Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Jasper, let it go. You are Jewish and you I are friends. I can, therefore, without any irony, say some of my best friends are Jews. And while I am a Muslim, I am also an American. As such, I do not regard Israel as an apartheid regime (as many outside the United States consider it). Nor do I deny your people the safe refuge of a homeland. Just, perhaps, not next door to Lebanon. After all, both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will be highly radioactive after Ahmadinejad bombs the country back to the stone age, ha ha.

But seriously, though, no doubt you will agree the current configuration does nothing more than stir resentment for all parties to the situation. So, in the interest of world peace, I will provide you with another wholly reasonable and I think even more equitable (and dare I say profitable) possibility for a Jewish state.

There are now six or seven million Israeli citizens living in a space that's roughly the size of New Jersey. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, there are less than one million persons living in North Dakota. North Dakota, as you may or may not know, is TEN times bigger than New Jersey. You see where I'm going with this? I say everybody stand up and swap places with a partner from the other country.

–And what about those 800,000 farmers that currently live in North Dakota? Just what do we expect them do once we relocate them to what becomes the former Israeli territory?

Well, first of all, don't tell them it's a DESERT! Tell them it's a 'Promised Land'. Then to each give a bit of land that they might homestead, farm and cultivate crops. It will be tough few years, but I'm pretty certain that our American farmers, armed with agricultural expertise, will eventually grow enough wheat and barley to feed themselves, save Darfur and perhaps even return the Fertile Crescent to its former glory.

You may laugh at me, but I call that a win win situation.

Can we call it a truce, now? I hope so. After all, I gave you NORTH DAKOTA! If that isn't generous of me, I don't know what is.

Anyway, my friend, now let me tell you something that I think you will all find funny about Al Jazeera–

I've made an interesting observation:

As it happens, every other person here (but me) has worked for a media outlet from another part of the world, be it the BBC, NBC, the Canadian Broadcast Corp., Fox, CNN, to name a few. But as a result I think I might actually be the only Muslim on staff at AJI Kuala Lumpur. Now that is either an embarrassing oversight or a stroke of diplomatic genius. Either way, I find it hilarious.

OK, I'm kidding. There are a few Muslims –mostly off camera technical staff. It's what you would call a motley crew with British accent.

Speaking of British accents, the producer I wold you about, Anita, she possesses one of the sexiest I've heard yet. Makes it hard to concentrate. She starts talking and suddenly I realize I'm falling into her eyes or staring at her neckline, right where the top button of her blouse makes a v shape. It's there that a man's mind can turn to jelly if he ponders too long wondering what it would look like if the second button were unbuttoned, too.

Must. Come. Up. For. Oxygen.

Anyway, we all know that Jasper thinks of Al Jazeera as a propaganda vehicle for the Muslim community, but Anita told me, point in fact, that AJI's mission was actually neither to nurture a domestic agenda nor political bias, but simply to deliver the truth. And I believe that's indeed the case. To further quote Joanne Levine, the executive producer of programming for the Al Jazeera International, (who's been hanging out here in Malaysia this last week): she told me personally something about 'bridges needing to be built'.

Count me in.

I think they make a good example of it, already.

So what else happened today? Otak-otak for lunch. That's seasoned fish paste wrapped in banana leaves. First time I had it. Tastes better than it sounds. Not bad with Teh tarik (frothy black tea with condensed milk). Everybody else here sent out for KFC of course. The Colonel's fried chicken is very popular here, and there's no putting that bird back into its cage.

Then fter lunch, Anita, Daim and I started doing the follow-up interviews I told you about in Tower II. Daim is an AJI interviewer/writer and producer, although Anita of course is THE producer. He's also apparently a local KL boy that AJI snatched from RTM (Radio Television Malaysia). Although he's no 'boy'. Daim looks near fifty and he knows his shit. He treats Anita like his equal and me like a kid, and we're both, you know, roughly the same age. So that alone should tell you how much she knows and how much I don't. Just glad to be here, though. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.

My simple instructions, which thankfully I did not fuck up (Daim likes bullet points, and so do I):

• Tag along and don't say anything
• Record producer's notes to digital voice recorder
• Transcribe interviewer's verbal notes to AJI issue laptop
• FTP audio and docs to server immediately after every individual interview (via the Petronas Towers' global WiFi, of course)

Actually, all but one interview this afternoon was conducted as a conference call without us ever having to leave to office. The exception was with Ibrahim Aziz of Electronics Data System IT Services, which is three floors above us on the 63rd floor. Reason being is that the first two interviews were audio only. The EDS interview required more footage for reasons that are well beyond my knowledge of the project or pay grade. But up we went with a camera man. I got to hold a boom mic and learned how to record audio (you push 'record'). Set up took like forty minutes. The shoot took like ten. This isn't a movie, you know, it's journalism. We're in and we're out. It was great, and actually quite easy for me I was surprised to learn. After spending the last five years carrying full trays over my head for parties of five, I could hold a boom mic all day.

Of course, operating the boom is not something I actually aspire to. I want Daim's job: Make up the questions, talk on camera, impress young women with natural sophistication. –it doesn't get any better than that.

Finally, day's done, and Anita let's me go for the evening, but the offices were still churning away with activity. You look at the Petronas Towers at night, and see the lights still on? That's because Al Jazeera is still humming away. Made me think the city may sleep, but the News is obviously mad for insomniacs.