Promotional art for the television series ‘Umm Haroun’ (Courtesy)

Ramadan Television Tales

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, April 29

Ramadan is a month of goodness, when millions of Muslim families around the world gather together in their home to break the daily fast. It is also a month of television, as millions of viewers gather around the TV, from the iftar to the suhoor meals, to watch hit shows and movies. In the process, they consume hours of ads, commercials and subtle political messages. Every Ramadan television season has its unique “trend.” In past years, the prominent theme was terrorism. In others, it was issues related to women’s rights. This year’s trend seems to be particularly polemical, with repeated talk about Israel, the Jewish people and the prospects of coexistence. But the truth is that there’s a lot of openness to these topics. What we’re witnessing is a generational shift wherein Arab youth, both Palestinian and non-, are starting to adopt a political rhetoric different than that of their parents’ generation. They are much more amenable to discussing relations with Israel in an open manner. Whether de jure political relations are eventually established with Israel or not, de facto steps on the ground suggest that the process of normalization has already begun. For example, sporting events held in the Arab world now openly feature Israeli teams. We shouldn’t underestimate these changes because they may very well be an indication of social change that will eventually lead to political change. Just as Ramadan television had a monumental role in popularizing the fight against terrorism and extremism, it can also popularize certain attitudes toward Israel. It is worth remembering that this doesn’t necessarily mean that television producers are trying to indoctrinate viewers. People are free to maintain their own world-views. For example, while the Saudi television show Umm Haroun explores the historic ties between Jews and Arabs living in the Middle East in a positive light, the Egyptian show The End depicts a fantasy of obliterating Israel. The ultimate judges are the viewers. They, and only they, decide whether they want to watch the show. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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