Censorship in the Islamic World, Through the Eyes of Journalist Jessica Davey-Quantick

February 29, 2016

We know more and more about how repressive attitudes about blasphemy and religious criticism in parts of the Islamic world can become explosive, as with the Charlie Hebdo attacks or the murder of secularist bloggers in Bangladesh. But these extreme instances don’t tell the whole story.

This week our guest is Jessica Davey-Quantick, who spent several years in Qatar as a reporter and editor for Qatar Happening and Time Out Doha. She experienced first hand the often laughable degrees of arbitrary censorship and cultural oppression, and simultaneously the liberty with which certain members of society could behave as they pleased. She discovered a world that both reinforced and contradicted commonly held beliefs about the restrictiveness of the culture of Islam in the Gulf States, and wrote about her experiences in a recent article at Vox.

She and host Josh Zepps discuss the problems with how we discuss cultures outside our own, the ways religion is intertwined with repressive norms, and how we might hold a mirror up to our own practices.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, February twenty nine, 2016. Due to technical difficulties, you’ll hear a little bit of an echo from our guests audio this week. We apologize in advance and we hope you enjoyed the episode. Now back to the show. 

Well, a point of inquiry. I’m Josh Zepps host. Also, if we do people live funny live chat show about what’s going on in the world, which you can find on whatever pod app you’re currently using to listen to this show or just follow me on Twitter at Josh Zepps. This is, of course, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. 

And we spend quite a lot of time on this show discussing the impact that religious piety has on free speech, not just in attempts by creationists to suppress science education and science, sex education, I suppose in schools, not just in the bossiness of evangelicals in setting media standards around nudity or homosexuality, but more so than ever, certainly since Charlie Hebdo and probably since Salman Rushdie before them, the impact that Islamism and blasphemy can have on freedom of thought and of satire. 

So what is it actually like to be a journalist in an Arab state? And I’m not even talking about some dissidents, political journalists. Somewhere in Egypt, for example, I just made a run of the mill journalist in one of the Gulf states that we regard as being fairly liberal. Someone like, for example, the editor of a lighthearted, fun loving magazine like Time Out Doha. Today’s guest had that job and has a new piece in Vox entitled What Being a Journalist in the Middle East Taught Me about How Censorship Really Works. Jessica David Quantic, thanks for being on the show. Hi, thanks for having me. How did you end up as the editor of Time out in Qatar to begin with? 

Well, I mean, and he’s a reporter in Enfield, Nova Scotia. If that’s how that’s so. Yeah. And wonderful, Chief. I saw a job posting and I applied. That’s basically it. I’ve never really heard of Qatar or the Gulf itself before, but I was the water for cheese. So I applied for a job. And three weeks later I was on a plane and I was there. I was twenty three and I took over running. Ketter Happening, which is an independent magazine there. And two years later, I move over, I. And that’s how it happened. 

And was there a specific interest in that part of the world or was this just sounds like adventure? So I might as well go. If the job posting had come up in China, would you have taken it there? 

Yeah, it was very much. I wanted to go and see the world. I wanted to do something I always been really interested in is Shasha development and in politics and in different cultures and travel. And I’m Canadian, so it’s hard to travel from Canada to get off of my continent. It’s tricky. But I always want to go overseas. 

And why does the Canadians travel more than almost anyone else I know apart from Aussies. 

And yes, we are both a long way from places, but I don’t quite. You mean just because it’s a large continent. So it’s difficult to it’s difficult to get to anywhere. I know another continent from the same. I would make the same would be true. Mean I. 

So if you want to travel, you have spent eight hours on a plane, you’re an Aussie, you know that. It’s like, all right, so you try 22 hours a lot longer to get places. It’s not Europeans where we can just janaway to our country in two hours. Yes, you are. How do you like my province, right? Yeah, I would have applied I had an interest in the region in a sense. I wanted to go places. I want to see places. And it sounded interesting. It sounded a really cool place to be. I first knew there wasn’t eight, so it was completely changing. I was developing so quickly. If 80 percent expatriates are people from all over the world, they’re in the five years I was in Kandahar, half the city got Baltes. When I first moved there, there was no West Day. There were half the hotels didn’t exist. A lot of the development wasn’t there. So it seemed a really exciting place to be together. As a young journalist, I thought I’d be there for a year. I ended up being there for five. 

