Entering its 11th Year: Al Jadid Magazine Begins Second Decade Quality – Coverage, and Dynamic Change

Elie Chalala

With this double issue (nos. 50/51) Al Jadid magazine enters its 11th year. During the past decade, we have rarely talked about ourselves, our pleasures or pains, neither self-congratulatory nor inviting pity. This has included not talking about our financial difficulties as well as the acclaim Al Jadid has received, including letters of support, articles and reviews written about Al Jadid in national and international magazines and newspapers, as well as professional, academic and mainstream books from major publishers.

The main initial purpose of Al Jadid was and is to establish a medium that facilitates communication between the world of Arab culture and arts and the English-language reader, and between the world of cultural and artistic productions about the Arab world in the West, mainly in the U.S., and the Arab intellectual community. Though an imbalance exists in this communication goal in that we bring more to the Western reader than to the English-speaking Arab reader, we are pleased with our publication and can humbly claim that we have attained our goal to a large degree. Al Jadid has become, through its print edition and its revamped website, an authoritative source for scholars, professionals and all readers interested in Arab culture and arts.

Throughout our professional journey, we have been guided by a set of values: maintaining independence, upholding professional integrity, and serving as a critical voice. We have avoided the trap of apologia, i.e., refusing to be a defender of all cultural productions, especially traditional productions sponsored by powerful governmental and non-governmental institutions.

Over the years, we have developed our own approach in covering Arab culture and arts. Though we are exclusively an arts and cultural magazine, it is impossible to ignore politics completely. Indeed, politics have always been featured in our coverage, but only as expressed via cultural and artistic media, such as books, articles, interviews, films, music, and other modes of artistic expression.

The myriad novelists, poets, musicians and other artists covered by Al Jadid face two types of threats to their artistic freedom: physical and professional. Physically, many literary figures and artists have suffered persecution and imprisonment at the hands of the state, and attacks and harassment from civil society, mainly from fundamentalist groups. Professionally, this cultural community has been deliberately marginalized, as it is neglected by mainstream Arab media and powerful publishing houses largely because of politics and the artists' lack of resources and connections.

Those enjoying proximity to power tend be "stars" on the Arab cultural scene. While we occasionally cover such figures, as obviously they still contribute much to Arab letters, overall we avoid the strategy of covering only highly-publicized names. These "stars" have their own media, literally, for many are editors of cultural pages and literary supplements of various Arab dailies.

Many of those featured on the pages of Al Jadid during the past decade do not enjoy such resources and connections (or wasta as it is called in Arabic) that ensure wide-scale name recognition. Thus, our attention has focused largely on this marginalized yet creative community. Its freedom to create and express itself ought not to be compromised by a lack of coverage.

It is our belief that the Arab creative map is much larger and more varied than the one sketched by the editors of Arab newspapers and magazines as well as by Arab news satellite stations, not to mention the narrow view afforded it by English-language publications, which occasionally recognize Arab literature in short articles or reviews. Covering this marginalized creative community thus becomes a necessity. Some have questioned why we cover artists they have never heard of; we respond that a picture of the Arab cultural scene remains incomplete as long as these marginalized authors and artists remain absent. At the heart of their contributions to Arab culture is a courageous critique of hegemonic ideology and the state in the Arab world, as well as a relentless defense of the weak and the vulnerable.

Sadly, at times we feel as though we are competing with death, which takes major literary and arts figures away from us before we have the chance to cover them. Often we have been forced to report on several of these voices posthumously; thus many Al Jadid headlines and sub-heads carry the word "legacy." Constantly reminded of these legacies, we have decided to devote much of our efforts and resources to ensuring their survival in the memory of current and future generations of readers.

Covering Arab-American cultural productions and welcoming contributions by young Arab-American professional and academic writers, thus providing them with an opportunity to convey their ideas to an interested readership, has also distinguished Al Jadid's approach. During the past decade, we have focused on two main areas. First, we covered Arab-American voices that questioned patriarchal society and the transplant of social traditions from the Arab world. Second, because of the events of September 11, we have shifted our focus to include civil rights violations resulting from discrimination against Arab-Americans and Muslims from the Middle East, and we portray this viewpoint particularly through essays, book and film reviews and interviews.

Al Jadid has never been reluctant to change when necessary. We have changed from a monthly to a quarterly publication, from a literary tabloid-size to a magazine format. Many other changes have been content related. Thus, many wonder what the future holds for Al Jadid, as this magazine attempts to cope with the information revolution, online publishing and other technological innovations. These changes offer exciting opportunities that will undoubtedly affect the quality of our future coverage. While new technology, namely satellites and the Internet, has its limitations, the positive aspects and effects of such advances will contribute to improving future coverage. New technology has produced access to unlimited and diverse sources of information, in Arabic and other languages, thus breaking the monopoly held by a few conglomerate media corporations over the flow of news. Technology has had a democratizing effect, making it possible for non-corporate media and small publications like us to diversify our access to news sources at little or no cost.

Soon we will offer a digital or electronic issue of Al Jadid alongside the print version. This digital issue will be posted on our website in a timely manner and will be available for subscription. We are currently working out the technical and logistical details.

Since the beginning, we have been more dependent on our subscribers than our advertisers for revenue, for, as our readers are quite aware, only a few advertisements appear on the pages of Al Jadid. Since the beginning, Al Jadid has relied on its writers, artists, translators and editors, whose work can only be described as a labor of love. As we look ahead, we are hopeful about the future of Al Jadid, though we are mindful of the challenges and the financial difficulties we face. In overcoming these financial challenges, we are in need of our readers' and friends' support now more than ever to continue Al Jadid's journalistic purpose to cover Arab culture and arts, a mission of the greatest importance and of the highest honor.


This essay appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 11, nos. 50/51 (Winter/Spring 2005) 
Copyright (c) 2005 by Al Jadid