress is in session, the Democrats will probably have the numbers to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump if they wish to do so.
But that technicality is one aspect that Democrats will need to contend with, the other is whether impeaching Trump will help or hurt the nation. They must not conflate what is better for the country with what is advantageous to their party.
At this stage of midterm polls, Republican representatives are risking their political future by breaking rank with Trump’s Republican Party
Walid Jawad

The Democrats

The Democrats have lost touch with the American people. James Comey, the former head of the FBI and Republican prior to 2016, tweeted this week “Democrats, please, please don’t lose your minds and rush to the socialist left. This president and his Republican Party are counting on you to do exactly that. America’s great middle wants sensible, balanced, ethical leadership.”
It is that “middle” that politicians of all stripes are oblivious to. At this point, the middle is voting against the status quo out of frustration, fear, and disillusionment. Trump became president to punish Hillary Clinton.
Barack Obama before him became president as to punish the Republicans for eight years of George W. Bush warmongering around the world. Because we understand the cycle, we can predict where the voting pendulum will swing in this upcoming election cycle.
Billionaire Tom Steyer has been spending millions of dollars campaigning to collect signatures to support impeaching Trump. However, since October of 2017, he only secured 5.5 million signatures. This is a small number of the total registered American voters of 200 million.
A clear indication that the American “middle” is uninterested in having a referendum on Trump halfway through his presidency or interested in giving the Democrats a second chance to try to beat Trump after he won the elections fair and square. In soccer we say “play the ball, not the man,” and the Dems need to stand for something other than defining themselves in opposition to Trump.
How confident should Democrats be of declaring victory in November? They shouldn’t. The more they move to the left allowing the party to be co-opted by fiery, uncompromising progressives with an exclusionary agenda the more entrenched the battle becomes between the diehard Trumpians and their opposing progressives, leaving the majority of the voting public out of the equation.
It’s not a matter of debating the validity of each groups’ politics, instead its the alienation of the desperate “middle” that observes from the sidelines the ideological battle and feels the despair, fear, and alienation. The country as a whole is paying the price for the zeal of the politicians on both sides.
Allowing special counsel Robert Mueller to render his findings will provide the public with an opportunity to judge for themselves. By that time the new Congress would be in place with a clock counting down to the next elections of 2020.
The hope is that buffer of time will offer more clarity and independence in dealing with Mueller investigation into Russian collusion. This is a critical time when Republicans and Democrats must realize the devastating outcome of their political jousting.
On the line is the US economy, America’s standing in the world, and its ability to lead on the global stage.

Helsinki aftermath

Trump’s weak performance in Helsinki before Putin is forcing more Republicans to examine their position. At this stage of the midterm elections, Republican Representatives are risking their political future by breaking rank with Trump’s Republican Party.
On one level the Republican Party can exert more influence on the Trump administration and win the respect and support of the voting “middle.” The remaining variable is whether enough voters show up to cast their ballots on November 6th.
Can politicians risk their hardcore Trumpian supporters by gambling on a larger turnout in a midterm election, which historically garners an anemic turnout? Republicans are finding themselves in a tight spot. Oddly enough, it's a spot that Trump imposed on them as he bolsters his core supporters.
The skillful Trump strategy of creating crises is working to his advantage. The rally around the flag syndrome is hitting those who bought into these crises. This group of energetic and committed Trump supporters point to America being under attack, and that Trump is making it great again, although they can’t list policies that support such a claim.
What makes America great again is a perception and feeling Trump is able to tap into. He is adept at reinforcing his base by manufacturing crises that elicit fear and doubt in the psyche of this group. The rest of the nation also perceives an existential threat to its own wellbeing, perhaps from Trump policies themselves.
Local issues induce a sense of urgency prompting people to be engaged; the border wall and the invasion of illegal immigrants, the assault on the flag by kneeling football players, and the conspiracy of an all-powerful deep state targeting Trump himself are some of the most divisive issues
No matter what happens this election cycle, even if the Democrats gain control of both chambers of Congress, the house and senate, they will not have the numbers to impeach the president and remove him from office.
Dems should change the game and forge a collaborative relation with their Republican colleagues for the good of the nation. This is the time to advance country over party lest party is unworthy of any votes. 
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Wednesday, 25 July 2018 KSA 16:03 - GMT 13:03

Thursday, July 5, 2018

FIFA World Cup: Honor of the game vs politics of the day

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Which team do you cheer for when your national team isn’t a contender in the FIFA World Cup? Each game is different, yet I find myself excited for Samba dancing on the pitch.
The Brazilian team has been able to capture the imagination of football/soccer fans over consecutive World Cups; a constellation of star players lead by a legendary playmaker.
Though this week in its match against Mexico, I was cheering for Mexico to pass through to the quarterfinals.
It was not about how the team played, although they did exceptionally well in the first half, it was because of geopolitical reasons.