So when you got there, was was your initial impression that you’d be able to do journalism roughly the way that you had learned about journalism in Canadian journalism school? I assume you went to new journalism school. And so was there a moment at which you recall thinking, well, this is not the kind of thing that I was. And to spiting in a culture of free speech? 

Yeah, it was probably actually the first day. So I got off the plane and I went and I I slapped him. The next morning I come into my office and I’m being introduced to my cattery boss. The way catcher works is called Catholicism. It’s a sponsorship system whereby you’re basically owned by a cafe owner. So my sponsor has he has to give me admission to enter or leave the country to have liquor permits to do anything. And he has lots of lots of control. And I was meeting my for the first time and I was worried if I went in that don’t ask him for the government because he doesn’t give them to single girls who works for him with no family and say, OK, that’s interesting. So I sat down in front of it and the first thing he asked me is what my daddy thinks about me being in Qatar. And I went, Oh, that’s interesting. As a young female worker, I can never get asked that. I was expecting to be taken seriously as professional. And it was the hardest first moment of like, oh, wait, there’s going to be paternalism, there’s going to be sexism and all this stuff that I wasn’t expecting. And it’s going to be very different than what you will back home. 

Did you end up getting the liquor permit? 

No, I never did for two years. He doesn’t give them to single girls. I didn’t even ask. So there’s only one liquor store in the country and you have to have a permit to get in. Given to you by your sponsor, it’s predicated on your nationality, your religion and your job. So you got a quota based on your salary and certain, even if you are a nationality, religion, it’s allowed to have a liquor permit. Certain salaries, certain job titles will get you one. So if you are a maid, for example, also canmake, you can’t have a liquor license. So I actually went to a liquor store my entire five years there. The first two years I have to get my friends who go on like buy for me after that ass, like being fifteen all over again. 

Isn’t that finding someone who looks old enough and giving them money to go into the liquor store for you? 

Yeah, I look young anyway, so I could be doing this again, if ever, because I just turned 31 and I still get partied. And Canadian liquor stores are eight, dropping eight years, 18. So what’s that about? Actually, I left three years after that time out. I was an illegal immigrant for three years because your sponsor gave you permission to get a new employer. And even though I finished my contract, found our replacement train, my replacement did all that stuff. Mine didn’t give me that permission because for him, me switching jobs would have been losing face. So for three years, I was sponsored by. It came in that a I visa during the visa run and quite a few people do it, but it didn’t exist on paper. I didn’t have I.D., I didn’t have permits, I didn’t have anything. So I couldn’t have a lease. And my name stuck with my name and I certainly couldn’t get in to a liquor store on my own. 

Who are these people, by the way? Who is this guy like? Does he have connections in high places? How does he have his job? Why is time out international or time out publishing or whatever, presumably? Well, this wasn’t time out, wasn’t it? But Elwood’s like, what’s the layer above him and why does he have so much clout? 

It could wassa his power control. So what it is, if the cabinet, which is quite small and what it is based on his family relationships and his now. So my sponsor was sort of a middle level category. He didn’t have much palsy, but he did, which I found out why I switched jobs. And I should tell you this, but whatever what I did for jobs, he started calling me at all hours the night, threatened to sue me, threatened to deport me. He sent letters to my boss at the time out saying I was a terrible person. And that was just something you had to get through. And I got for it because I’m Canadian. So I knew he couldn’t really touch me. He didn’t have the power to really mess with me too much. It would’ve been different if I had different nationality. He’s got a middle level person. It’s it’s what made the place so interesting because you never knew who you were dealing with. So if you were at the cinema weekend and they refer to your kids info being 30 or kipping jerks, basically, you wouldn’t say tell them off because you didn’t know who their dads were. You didn’t know how it was that they had you didn’t know how much power they had. They were connected to what they could do for you. And I mean, monic story of mine was he held my passport for a few weeks. When I first got there, I got back some Canadian oh, there was one Christmas. 

He was fighting with my actual boss about who knows what, just the normal stuff in a business partnership. And to display his power. He decided to hold onto my exit permit and my flight was about midnight and at eleven o’clock I still have my exit permit. And our driver, this lovely, lovely man from Nepal, was like, go home, get your stuff, go to the airport. I will sit in his office until he hands me this piece of paper and come to you. And that’s why I got to leave the country to go home for the holidays. And it was very much like he had to sign something and he felt he didn’t, whatever it was, the power of the control he had, he could get supersize it. And that’s just the nature of the system. 

