Al Jazeera, the Arab language satellite news operation was recently found (via leaked emails and internal documents) to have ordered its writers and on-air personnel to not use the terms “extremist,” “Islamist,” “militant,” and “terrorist” when describing Islamic terrorists. Actually the U.S. government has issued similar orders. In one case this involved the cancellation of a Department of Defense course on Islamic terrorism, based on the experience of Special Forces operators who spoke Arabic and worked for years in Islamic nations. The course also included widely accepted (and well documented) historical facts about religious radicalism in the Islamic world. Both al Jazeera and the U.S. government (and many other Western governments) want to avoid associating Islamic terrorism with Islam. The Islamic terrorists are instead portrayed as deviants and criminals rather than religious zealots.
The problem with this is that most Moslems will admit that Islamic terrorism is all about Islamic radicalism. Many Moslems living in the West complain that too many Moslem clergy serving in local Mosques preach hatred of non-Moslems and support for Islamic radicals. That’s because most Moslem religious schools, especially those in Saudi Arabia, teach their students, the future clerics who will serve congregations in the West, this sort of thing. The al Jazeera management know this, as they live it every time they read a newspaper in a Moslem country or have a casual chat with friends. Many Moslems, including well educated ones, still believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were not carried out by Moslems (most of them from Saudi Arabia) but was a joint Israeli-CIA plot to justify a war on Islam.
At the same time al Jazeera is not without its benefits. For example al Jazeera is hated by Arab governments, but loved by Arab, and Israeli, people. Wait a minute? Isn't al Jazeera supposed to be a major source of anti-Semitic propaganda and cheer-leading for Arab causes? Sort of. What al Jazeera provides is an unfettered soapbox for all sorts of opinions found in the Middle East. This includes Israelis, who appear once or twice a week to give the Israeli point of view, usually in Arabic, and often delivered by an Israeli who not only sounds like an Arab, but looks like one.
This sort of thing comes as a major shock to many Arabs (especially those who have never seen an Israeli on TV). That's because decades of official state propaganda has largely buried the fact that about as many Middle Eastern Jews were driven out of their homes, as Palestinians Arabs were from theirs in Israel. These Middle Eastern Jews, from all Middle Eastern countries, were descendants of those Jews forced to leave Israel two thousand years ago, in the aftermath of their failed rebellion against Rome. While some of these exiles eventually became Christians, and then Moslems, many remained Jews, and ended up back in Israel during the late 1940s or early 1050s. Exiles again, right back where their distant ancestors had come from. While many Arabs dismiss the Israelis on al Jazeera as "Zionist propagandists," the Israelis don't just give the Israeli point of view, but often a more accurate assessment of what's going on in Israel, and the Palestinian Territories, than you will find on any other Arab news outlet. This has made it tough to push the usual anti-Israeli propaganda.
For example, when the Palestinians tried to portray the 2002 battle of Jenin as an Israeli atrocity, Israeli pundits on al Jazeera, and al Jazeeras own reporters in Jenin, made it clear what was really happening. The "Massacre of Jenin" story then melted away, like ice in the Middle Eastern sun. This sort of things makes many Arabs, especially Arabs who run the various nations in the Middle East, mad as hell. Since Arabs were liberated from Turkish rule 90 years ago, they have largely had only a censored media. Until al Jazeera came along, most Arabs only got news their governments (few of them democracies) wanted them to get. Al Jazeera was different mainly because it presented many different views. These included religious extremists that rarely got air time on government controlled TV or radio. But there were also secular reformers, people calling for democracy and more freedom. Al Jazeera is famous for having debates between religious conservatives and secular reformers. Makes for great theater, and has caused al Jazeeras viewer numbers to skyrockets. Al Jazeera is must-see TV throughout the region. Arabs like their news provided in a dramatic fashion. Even secular reformer type intellectuals will come across, to Western eyes, as demonstrative and over-the-top. It's the local style, and al Jazeera has to speak in that style, or be rejected as foreign. But the many new voices al Jazeera has put on the air has changed Middle Eastern culture in a fundamental way. Arabs are no longer as parochial, and with the addition of net access, are going after information they would have, only a decade ago, not only been ignorant of, but would have shunned even if they knew about it.