Thursday, May 03, 2007

Taking Sides

Today, former President and Nobel prize-winner Jimmy Carter appeared at U.C. Irvine to deliver "Remarks on the Middle East Conflict, Israel and Palestine," as part of a series of campus tours to supplement his provocative recent book Israel Peace Not Apartheid. Although Carter is a master of traditional oratory, the event also involved digital communications. Students could submit questions to Carter by using an online form, and those in our office who couldn't get tickets watched his speech live on streaming video. I liked his appeal to our students, which included encouraging them to travel to Palestine and participate in what has been contentious on-campus debate, and I appreciated the fact that he provided background on his presidency and on the nineteen-seventies in general to students who hadn't been born then and who might not know about recent history after coming from California classrooms focused on preparing for multiple-choice tests. I was, however, surprised to hear such an adept rhetorician urge them to undertake a "crusade" for negotiations in the region, given the negative valences associated with this word in the Islamic world. I also thought that the website for his Carter Center could be better designed for rhetorical effect.

Today, I also learned about how this video of an interview with pro-Israeli spokesperson Wafa Sultan on Al Jazeera television has had a complicated second life on the Internet. According to the news media, it has been watched over a million times on video file-sharing sites, since it initially aired on TV. Videos of her talks, including one for the Secular Islam Summit, have fostered a number of YouTube responses from angry audience members who debate her basic thesis about the Islamic world.

Thanks to my colleague Artificial Intelligence expert Rina Dechter for pointing out these virtual networks of political discussion that also apparently often involve one-to-one exchanges via e-mail.

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