And as you say, you were Canadian. I mean, imagine being Filipino or imagine being Pakistani. And, you know, we hear a lot, for example, specifically about Qatar with regard to the World Cup. They’ve got just armies of hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands, at least, of foreign workers who they’ve shipped in. And as you say, they take their passports once they arrive and they house them in huge dormitories and the people are basically sort of indentured legal slaves. 

And what strikes me about this is we tend to think of we see the the giant indoor ski field in in Dubai and then we see all of the other we sort of I mean, I’ve had incredible long, boozy brunches in Abu Dhabi. I’ve seen the nightlife in Doha. These strike us as places that I mean, sometimes you see all pad’s sort of waxing lyrical about the decline of the West and the rise of the of the new Arab states as being an exemplar towards which we should be aspiring and yet scratch the surface a little bit. And these are sort of ancient medieval cost societies in which the guy doesn’t even give you your exit visa until an hour before you get on the flight. Did you get a glimpse into what the experience was like of life for people who weren’t pretty Canadians? 

A little bit. I did a few articles, the one I did before I left that time out. Would it print? I did it because I saw it. Actually, I loved him. That’s a fantastic brand. And also sponsors Tessman advisory different its own sponsorship. I never met my sponsor and I work full time. It’s much different. It’s most the Gulf countries are actually getting rid of this system and they’re moving away from it, is Kantaras by holding onto it. One of the stories I did was the taxi drivers and it was mostly because I didn’t have a car, because I didn’t have a license, because I didn’t have a visa. So I took taxis everywhere. And you’d have the guys wouldn’t turn the meter on. And they tried to charge you two or three times what you knew it was. And I’ve been there forever. So I’m like, no, no, no. I know this is a 12 thrill ride. Why are you trying to charge me 50? And I finally ask this question, the one guy’s like, it’s because I want to eat today and I do a couple of taxi drivers who would not go on the record about it, about where they lived and about, you know, these guys work 11 hour days and they would come home with five dollars in their pocket. And they’re trying to send money home. And they’re trying to exist in a country that’s incredibly expensive to live in. And time it when publish it. I mean, I had done it based on seeing some things that time at telling me it was doing in time. Sydney was doing a time at New York and the other times and it was just seen it like, we can’t talk about this, and yet we just can’t. I saw a little bit of it. The hard thing was my life for most part, was that other side that you’re talking about, that fun side, that side where I had more money than was reasonable and I got to review as part of my gig. I got to do a lot of reviews. So I once did a spa review where they rub me with crushed up diamond glitter. I now know exactly how long it takes to get glitter off your skin. Diamond glitter. It’s too frigging long. I was like a disco ball for three weeks and it’s itchy. 

I hate it. I hate it when diamond glitter does that. Every Sunday I tell my mazouz to go easy on the diamond glitter and you’ve got to go out the next day and be like, I’m going to work. 

I’m professional, I swear. That was sort of my experience more. And it’s very easy to hide in that, I think. And I think what makes it so attractive and it’s so hard to because the countries I knew aren’t bad people. The people making these systems were benefiting from these systems. I benefited from it. We’re not bad people. It’s just it’s seductive in a big way. And it’s a complicated place because you do have those two realities. You have the one side where it’s horrible and then you have the other side. When I first got to do my M.A., I’m sitting in classrooms talking about fuko and talking about Orientalism. And I’m like, I don’t want put my hand up and tell you the stories I had. But having a maid who clean my house and did my toilet and did my laundry or my driver from Nepal. Tara, who was like my dad for five years, who’s a lovely man, who made a special trip to hug me goodbye before I left. But trying to explain. How do you have those relationships? You don’t really have first world problems and yet you have Victorian first world problems. 

Yeah. And to be fair, most countries in the world throughout most of time have been like that. I mean, vast inequality has been the norm. From royalty and aristocracy to the Indian caste system and onwards, it’s only ever sort of recent invention, almost a 20th century invention that we’ve actually created sufficiently high standards of living for working and middle class people. 

