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A different perspective on the war
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Patrons at a deli in Columbia Heights watch Al Jazeera on the television in the corner. The man in the foreground is smoking a water pipe. (MPR Photo/Mary Losure)
Viewers of the Arab satellite TV channel Al Jazeera can see the war from a different perspective from the one shown to American TV audiences. A number of native Arabs regularly watch the news from Al Jazeera at a deli in the Twin Cities.

Columbia Heights, Minn. — At the Cedar Delicatessan in Columbia Heights, the TV on top of the soft drink cooler plays several Arab satellite channels. But by afternoon the customers always tune it to the same one -- Al Jazeera. The picture flickering above the tables looks very much like CNN, except for the Arabic headlines running along the bottom.

Robert Bassil came to this country from Lebanon in 2001. He says he watches CNN at home and Al Jazeera here. He says there's not much difference, except that Al Jazeera shows civilian casualties.

"People die -- it's like people not in the Army," says Bassil. "We see it on Al Jazeera, but we didn't see it on CNN. I don't know why."

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Image The Cedar deli caters to Arabs in the Twin Cities

Bassil says he watches Al Jazeera because Arabic is easier for him to understand than English. He says the pictures of blood and broken heads are hard to watch, but they don't change how he feels.

"I left my country from war. I left my family, too, because of war. I'm a peace guy, I don't like any war," Bassil says. "This war -- maybe for kill Saddam Hussein, maybe not (sic). Maybe better for Iraqi people, and maybe not. But I see news, and it's stupid, stupid. For all the people, Marines, the Army, there, or the Iraqi army, or any kind from these people."

Ahmad Sulaiman is a student from Lebanon. He says believes Al Jazeera gives a truer picture of what's really happening.

"The American government, they don't want anybody in this country to know what's going on there, you know. I don't watch the American news, honestly. Because it's ridiculous, there is nothing on it," says Sulaiman. "Bush -- he's the cause of this problem. He just messed the whole thing. He's an idiot, what can I say."

Sulaiman's friend, who is from Saudi Arabia, sits at the table listening. Earlier, he's declined to be interviewed, but now he leans forward.

"I want to say just one word. Actually I believe, as many Arabic people believe, that Bush will never ever get Iraq as easy as he wishes. That's it," he says.

People die ... we see it on Al Jazeera, but we didn't see it on CNN. I don't know why.
- Robert Bassil

As the afternoon turns to evening, customers sit and smoke tall, ornate water pipes. Salman Mian and Shajehan Ganny are both from Pakistan. They don't speak much Arabic, so they pay little attention to the headlines scrolling across the screen just a few feet from their heads.

Mian says he reads a variety of English-language newspapers from Arab countries. He also reads non-American news sources such as the Guardian newspaper of London.

"It's just amazing how the perspectives so different. You're reading an American newspaper that reports on things that are very narrow," says Mian.

For many Americans, the degree of Iraqi resistance came as a suprise, but Mian says he wasn't surprised.

"You are invading somebody's country. If somebody was invading America, wouldn't you be out there fighting, trying to save your own homeland?" Mian asks. "Yeah, they've had a dictator shoved on them for a long time, and they may not like him. But at the same time there's this outside force coming into their homes, bombing their cities."

"But this also makes a very important point about how the media shelters American society," adds Shajehan Ganny. "We had the president promising shock and awe, shock and awe, and I think people were expecting something like what happened with al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Go in there, no resistance, all talk.

"They're actually fighting a real war, and no one was expecting this -- 'cause look at it. They're standing there with rifles, with small arms fire shooting down helicopers, and no one was expecting that at all. And they don't understand that there's more to it than what you see on Fox, or NBC or what Tom Brokaw tells you in his one-sided view," says Ganny.

Several Twin Cities cafes show Al Jazeera. Some families have also been buying private satellite dishes to get the channel at home.

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