Viva Mexico

The political climate between the US and Mexico has been increasingly precarious; NAFTA, tariffs/trade war, illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling across the 2000 mile border taint the otherwise beneficial economic relation both countries enjoy.
According to the Wilson Center, the border economy amounts to $3.8 trillion annually. The disparity of the $20 trillion economy to that of Mexico’s $1 trillion translates to GDP per capita of $8,200 for Mexico compared to the $57,500.
While the numbers tell a story of potential dependency, the real story is of interdependency. Legal and illegal Mexican immigrants have been willing to do jobs fewer and fewer Americans are willing to do.
The American economy wouldn’t function as it does without their willingness to overcome all of the obstacles the US puts in their way. In a way, these workers are paying for the opportunity cost that Americans are not willing to bear, freeing them to pursue higher education, more technical jobs, and higher pay.
The US should be thankful to them by facilitating an easier way for them to be here instead of erecting more border walls. Those who are out of options will continue to risk their lives to cross where it is impassible. Since 2009, more than 580 miles out of the almost 2,000-mile border has had a barrier.
It is troubling when the politics of the day colors the sport, but it is the reality of the game
Walid Jawad

Cultural influences

In addition to the gratitude they are owed for picking up the slack for Americans, Mexicans are spicing up America with their cultural influences.
You notice the “Spanish” influence on TV and in movies, but that influence is much more prevalent in daily life in metropolitan areas and border states. Although the Spanish speaking population includes other nationalities, Mexicans are the archetypal representative for most people south of the border.
Personally, walking in Washington, DC metropolitan area I hear Spanish spoken more than any other language after English (and these days Russian and Arabic come third and fourth).
This influence is embraced by all social strata including a weekly reminder at the prestigious National Press Club as they hold a Friday Taco night to socialize over the quintessential Mexican food.

History of football

Football is a political game when and if governments choose to utilize it for their own ends. An opportunity to extend an olive branch in a grand gesture on the global stage, like the 1998 Iran-US game where flowers were extended. Or it can ignite war as it did in 1969 between El-Salvador and Honduras.
The Football War, as it was called, is an extreme example of a rivalry turned into an actual war between neighboring countries. This 100-hour war saw the El-Salvadoran army invading Honduras after the last of the three matches resulting in El-Salvador qualifying to the 1970 World Cup and bloodshed in the stands.
The game itself didn’t cause the war, but it was the catalyst for military action as the rising tensions between the two neighbors over land resources, and immigration disputes reached a crescendo. Other times, the World Cup stage was used to assert ideological posturing. Benito Mussolini showcased Fascism as Italy hosted the 1934 World Cup.
Mussolini dubbed the tournament as Coppa Del Duce (Cup of the leader) after himself and fashioned a special cup to replace the official Jules Rimet World Cup at that time. The Italian national team won the championship that year amidst swirling accusation of game fixing.
It also offered players an opportunity to take a political stance. During their county’s war for independence, in 1958, a group of Algerian football players were called to play for the French national team in the World Cup held in Sweden that year.
Forgoing the opportunity, they ran away escaping the French authority. They refused to end up on the wrong side of their nation’s history.

Cheering the Home Team

I don’t know about you, but I sympathize with host nations, mostly because of the proud fans. That tendency is still there, but I am unable to embrace the Russian team fully.
You might dismiss my feeling because my Saudi squad lost in a humiliating fashion to the host team in the opener, but you would only be half-right.
The other half of my discontent is Russia’s continued global bullying; from Karamea, Syria’s Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.
It is troubling when the politics of the day colors the sport, but it is the reality of the game. Although the next World Cup to be held in Qatar 2022 is four years away, I am worried that the politics of the day will spoil the honor of the competition.
One thing to remember, the politics will change and the priority of decision-makers will morph depending on fluid variables. As the NAFTA neighbors are able to weather today’s politics by coming together to co-host the 2026 World Cup, so should the Gulf states for the sake of the sport.
The 2022 World Cup will offer an opportunity for brothers to exchange flowers on the field scoring a win for their blood bonds and shared history.
Families do squabble, and although the current situation is challenging the limits of what is forgivable, leaders should be guided by the wisdom of respect for the next generation, sparing them from any decisions that might create historical regret or shame.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Thursday, 5 July 2018 KSA 13:30 - GMT 10:30

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Human rights and the ‘flawed’ UN council