But I actually I actually counter that because a lot of ways, at least the Gulf is honest about it. In the West, we like to pretend we have inequality that exists. And I don’t know if it necessarily does. I think here, at least in Canada, it’s based very much on economics and education, and that is based on birth, because I was born into a middle class family. Both my parents got to university. I went to university. Therefore, I could have certain kinds of jobs and certain opportunities also because I’m white. We like to talk in the West. We don’t have racist problems. At least Katter’s honest about it. You’re not hiding the fact it’s a race based hierarchy in Canada. My thesis work right now is about indigenous populations in the North. The Inose. Anyway, we don’t like to talk about that in Canada. We don’t want to talk about with just nothing to talk about the history of residential schools and reserves and the horrible stuff we did to our indigenous populations. I don’t know if you hear the stats in the state sometimes about the number of black men in jail in the States. Yeah, well, we have the same disproportionate number of indigenous men in jail in Canada. It was a great article recently and the claims about how our jail system is now new for a residential school and we don’t talk about it. So at the very least, Petter’s honest about it. The dirty laundry is right out. We can see it, which is how you can actually maybe start to fix this. 

Right. But the dirty laundry laundry is dirtier, isn’t it? I mean, if you had if I had to if I gave you a chance and said, okay, you can just roll a roulette wheel and in your next life you will either be a random human being somewhere in Qatar or a random human being somewhere in Canada. You’d opt for Canada. Oh, yeah. Yeah. 

Well, if it could be a shake. 

That’s right. You don’t get to choose that in advance. Let’s talk about the piety of the regime in these states, because one of the contradictions that I think we also think about when we think about oil rich, ostensibly Muslim sheiks and aristocracy, is this incredible proliferation of of material wealth and of lecherous little Christmas in terms of having beautiful women all over the place and superficiality, having Ferraris and Maseratis and everything. And then, on the other hand, they’re ruling these kingdoms that are deeply conservative in what people are allowed to express. I don’t know how closely that maps onto the way that actual ordinary everyday citizens of the United Arab Emirates or Qatar actually feel religiously. But you write in your piece about how you got there and you picked up an issue of Cosmo magazine from America. And there are just black mocha scribbles all over the bare midriff so that people can’t see them. But you would have to Photoshop women’s shorts to make them lower in order to be able to publish them that you couldn’t write about the film Puss in Boots, because I contend that would push you to change into Cat and Boots. This is it’s almost like a Monty Python sketch. 

I know it kind of went the sublime and ridiculous place and how you had to get around it. I mean, I once called Cinderella pitchers a traditional Spanish fruit beverage and like, what the hell is this about? 

And it’s not like everyone doesn’t know what you’re talking about. If you’d writing about Spain and you’re like, I was sitting around in Spain drinking a pitcher of traditional Spanish fruit beverage, everyone who’s reading Time Out Doha knows that you’re talking about saying. I mean, what are they? 

Oh, yeah. And I went screw with it. I would do stupid things. Like I did an article once about the legend of Tom Collins, just the Corktown. This whole thing. And I never mentioned the word booze. There’s one I did a LEOs. It was for International Women’s Day at once. Not in time of the prior magazine kind of happening. Anyway, this is a load of quotes from great women with photos. And I slipped in repoll in drag because I apparently have I get angry and that’s how I deal with it by putting in drag queens. It’s funny because I don’t know if it’s actually religious in a lot of ways. 

I think it’s more cultural Islam as written that I understand it and I am an agnostic on the way to atheist. I never really understood religion myself until I got to Qatar and someone asked me, what are you? And they make you declare? 

And I’m like, I guess I’m Protestant. Maybe get Islam, as I understand as written, is actually a very open religion. So if you’re talking about sex, for example, they have a problem with sex. They have no problem birth control. They have a problem with abortion up until there’s something in there about when they actually wrote in, like when the soul happens and it’s like, okay, could you solve this problem that Christians have not been able to work out for a long time? So in Qatar, for example, I can go into a pharmacy and buy birth control pills for about ten dollars over the Catholic cardinal. And how cool is that? Because it means you have access to birth control cheaply, accessibly, and it’s safe. 

Would a local woman be able to do that in practice? 

