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At TED, Al Jazeera's Wadah Khanfar Celebrates the Networked Arab World's Homegrown Revolutions

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, March 4 2011

You might remember that -- inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's most recent essay on Egypt's uprising that argued that unless digital connectedness causes social change, it doesn't inform it in the least -- we entertained the idea that the color, texture, and nuances of political resistance can be altered by its networked nature, even if we might not instantaneously know exactly how.

In his 17-minute talk this week at the TED mothership conference in Long Beach, California, this week, Al Jazeera's director general Wadah Khanfar dissected what we've witnessed taking place in the Middle East and northern African in recent weeks and came up with connective tissue: that the revolutionary movements of the present are homegrown, and publicly so. The region's regimes, said the 43-year-old and Palestinian-born Khanfar, attached the boogiemen of the past to the tools of the present, warning mothers and fathers that Twitter and Facebook were corrupting their children, infiltrating their minds in the way foreign powers, including the U.S., have hoped to do. Go get your children, said Khanfar, channeling the admonition to older generations by Mubarak and others. Instead, they joined their children in the streets.

Current events, Khanfar said, have upended the deeply-held notion that political change had to come from the outside and from the top down, often carrying with it burrowing-in of an inferiority complex that already afflicts the Middle East despite the region's enormously rich history. "The Internet and connectivity has created a new mindset," said Khanfar.

"But this mindset has continued to be loyal to the soil and to the land that it emerged from. This was the difference between many initiatives before to create change," he went on. "Before, we thought that change was imposed on us. And people rejected that because they thought it was alien to their culture. Always, we believed that change should spring from within, that change should be a reconciliation with cultural diversity -- with our faith and our tradition and our history. But at the same time," Khanfar raising a single finger in the air to accentuate the point, "open to universal values, connected with the world, and tolerant to the outside."

The Doha-based Al Jazeera network has been accused in meddling in the internal political affairs of the region's other countries, so you can see where Khanfar might be especially eager to frame the uprisings as bubbling up from the populace. But it adds a new perspective on all this: that by working out resistance largely in public, online, across borders, and without easily identifiable leaders, the connectedness of some the Middle East's uprisings carries with it, and into the future, the particularly powerful pride of the homegrown.

You call watch Khanfar's full TED talk above and on TED.com.

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