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

If you park your car in Washington DC and exceed your parking meter limit, you will get a ticket.
Ten or 15 years ago, you could have decided to leave your car parked in that expired spot for another few hours if you wished. Once you get back to your car, you will probably find a parking ticket on your windshield. The amount on that ticket is comparable to the cost of parking in a public garage.
Nowadays, parking enforcers will give you multiple tickets the longer you violate the parking time limit. How many tickets you will get is arbitrary depending on how fast the parking enforcement officer makes the rounds and how many rounds they make.
Every time an officer passes by your car observing the expired meter they can, and probably will, issue a parking ticket. You have the freedom to challenge additional tickets based on the officer’s biased against you or your car.
You have the right to argue that your car was issued more tickets than other violator. You may want to summon the officer’s ticket issuing history to show a disproportionate focus on your car, but in the end your bias claims doesn’t address you violating the parking time-limit. The fact remains that your car continued to violate the law allowing the officer to issue any number of tickets.
In a way, this is similar to the UN Human Rights Council continued focus on Israel. The Council has issued disproportionate condemnations against Israel criticizing it for its continued violations of human rights.
There is no annual upper limit for how many countries or situations the UNHRC is able to examine. Highlighting Israel’s human rights violations does not preclude the council from examining other violations by other countries.
In order for global community to advance human rights it is incumbent on governments to make human rights a priority each within its borders
Walid Jawad

Structural problems

It is necessary to understand that the UN Human Rights council has structural problems and so does the UN itself. Such problems do not by any means nullify the positive work it performs. The UN was not conceived with equity or fairness in mind, yet it is the most effective global structure to mediate between nations.
And while the UNHRC, as a subset of this flawed body of nations, can appear biased, it has been able to do some good work applying pressure on governments and perpetrators; the inquiry on Syria including war crimes and crimes against humanity, fact-finding mission on Myanmar, collecting evidence on South Sudanese accountability for war crimes, inquiry o Burundi and others.
The relevant criteria to assess human rights is to make observable incremental progress. On the day the US announced its withdrawal from the UNHRC, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said with a frustrated voice: “While we have seen improvement in certain human rights situations, for far too long that progress comes too slowly and in some cases never comes.”
Long as there is improvement toward enhancing the human condition, even a slow one, makes the effort of working through the UNHRC a worthy endeavor. But Pompeo goes on to say that “the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights, worse than that, the Human Rights Council became an exercise in shameless hypocrisy with the world’s most human rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s worst human rights abusers sitting on the council itself.”
Because the UNHRC continues to fulfil its mission, the US shouldn’t be distracted by the dysfunction of the flawed system. If the administration is that discontent with the council it should work on reforming it.
Sure, the US is capable of working on human rights issues outside of the council and it does, but working through the UNHRC offers the US an extra powerful option to apply the collective pressure of council when the situation warrants it. On the whole, many of the criticism of this UN chartered body are valid yet they do not justify the US decision to withdraw.
The president of the council, Vojislav Šuc, in accepting the withdrawal of the US, said “in the past 12 years [the council] has tackled numerous human rights situations and issues keeping them in sharp focus.” It is revealing to hear how the council views itself; i.e. as a body that is charged with bringing attention to human rights issues.

Limited authority

The UNHRC has a limited authority and narrow scope to examine human rights situations and issuing non-binding recommendations. Šuc continued by saying “in many cases the council serves as an early warning system sounding the bells of impending or worsening actions.”
In order for the global community to advance human rights it is incumbent on governments to make human rights a priority each within its own borders. Unfortunately some human rights aspects are harder to define than others. Gender equality can be assessed through direct comparison on a statistical basis.
The majority of countries, developed and developing, can do more to close the gap on gender inequality. The vast majority of women are disadvantaged globally regardless of the economic, cultural, and religious makeup of the society they live within.
Health, education, and the right to work are aspects of human rights, which are easier to assess statistically. While violating the human right issue of privacy, for instance, is harder to detect and rectify. Governments tend to justify their discriminatory violation of privacy under a cloak of national security concerns.
At times, the external pressures of condemnation by the world community will provide support for human rights activists. The international outcry against the US of the now reversed policy of separating minors from their parents as they illegally cross the US southern border is a case in point.
The US has legal and political mechanisms to rectify such violation, but external condemnations provided moral support to local efforts resulting in an executive order to stop the exceptionally cruel practice. This is a reminder that human rights need consistent defending and global vigilance.
The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it eloquently when he wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” It is not an option to wait until all of the conditions are perfect to contribute to the collective effort of UNHRC. The US must reconsider its decision to withdraw from the council. 
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: A personal eulogy to the man I never met