I don’t see why not at the pharmacies, aren’t there? They’re in a car for like they’re in there in a mall, though. They’re right there. So they hypothetically, if you went to a gynecologist list, they they kind of look at you. You’re supposed to be married. Sex outside of marriage is technically illegal. But it’s sort of in practice. It’s not. And this is what I’m getting at that is less about the religion. Islam is not saying any of that is very much another example is the covering. Islam just says be modest. It doesn’t say where the abaya. It doesn’t say where his job. It just says be modest. The abaya, the hijab, those are cultural constructs that exist more. And I think a lot of ways the religion is being used for various reasons to fuel that. So Islam is used as the excuse for why we’re doing certain things, not because Islam says we should do certain things and we do that here, too. I mean, I see I’m way more afraid of Christian fundamentalists. I am of Islam. 

Yeah. I mean, I completely agree that there’s nothing intrinsic about Islam that mandates these things necessarily. We know that because there are a billion Muslims who don’t adhere to these kinds of interpretations. But what is pernicious is the way that mainly the Saudis have been able to take their interpretation, their Wahhabi Salafi interpretation of Islam and make that the overarching dominant version that, you know, you can walk down a street in Alexandria, in Egypt. And if you if a woman isn’t wearing a friend of mine in Egypt was just getting heckled by people going passing a car, she can’t go outside anymore without wearing a headscarf. And she’s a Muslim. She’s a she’s an Egyptian. She was like 20 years ago. That just never happened. I could walk around freely without a headscarf on. 

And that’s the thing. Like, I never with us to cover my hair and catch her. But I did get occasionally you have somebody I’m very tall. I’m almost six foot tall. I’m very, very light. You’re definitely Caucasian. So I would wear a knee length skirt, but I would still have a whole lot of very pale skin happening. And I was once in a mall and some woman grabbed my arm. It was like hahaha on her arm at me because I had legs. It was really weird and complicated. The funny thing is Saudi, my impression when I was over there from other Arabs, whether it from the Gulf or from the rest of the region. And again, as I say, I keep saying this. The Gulf is not the Middle East, the Middle East. I hate how North Americans talk with the Middle East as if it’s like one big blobby entity that’s all the same. It’s like comparing Europe as if we say all Germans are the exact same Spanish people because they’re both in Europe. And I’m like, no, that’s actually turtle. My impression of people there was Saudi. It’s sort of like the not so nice drunken uncle that you have to invite to the family reunion. But nobody really wants to. The people don’t really like people go, oh, no, that’s Saudi. We don’t wanna do this to Saudi. We don’t want it. We don’t wanna be like Saudi. And Saudi only works because of Bahrain. So the funny thing is you see Saudi guys coming across. They don’t want to Dubai across the bridge on Thursday nights to Bahrain to go and drink and carouse and have sex, do all the things they’re not supposed to do at home. And then they go back. And occasionally you hear about Bahrain trying to clean this up or other people try to lock in on this. And Saudi goes on and then you can’t get Saudi only works because they’ve got this pressure valve right next to them. 

Yeah. And just to clarify, a lot of people don’t realize that’s a very easy border across. Right? It’s not it’s not a difficult thing. It’s just a bridge. It’s just a land bridge. And you can just drive across in a car. And Saudis do that all the time. If they would get out of Saudi Arabia, that’s neighboring Bahrain. 

Yeah, it’s very simple to get across. It’s a quick drive even getting to Dubai. It’s a 40 minute flight from Doha. So you would see on weekends, you see lots of Saudi guys come through and they take off their phone, but they’d be in the bar and maybe doing things. And it’s funny to me that people always assume that Saudis are dictating something that’s pervasive because it’s not the whole thing is a big lie that we’re going to be so pious on Monday to Thursday. But on Friday and Saturday, we can do all kinds of stuff. And I think it’s the same impulse we see when you get, you know, those televangelist right wing homophobic Christian pastors who are hooking up with gay guys on Grider. It’s the same sort of impulse, I think, that they you know, the witch doth protest too much. 

Yeah. And I mean, I think you can also extend the analogy. You’d have to extend it quite far. And I’m not saying it’s a perfect analogy, but to child abuse in the Catholic Church, where when everything is forbidden, when you create this climate in which piety and sort of puritanism is the ultimate goal and you’re not allowed to have ordinary base levels of self expression, if you want to call sex base, then it gets perverted. 

It gets pushed out in other ways that are, frankly, dysfunctional. But I don’t think that that means that we can give a pass to the Saudi regime on being so complicit in perverting the way that Islam is practiced across not just the region, but the entire world. I share your frustration with people generalizing about the Middle East. I mean, I had a conversation the other day where I was trying to explain to a person that Afghanistan wasn’t in the Middle East because he was insisting that it was soccer from different parties of Doha and cover my hair. 

