Introducing Inside Arabia, the new kid on the block in Washington, D.C. media. So who are we and what do we do?
We are a new online publication and print magazine focused on one of the most dynamic and misunderstood regions of the world, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). We are launching three flagship platforms, Inside Arabia Online, Inside Arabia Magazine (coming soon in print), and Inside Arabia Forum, to get the “inside” story, present the facts, and give a voice to the people from the MENA region.
Together, our dedicated team of professional journalists and writers, Americans, Arab-Americans, and others, are focussing on original journalism, using all the tools of modern media, vibrant videos telling compelling stories, photo essays, and more, to cover not just politics and current events, but culture, cuisine, lifestyle issues, the arts, and even fashion.
We are expanding our global network of contributors and thought leaders to provide the most cogent and compelling analysis, thinking, and writing.
What makes us unique and stand out among other news sources covering the region, is our mission to bring more voices from different perspectives, so they can tell their own stories about issues important not just to their lives, but to the world. Our ultimate mission is to foster a better understanding of the region and build bridges of tolerance and peace.
Many have asked why choose “Inside ARABIA” as the name of a publication focussing on the Middle East and North Africa? The short answer is that even our name is part of our challenge.
To many, the word “Arabia” conjures up notions of Shahrazad and 1001 Nights, Lawrence of Arabia, genies out of a bottle, and other iconic characters that have long been associated with this region of the world. To others, “Arabia” connotes Saudi Arabia, a country not even 100 years old. To still others, it brings to mind black-masked jihadists and extremists. The most common misconception, though, is the notion that somehow this vast region of the world covering some 22 countries and a population of roughly 460 million people reflects one ethnic identity, one culture, and one mindset. Nothing could be further from reality.
In fact, the MENA region covers an extensive area stretching from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east, including all Mashriq and Maghreb countries. It is comprised of numerous ethnic identities, cultures, languages, and especially viewpoints. While predominantly Muslim in religion, the region also has significant populations of Christians and Jews, and growing numbers of atheists and secularists. Many in the region do not identify as “Arab” at all, instead retaining both their historical identities, such as Amazigh or Kabyle, and their unique languages, which often become issues used as political footballs in the struggle for power.
Yet the perception in the West, portrayed for decades in film and other media, is of a region characterized by one ethnicity, culture, language and religion, overlooking nuances in identities, beliefs, languages, and cultures. Choosing the name “Arabia” is itself a challenge to the decades of myths and misperceptions. And just as the U.S. was historically described as a “melting pot” in which people of many differing nationalities, cultures, languages, and beliefs contributed to forging the uniquely “American experience,” the region historically thought of as “Arabia,” and now usually referred to as the Middle East and North Africa, is characterized more by diversity than homogeny.
When I decided in April, 2018, to return to Washington to become Editor-in-Chief of this brand new publication, I knew it would be a challenge. Having been a practicing lawyer for 25 years, not only was it an entire career change for me, but I knew that getting a new publication off the ground in the competitive media environment in the center of politics, reality TV, and “fake news” in Washington could be tough. What was it about this challenge that persuaded me to take this on? Was it just a proverbial “mid-life crisis”? Or was there something deeper?
One of the most compelling graduation speeches I have heard was given this year by Oprah Winfrey to USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism graduating class. Her message resonated with me. She told the graduates:
“You will become the editorial gatekeepers, an ambitious army of truth seekers who will arm yourselves with the intelligence, with the insight, and the facts necessary to strike down deceit. You are in a position to keep all of those who now disparage real news … in check. Why? Because you can push back. You can answer false narratives with real information, and you can set the record straight. And you also have the ability and the power to give voice … to people who desperately now need to tell their stories and have their stories told …. And not only are you here … to tell it, to write it, to proclaim it, to speak it, but to be it.
BE THE TRUTH.”
Historically the media has been referred to as the Fourth Estate. Why? From the very beginnings of representational government there were three groups or “estates” that had a say in government: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. In the U.S., the constitutional democracy forged by our founding fathers created three branches of government: The Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. But from our earliest times, a free press was recognized as an essential element of a fully functioning democracy, able to exert an influence on both society and the three branches of government. This recognition was engraved in the First Amendment to that very Constitution, guaranteeing “freedom of the press” along with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. As such, the first Amendment is arguably the most important element of the Bill of Rights. As a result, the press was dubbed the “fourth estate.” Whether an outgrowth of the traditional “estates” of English common law or the unofficial fourth branch of government whose task was to provide a check on abuse of power by any of the three Constitutional branches, the designation is apt.
Media is a very powerful tool. If media were not so powerful, insecure and vulnerable people would not feel compelled to brand trusted sources of information, fulfilling their function of reporting the facts and revealing the truth, as “fake news.” Indeed, in many quarters today both in the U.S. and beyond, everything that critiques or calls to account the authorities is labelled “fake news.” Yet calling something “fake” over and over again, does not make it so. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Repetition does not transform a lie into truth.”
No one can deny the importance of democracy in the United States — a nation that wields not only the power of military might in the world, but even more importantly, the soft power that emanates from our American values, ideals and principles. Since World War II, when America became a leader on the world stage, America had traditionally been considered a trustworthy ally — a country that stands for something and (usually) kept its word. Recently, however, the perception of America has eroded severely throughout many corners of the world, none more so perhaps than in the Arab world, where research shows that perception may now be at its lowest ebb ever. At the same time, at no time in U.S. history has democracy itself ever been under such attack, as it is now, from within. This is an attack on some of the fundamental bases of democracy: a free press, free speech, and the right of the people to call our leaders – those who serve us — to account.
With all forms of media under attack, the challenge was not only combatting actual fake news, but also championing journalism itself — and this felt particularly important in the context of one of the most important, complex, and misunderstood regions of the world. Ignorance, misunderstanding, and miscommunication can easily lead to tensions, mistrust, and hatred, as we have seen so much recently. So, when founder and CEO of Inside Arabia Saeb Sakkijha described his vision to uncover the truth, to further understanding, and to build bridges of tolerance, I couldn’t say no.
The team at Inside Arabia is taking up the challenge to fight fake news, dispel myths and stereotypes, and provide the truth to the American public, in English, to build bridges of understanding and peace.
No challenge could be more worthwhile at this time in U.S. history, and I am honored to be a part of the team that is taking it on.
What stories interest you that aren’t being covered adequately by the mainstream media? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.