The AsiaN in Arabic: A timely & win-win news service to meet needs of Asia and Arab world

“Instead of reading only Shakespeare, Arabs should also read Chinese and Indian literature and poetry in Arabic,” a speaker at the Arab Look East symposium told me.

Then paraphrasing a Mahatma Gandhi he added: “Open the windows so you get air and light from all directions. Only don’t let it uproot our house.”

His views highlighted  the Arab intelligentsia’s new open-mindedness to re-discover and savour Asia’s rich literary and cultural heritage — a key facet of the forum’s theme of exploring deeper and more meaningful ties with China, India, Japan and Korea as well as Muslim states in Central Asia.

I attended the conference organised by Al-Arabi in Kuwait City in 2010 together with AJA founder-president Sang-ki Lee —  the first time for us to touch base with our Middle East scholars, editors, writers, media practitioners and government officials. We saw our participation  as a wonderful opportunity for Asia Journalist Association(AJA) to play our part in promoting media exchanges with our Arab counterparts.

We noted how the local and overseas speakers at the forum made much of the fact that the Arabs were really re-visiting their traditional contacts with Asia, harking back to the 14th Century.

Fascinating accounts were delivered of  the  epic voyages to the Persian Gulf by Admiral Zheng Ho, a Muslim, of the Tang dynasty and of  the Arabic manuscripts found in the ancient central Asian state of  Tartarstan.

These highlighted the historically harmonious trade and cultural ties Arab countries had once forged  with countries like China and India.

In contrast, the Arab encounter with the French and British colonial powers had been most unsettling, to say the least. With the United States there was unhappiness  over its uneven-handed policies over the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

That negative experience with the West aside, Arab countries also see an urgent need to strike an even keel in relations with both West and East, in response to a economically resurgent Asia.

“All we need to do is to balance our relations with East and West. In the last 50 years we have put all our attention on the West and to now turn completely to the East is not good,” said the speaker.

At the Arab Look East Symposium, we were also treated to a display of some of the finest Arab classical and pop cultures as musical and song performances were staged to boost spirits for the lectures and discussions. We were impressed with the Islamic musical repertoire and talents which an Asia audience would appreciate.

Indeed, the forum pointed the way to closer contacts and exchanges between Arab  government officials, scholars, journalists and musicians and their Asian counterparts.

It is significant that the Asia Journalist Association is among the first media organisation to follow up on the vision for stronger and wider cross-cultural ties between Middle East and Asia.

With the launch of an Arabic edition by Asia N, AJA takes up the challenge of bridging anew the information and cultural gap between these two regions. We will bring a unique feature to the two-way flow and analysis of  events and developments, tapping on the expertise of our Middle East and Asian correspondents and columnists to offer readers their national and regional perspectives on issues and events.

The use of pictorials and videos will help inject a lively and exciting touch to our media coverage. It is interesting to note that Islamic musical videos that are of growing popularity with viewers are a staple fare of pan-Arab TV channels. Asia N can explore using  music videos to showcase Asian pop and classical culture to its Middle East audience.

We are putting up Asia N Arabic version amid the continuing ferment triggered by the Arab Spring popular uprisings. Against such a backdrop, how ready are the people in the different Middle East states to embrace Asia N in Arabic? I should think this is as good a time as any.

Going by the Asia Look East symposiums, there will be a ready audience for Asia N, especially among the younger net-savvy set.

Since 1990s, a media revolution is said to have begun in the Middle East with the inception of satellite TV in Arabic language.
The Middle East Broadcasting Station and Arab News Network, together Al-Jazeera, — a pan-Arab satellite news service based in Qatar — have given the people greater access to information about the outside world  and brought about more connectivity. More interestingly, the modern media have produced a new breed of writers, directors and producers, actors and translators — that the rise of a professional media and cultural fraternity that is able to relate and engage with global players in the field.

Such, socio-political changes in various Arab states have also stimulated a lot of interest and concern in Asian countries. Asian readers are likewise hungry for news about the political transformations and conflicts in Middle East.

An AsiaN Arabic news service is not only timely but a win-win proposition that meets both the needs and interest of Asia and the Arab world.

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