I’m not going to get bombed like Ryan bombs don’t have. 

Look, I come from Australia and Indonesia is our closest neighbor and causes large neighbor. And, you know, that is that is a country where a few decades ago, it was an extremely moderate Muslim place. And increasingly now you’re seeing headscarves and increasingly you’re seeing young people being taught in madrassas that are funded with Saudi money and reading the Koran in Arabic and and being able to speak Arabic. What are Indonesians doing? Speaking Arabic. 

And there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with having religion be connected to it. I think it’s one of things that scares people, because when I was in Qatar, the religion is front and center all the time. There’s a mosque on every corner. And you hope to God that the imam whose things at 3:00 in the morning is on key, like you just hope he brief and he’s sharp because you lived next to a mosque. The guy’s going to wax poetic. You’re like, no, I’m sleeping. Go away. It’s everywhere is pervasive. It’s part of the day. And during Ramadan, everything shuts down during the day. I remember having to sneak across like smuggling cups of coffee under my sweater into my office because it’s Ramadan and it’s legal to drink or eat in public. But chew gum as well was big when my coworker who’d smoke would be driving his car like that down to the wheel well, smoking cigarets in car. It’s always a kind of it’s so much more part of the day. It’s much more visible in Islam itself. It’s much more of a visible thing when people wear the headscarf. I have some Muslim friends here in Canada and I’m incredibly UFS and all with their courage sometimes, particularly when we do horrible things. Cough, cough, the call your neighbors because they’re doing culturally barbaric things. It was our hotline. They got set up by our previous prime minister basically to tattle on your nonwhite neighbors, but they wear the headscarf every day, which means they are visibly declaring themselves as something. And that’s not something that we’re used to in the Christian world anymore. We used to be that used to be this sort of moment of I’m Christian. I will show you’re going to wear a cross. I’m going to you’re going to see it. But we’re so we’re so used to that now. 

Yeah. I mean, there are parts of the country where that still tikes, where that still takes place. I know a lot of people who wear crucifixes around their around their necks still. But yeah, I take your point, it’s not mandatory and it’s not universal the way that it is in places like the Gulf States. 

So the one thing that I found interesting is your conversation around how censorship happens, not overtly and not from the top, but in the form of self-censorship, because everybody learns pretty quickly what the rules of the game are. So you wouldn’t be able to even include Miss Piggy in a Q&A about the Muppets because she’s a pig. And you would just know that that’s not going to fly. That’s the most sort of trivial and silly aspect of it. But does that then bump up against your ability to report on actual problems in the country? You mentioned taxi drivers, for example. 

It has to. I mean, because, like I said, nobody had time out ever sat me down and said, here are the things we don’t say. I just knew and I think it’s for the reasons they hired me that I’ve been there for a couple of years already. I knew the culture. I wasn’t gonna screw up. And there’s a certain amount. This is weird, twisted sort of pride that if you’ve been there long, I feel like no, no, no, I’m not a new expat. I know how to do it. And you kind of cluck your tongue at the new expats who try to wear shorts to the mall on a Monday. And you’re like, that’s not what we do here. That’s not how we do it. And it’s this very fine line between being culturally sensitive, which I think is very important. The thing I love about travel is not what we try to take my culture from home and put it someplace else. I want to live in a different place, in a different culture, so I can see that culture. And there is nothing wrong with saying this is a more modest country, so I can’t wear a mini skirt in public like that. So there’s nothing wrong with that intrinsically. Where it does get weird, though, is when I’m so used to it and I’ve been there for so long, I’m not seeing it anymore. So it means stories. I pick the things I. Choose to follow up on that starts to change. You kind of know what’s from us, you can’t do so many of them pitching it. I’m not even trying. I don’t need a boss to smack me down and tell me, no, no, no, you can’t do that because I’m not even trying. And that’s the bit I had to leave, because that’s the part where you stop being a journalist and start being in PR. And I don’t want to be NPR. I want to be a journalist. And if we’re not constantly questioning and pushing and pushing ourselves, what are you doing? 