Monday, 11 June 2018

“No Reservation,” the Anthony Bourdain travel show, was my first experience binge-watching any TV show. Since that time, a few years ago, I became a true fan of the show and the man.
Two weeks ago, I added his newer CNN show “Parts Unknown” to my “to-watch” list. Now that I have broken the generational gap, no longer do I watch shows when they come out, I wait until I can binge-watch them one season at a time.
As my cell phone blew up yesterday morning, Washington, DC local time, with breaking news of Tony’s death, I had the urge to watch the Saudi episode one more time. A personal eulogy to the man.
I felt the loss of this intrepid globetrotter in a way I haven’t felt about someone I never met. I felt the loss of a talented TV host who was able to show us the human factor in peoples we typically brush aside in simplistic, one dimensional, and almost always wrong stereotypical fashion.
That Saudi episode might have been an eye-opener for many, but it was a nostalgic home-video of sorts to someone like me. I left Saudi Arabia over 20 years ago without going back for any meaningful visits. As I re-watched the episode, I found myself identifying with Danya al-Hamrani, the warm and welcoming host who invited Mr. Bourdain to Saudi Arabia.
This fellow American-born Saudi, missed out on many Saudi specific experiences as I did. like Danya (up to the point of the filming of the episode), I never ate Dhub (desert lizard), camel meat, or lamb hearts. I am inspired now to make a culinary trip to Saudi Arabia suspending my vegetarianism to summon the courage to try such “delicacies.”
The episode reminded me of a time of simplicity and innocence. Even Tony’s demeanor in the episode is playful and cheerful. A markedly different Tony from the one who appears in other episodes.
I invite you to watch that episode if you haven’t yet, Episode#13 of Season 4, titled simply: Saudi Arabia. In contrast, you can pick up on Tony’s undercurrent of pompousness, standoffishness, or even contemptuousness show host personality at times in some other episodes.
The uniqueness of Anthony Bourdain’s shows is its ability to zoom out showing us what is beyond the margins of the news frame; i.e. beyond the myopic focus on violence
Walid Jawad

His unlikely mission

As I reflect on the man and his body of aired work I can’t help but admire Tony’s courage and skill in breaking down the prevailing dehumanizing facade we readily accept as we watch the alluring magical lightbox.
The same facade that serves intended or unintended agenda of fear, defensiveness, divisiveness, and hatred. His work was a serious attempt to counterbalance the destructive effects of daily news, even if it were not what he was set out to do.
An impossible situation as his weekly show stood firmly in the sea of relentless fear spewing collective. Yet he was able to move the needle farther along the scale of human connectedness than any other show I can think of.
They teach in journalism that common events are not newsworthy like when a dog bites a man. But when a man bites a dog it becomes an incident worthy of feeding the 24-hour news cycle.
Watching the news, we find the uncommon numerous and violence ubiquitous making what is supposed to be the exception common. Viewers can’t be blamed to point to TV sets concluding that the world is a dangerous place.
The sheer number of violent events locally and internationally prompts viewers to divide the world into two camps: evil perpetrators and innocent victims. More troubling is that evil seems to be winning by virtue of imposing its physical will on people.
I, for one, am guilty of adding fuel to the fire in more ways than I care to enumerate. Most of us in the media, if not all, believe that you, our fellow thinking humans, need to be informed and that it’s our mission to make you aware of such events.
Once you become knowledgeable, you are better equipped to make informed decisions about the world you live in. Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences overshadows the intended benefits of gaining that knowledge.

Adopting a cause

The news viewing public fall into three major categories: some will decide to adopt a cause and fight, while others become overwhelmed and fearful of the environment and suspicious of humanity itself. And in between, those who will shutdown dismissing such reality, tuning out the anxiety-filled chatter of new channels. A social equivalent to fight, flight, or freeze responses.
Arts, entertainment, and hobbies are great options to attempt striking a personal balance, yet external fear mongering of the 24-hour news cycle remains unchecked. These channels have a purpose to serve and should continue their mission. It behooves us to understand the side effects.
The uniqueness of Anthony Bourdain’s shows is its ability to zoom out showing us what is beyond the margins of the news frame; i.e. beyond the myopic focus on violence. As much as the news wants to compels us to the contrary, violence is not an inevitability.
If we accept violence as the norm, we are surrendering intellectually under the weight of the emotional pressure of fear and sadness. The bigger picture Tony provided is a good reminder. Some of his episodes featured people from unfavorable countries or war-torn regions, yet we identify with them as human beings.
It is essential to understand that conflict is not "bad" in and of itself. In fact, conflict is a driving force to improve the human condition. Resolving conflicts between people leads to equality. Resolving conflict between us and our environment leads to innovation. Only when conflict turns violent that it becomes “bad.”
Tony’s showed us people from around the world consumed by what humans everywhere else are consumed by, living a peaceful and happy life. We got to know people of other cultures not as tourist, rather as locals. He was able to challenge his own stereotypical ideas of others and along the way broke our disinterested judgments of others.
I mourn the man because I mourn the mission. There is no one out there who can rise to the challenge. I will go back to my “to-watch” list and put Tony’s shows on top my binge-watching cue. I know this time I will watch his shows with the eyes of an anthropologist and the mind of a conflict resolver.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Monday, 11 June 2018 KSA 21:44 - GMT 18:44