The US-led global war on terrorism in the Middle East is entering a post-ideological phase, in which everyone is allegedly united in the fight against an Islamic pandemic of violence, regardless of religious creed, political persuasion or ideological conviction. Throughout the Islamic world during Ramadan, the site of the struggle against this fundamentalist violence in general, and ISIS terrorism in particular, shifts from the battlefield to popular culture.
Alevis are the second largest faith community in Turkey. As a religious collective incorporating aspects of Shi‘i Islam into their teachings, Alevis have faced systematic state exclusion since the 1923 establishment of the Turkish nation-state, which privileges Sunni Islam despite its avowed secularism. Although the community constitutes 15-20 percent of Turkey’s population, their places of worship, cemevis, have no legal status and do not enjoy the state economic support accorded to mosques. A glass ceiling blocks Alevis from obtaining high-ranking government jobs, and various other forms of daily discrimination push members of the community to hide their identity in public.
Negative stories about the Middle East dominated Western news headlines in 2015. It’s easy for Americans, especially those who listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, to get the impression that the region is just one miserable homogeneous place of violence, terror, religious fanaticism and authoritarianism.
“Once,” the Iranian comedian Mehran Modiri notes, “our marital relationships were formed over long distances. An Iranian man would explore the world abroad with his father’s money. When the money ran out, he would suddenly miss home-cooked qormeh sabzi and ask his family to send him a pure Iranian bride, so innocent she has seen neither sunrise nor sunset.” Today, Modiri continues, Iranian marriages are long-distance even when the couple is in the same room: “The husband is on Facebook while the wife watches Turkish serials. He might be 90 years old, and she’ll be on Instagram. He orders out for dinner, but she’s on a diet. The children are away at nursery school.
The popular Israeli television series, Arab Labor, follows the lives of the fictional journalist Amjad and his family, all of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel. Season one of the series, which first aired on Israeli public television in 2007, introduces Amjad and his endearingly unquenchable faith in humanity. Tired of living in his natal village, Amjad moves his family to a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, replete with strong water pressure in the shower, manicured parks and gardens, and what he thinks is the freedom to live out his dream of integration into Israeli society.
Undeterred by pleas for mercy, the high-ranking intelligence officer Ra’uf pushes the junior ‘Azzam to his knees. Ra’uf forcibly shaves the young man’s head as other officers look on. He commands ‘Azzam to remove his shirt and pants, do pushups, jump up and down, and slide across the ground on his elbows. When another officer pounds him with a bat, ‘Azzam breaks down. Crying that he has had enough, he grabs a gun, shooting into the air and then at Ra’uf’s feet. He orders Ra’uf and the others onto the ground, gathers his clothes and runs away. When Ra’uf presses charges, an exceptionally kind mukhabarat officer says, “I saw how you humiliated him and induced him to carry a gun.”
For months Arab television watchers have been engrossed in the phenomenon of Muhammad ‘Assaf, the 23-year old Gazan singer who has now been crowned the winner on “Arab Idol.” Modeled after “American Idol,” the popular show is broadcast on MBC, a satellite channel based in Beirut. As on the original, the victor of the “Arab Idol” competition is decided by the votes of the audience, cast through text messages and phone calls. ‘Assaf received over 67 million votes.
During August of 2011, which corresponded with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, viewers of the state-run satellite channel Syrian TV might have stumbled upon quite a strange scene: A man watches as a crowd chants “Hurriyya, hurriyya!” This slogan — “Freedom, freedom!” — is a familiar rallying cry of the various Arab uprisings. It was heard in Syrian cities, including Damascus, when protesters first hit the streets there on March 15, 2011. But it was odd, to say the least, to hear the phrase in a Syrian government-sponsored broadcast. Until that moment, state TV had not screened any such evidence of peaceful demonstrations in Syria.
It took 18 days of mass mobilization, the deaths of hundreds and the wounding of thousands, the crippling of Egypt’s tourism industry and the crash of its stock market, to bring an end to the 30-year presidency of Husni Mubarak. And almost every minute of the revolution was televised.
Rivka, the tragic protagonist of Amos Gitai's new film Kadosh, is unable to conceive a child. Her anxiety is acute. The ultra-Orthodox community of Me'ah She'arim in West Jerusalem, in which Rivka lives with her husband Meir, is known to ostracize its barren women. Seeking spiritual guidance, she leaves their home one evening to pray. The camera follows Rivka as she walks through the darkened streets of Me'ah She'arim, then cuts to her arrival in the spacious, well-lit courtyard of the Western Wall. Hands pressed against the stones, she seeks salvation.
“You chase colonialism out the door, it comes back through the sky,” observed the Algerian Press Service several years ago, alluding to the phenomenon of satellite broadcasting that has literally brought European television into the living rooms of North Africa.  More than 95 percent of urban households in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco have televisions, and more than 30 percent have video decks. Parabolic antennas are sprouting like inverted mushrooms on rooftops around the southern Mediterranean (estimates for Algeria alone range between 1.3 and 2.2 million households, or 8 to 17 million viewers). 
Transnational media conglomerates and television networks from RCA to Associated Press to CNN have created and dominated a model of broadcasting which might be called “centralized global broadcasting.” Worldwide restructurings and rapid technological advances, though, have ushered in a new model of television which could be termed “decentralized global narrowcasting.” Middle Eastern television programs in Los Angeles are an example of developments in mass media which have led to the emergence of so-called minority and ethnic television and video. Their programs constitute part or the dynamic and multifaceted popular cultures produced and consumed by immigrant and exile communities in southern California.
Walk the streets of Cairo or village lanes in Egypt any early evening and you will see the flicker of television screens and hear the dialogue and music of the current serial (musalsal). Read the newspapers and you will find articles and cartoons that can only be understood if one is following these televised dramas. The serials, usually composed of 15 episodes aired daily, seem to set the very rhythms of national life. Extensive access to television and limited broadcast hours and channels mean that the audience can sometimes include a majority of Egyptians.
The Persian Gulf crisis received massive and sustained coverage in the American media. As numerous critics have pointed out, television network news in particular largely parroted the Bush administration’s line, accepting and passing on its version of reality as the truth. A study released in March by the Center for the Study of Communication at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst adds a new dimension to our understanding of television’s role in shaping public perceptions of the Gulf crisis and enhancing support for the war.
On Sunday night, November 20, we paused along with millions of others in the US to watch ABC’s television drama of nuclear devastation. “The Day After” abstracted its fictional crisis from current headlines by having its US-Soviet confrontation occur over Berlin rather than Lebanon or Nicaragua. On the other hand, it faithfully portrayed ordinary people’s frustrating and fruitless dependence on television itself to understand and know what was supposedly happening to trigger such a deadly duel. In its own way the day before was as harrowing as the day after.