And to be fair, of course, every country has these blind spots. The question is the level of degree to which a culture and a journalistic polity and a political system reveres dissent and encourages independent thought and bolsters voices who aren’t from outside of the mainstream. But anyone who’s lived in a bunch of different countries will notice blindspots when I get back to Australia. I notice blindspots about race that I don’t notice in the States. I think the conversation in the states is more visible and looms larger in American consciousness than it does back home. Similarly, in the United States, it’s impossible to have an honest conversation about the military. For example, you can’t suggest that all soldiers aren’t freedom fighters without getting into a long and complicated offensive conversation with people. 

Every country has the way, Poppy, Remembrance Day and I’ve had a conversation in Canada about and we don’t have the same sort of like patriotism wrapped up with militarism that they do in the States. I think this is where really funny Aussies are more culturally, I think, close to Canadians than we are to the American value. Yeah. In this world, Commonwealth. And we have on our money. I don’t know. 

I think we’re roughly the same size. We’re both English speaking and we have similar histories. We have similar populations when we’re both defined partly by the fact that we’re not the United States of America. 

Yeah. And like going to look at that’s not being this. At the same time, though. I’ve had people come up to me and say, well, why are you wearing the white poppy in the white poppy? Basically, what it is, it’s it’s saying we’ve got to remember everybody who’s been harmed by war, not just soldiers, but everybody involved long term and short term. And we have to do it in a way that we don’t do this again, as opposed to saying rah rah militarism. Yay. And I still get that kind of conversation people have. So, yeah, I think there are blindspots everywhere you go. Then the weird thing about Counter, though, is at the same time they have within the press, within the country that kind of lies, but they have Al Jazeera, which is completely funded by the Castro government. It has incredible freedom to do stories that other outlets weren’t touching because of their own blindspots. The whole point with about their as I understand it, when it’s founded, was to do stories and parts pass the world that were being told. And they do an excellent job of covering the Middle East, covering Asia, covering Africa. That isn’t being done. It wasn’t be done the beginning by the traditional mainstream North American, European, whatever Western press. So how they commission had the two things that I can’t say that were beer. I can’t have Miss Piggy, but we did have Al Jazeera. I don’t understand. 

Well, presumably Al Jazeera doesn’t have freedom to criticize the Katari regime. Right? 

It goes back and forth. I know what’s out there. People and they all they’ll tell you that they’ve never been told not to do something. And they have actually done some really cool pieces about Qatar. The other thing I get of it is that Catter is very small potatoes in general in their entire mandate to cover the world. If they focus too much on Catter, just as they happen to be based in Doha, it would be disproportionate to their coverage. And that’s true. They have a lot of other things they do. And they have done a few things about the workcamps, about other things that happen in the Gulf. I don’t really know. I’ve never worked for them. How much control or how much of a press guy they have. 

So I think one of the concerns about Islam in particular when it comes to free speech is that at the fringes of Islam and again, don’t generalize, but under the banner of Islamism, the threat of physical violence against people speaking ill of Islamism as a political philosophy or Islam as a religion will create or may be creating already an environment that is so stultifying that everyone in the world has to self censor in the same way that you found yourself self censoring about putting ham or midriffs in Timeout Doha. How willing is a publication nowadays to report on a cartoon of Mohammed, let alone to show that cartoon? And does that corrosion of free speech, even if that speech is offensive, represent a loss on how then do we as journalists push back against that without being willfully insulting? 

That’s that fine line again between being culturally sensitive and being censored. So I think the BBC a while ago said we’re going to stop using the word terrorists quite as often because it feels like every time we use it is being misconstrued. We’ve added power to this word. I mean, you just stop using it or not it as not very much more careful with it. That’s cultural sensitive. That’s saying that we have understands and I know that there’s a great Web site. You can’t actually a project. Can you talk about how we talk with indigenous people in Canada, for example, the kind of stories, how we use myths, characters? Do we always show the drunken Indian? Or can we do it differently? And those are conversations about how do we evolve with the times? How do we use certain words? How do we do that at the same time, though? I think what it is, is people using religion as a. To justify another agenda. So it’s not about saying you’ve insulted Islam, you must die. It’s saying we would like you to die for other reasons. Would I tell you that religion? Because that’s easier to swallow. But if the followers where they’re friendly will stand it, all those other reasons. 

I mean, on what grounds would you assassinate Charlie Hebdo cartoonists? I mean, would those people specifically assassinate Charlie Hebdo cartoonists? 

That’s such a huge question. I’m looking at more things like when do we call someone a terrorist in the States? When you have a school shooting. When you have a public mass shooting. When do we call them a terrorist? And do we do it because they’re brown and it’s easy? Or when do we have conversations about mental health? When do we have conversations that access to guns? When do we have conversation? But those much bigger issues that are much more complicated. It’s so much more comfortable just to say this is a religious thing. They hate us because of our freedom. They hate us because they are in this religion or they are of this fundamentalist, whatever, whatever. That’s what is simpler. It makes a better headline. It makes a better soundbite. It absolves us. I mean, to look at much bigger, deeper issues and even some of the terrorism that happens. I mean, we’re not really looking at. I hate to say this, but we’re not really looking at the history of colonialism and orientalism that led to structures to get people this angry in the first place, that somebody who is a whack a doodle can get a group of people together to do horrible, horrible things. 

I take your point that it’s not that they hate us for our freedoms and all that kind of Bush era rhetoric. But I do think that there’s a problem with our inability to recognize the religious roots of Islamism. And I feel criticisms of colonialism and orientalism only take us so far. Right. They take us to the groundswell of legitimate grievances across the Arab world. And we can throw in Israeli settlements and we can throw in the racism towards Muslim working class Muslim communities in the Bollier of Paris. And we can throw in Fox News and we can throw in all of us talking about terrorism too much. But at the end of the day, there’s a religious component that is being propagated by people who have a vested interest in propagating it. Largely the Saudis. And there is a philosophy you can take it all the way back to Khatab and to I mean, it’s not like, oh, here he was or bin Laden were motivated by completely non-religious things. And my concern for us as journalists is how do we get our arms around being able to talk about this in a way that I isn’t racist or Islamophobic, if you wanna use that word. But B also doesn’t just sound like bullshit to people who are concerned about Islamism. 

Yeah, and that’s a big question. I think we’re not comfortable talking to religion in general. I think the first step is we have to get really comfortable thinking about our own culture before you start trying to figure somebody else you understand your own. So until we can start taking a really hard look at some other religion here, I’m I’m as I said, I’m on the way to ageism. So I’m kind of really critical of religion in general. Any of those organized structures are telling people how to behave and how to believe. I go, oh, God, something bad is coming because it always does. Very rarely is that ever worked out well. So until we can sort of take a really hard look at some of our own people go through, is Donald Trump more closely, ideologically to a Saudi or to this other thing? Until we start doing that, we can’t start looking at other religions. That said, I do think you have a law, like you said, a lot of legitimate concerns. An angry population, a disaffected population. And religion is comfortable. Religion is something that they can get behind. It’s something that you can work with. And I think the culture around Islam in many ways can be corrupted. And I think the Saudi culture itself, although there are lovely parts to these cultures, has had that going for a while. 

Having lived in Qatar. How optimistic are you that that region, if you can prognosticate for an entire region, is something from there? Is is is likely to get better before it gets worse. 

I can either incredibly pessimistic or I can be really, really optimistic about it. And I’m optimistic because of the people I know who are actually cattery the women. These are kickass people. Never, never, never get in and argue with an Arab woman. They will kick your ass. These are strong effects of us. And people think that all women who wear hijab, all hijabs are oppressed. 

Somehow I’m like, no, these women are incredibly educated. They are incredibly smart. They’re talented, they’re driven. And they’re not taking this crap. The young generation is the one who’s changing things. Qatar built Education City, which was a wonderful part of the universe. Campus small of the worlds that can have education, their own countries. And they’re investing really heavily in what they call this knowledge economy, which is a lot of PR bullshit. But the point of it is the younger generation is changing. It’s much like you see it in Israel, in Palestine. The younger generation is the one who’s saying, OK, we have to make changes and we’re seeing the world differently and we’re being more connected to each other, to what it has to do with the Internet. A law that I think has to do with the ability of the Internet to open up and get around these press censorships censorship’s so we can start. We had this great site called Doha News, which is where you get the real news. And it was uncensored because the Internet wasn’t as regulated. And the younger generation, if they’re very savvy with that, they’re very keen on. And they have the information are not letting themselves be censored and they’re not letting themselves censor. So I have great hope for the future if we don’t flub it up in the next couple of years Jessica. 

David Quantic, on that optimistic note. Thanks for being on point on inquiry. Thanks for having me. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.