Mission Al-Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World

Mission Al-Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World

by Josh Rushing, Sean Elder
     
 

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Blending his riveting personal story with innovative ideas about how to win the war on terror, former marine turned Al Jazeera reporter Josh Rushing addresses all the issues he was not allowed to talk about when he was in uniform. If we are to win the war on terror, Rushing explains, we have to interact with the media at home and abroad in order to control the way

Overview

Blending his riveting personal story with innovative ideas about how to win the war on terror, former marine turned Al Jazeera reporter Josh Rushing addresses all the issues he was not allowed to talk about when he was in uniform. If we are to win the war on terror, Rushing explains, we have to interact with the media at home and abroad in order to control the way we are perceived. By refusing to appear on Al Jazeera, Western leaders allow people who disagree with the current administration to represent the West to the Arab world in a skewed, negative way. By taking readers inside Al Jazeera, Rushing offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at the controversial news channel and shows how the West can harness it to its advantage, relay a positive message to the Arab public, and hear what it has to say in return.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
From gyrene to jihadi journalist-it's not the usual American career trajectory. Those who have seen the remarkable documentary Control Room will recall debut author Rushing as the Marine public-affairs officer doubtfully interpreting the American invasion of Iraq for a doubtful press corps. Located behind the lines in Qatar, Rushing found some of the most interesting and confounding questions coming from the journalists of Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network headquartered there. "Al Jazeera was a hostile network, and its portrayal of the U.S.'s actions frustrated my superiors," he recalls. Against that official line, he advanced the argument that progressive Arab journalists might be able to explain the U.S. version of things to the Arab world; for so doing, he was all but accused of treason. Thoroughly disillusioned by events in Iraq, Rushing was put back on his soft beat working as a liaison with Hollywood. But there he got himself in still further trouble by making public comments about Control Room that took him "outside his lane," as the Marines say. His bosses accused him of vying for 15 minutes of fame. He left the Corps and was preparing to take a job in PR in Texas when the programming director of the new Al Jazeera English station, headquartered in D.C., called to offer him a job-whereupon, well, his difficulties truly begin, not least with the FBI. Rushing and as-told-to partner Elder turn in an earnest but often plodding narrative, but this story tells itself: Rushing is still trying to explain America to the Arab world and vice versa, and his vignettes clearly reveal what a tough job that is. A long list of people won't like this book, from George Bush to Gary Busey.Gary Busey? Yes-and that's just one instance of culture clash.
From the Publisher

“From gyrene to jihadi journalist--it's not the usual American career trajectory. . . . Rushing is still trying to explain America to the Arab world and vice versa, and his vignettes clearly reveal what a tough job that is. A long list of people won't like this book, from George Bush to Gary Busey. Gary Busey? Yes--and that's just one instance of culture clash.” —Kirkus

“A useful, informative effort to offer a different perspective on the cultural divide between Americans and Arabs.” —Jay Freeman, Booklist

“Rushing has created an interesting . . . earnest, narrative.” —Dave Shifflet, Bloomberg.com

“[Rushing's] modest proposal is worth hearing.” —Cameron Scott, Mother Jones

“Rushing argues that what matters is for news consumers to arise from 'fearful passivity.' Only wide listening and reading, he writes, can grant independence of mind.” —Mary H. Meier, The Boston Globe

“Civilization's struggle with terrorists is not primarily a struggle of bombs, bullets and bayonets but a struggle of ideas. Al Jazeera English is one of the most effective ways to expose and examine these ideas. If you want to know why and how, read this book.” —Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2002-2005

“A captivating and unique insider's account of one American soldier's experience in Iraq, and how that led to his involvement with a critical element of the war: the rise of Al Jazeera and the development of Arab media. This is a strong wake up call to the West that not only exposes the conditions that have lead to our deteriorating relations with the Arab world but provides a brave way forward. It's time to listen to Josh Rushing.” —Michael Wolff, Columnist, Vanity Fair

“Josh Rushing is a precious national resource -- and a global voice for understanding instead of polarizing. His unique story gives reason for hope that human bonds are stronger than rigid propaganda. At a time when easy cliches are drowning us in media sewage and boosting daily carnage, Rushing offers a perspective that could lead us to high moral ground and true international security. He lays bare the mental gymnastics and moral compromises that substituted PR flackery for integrity on the road to war in Iraq. And he symbolizes the fact that honesty and compassion are imperatives for human survival on this planet. Instead of pursuing a career as a Pentagon spokesman, Josh Rushing has opted to seek and speak truth. The world will benefit.” —Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

“A lot of people are ill-informed and scared about what they believe is a clash of civilizations. Rushing is one of few American patriots who are willing to challenge the misinformation about the Arab world's relationship with America. In this book, Rushing delivers a candid and honest American's perspective on what is true and what is not. His willingness to tell the truth and challenge political agendas is a smart and brave effort to educate both sides. This is essential reading for people who want the real, gritty picture of what is going on between the Arab and Muslim world and the USA.” —Riz Khan

“Some people will try and ignore Josh Rushing's message, but his story is too extraordinary to be dismissed. Understanding his message requires strength and moral courage. I have rarely been as impressed with another human being as I am with him.” —Richard Dreyfuss

“It's too bad for the Marines [that Rushing is] moving on. He convinced a lot of skeptical people in the Arab press that there are those in the U.S. military coming from the right place.” —Jehane Noujaim, Director, Control Room

“A bracingly candid account of his [Rushing's] growing disillusionment with the war on terror.” —Rebecca Sinderbrand, New York Observer

“Of the many accounts about those who have shifted gears, switched uniforms or crossed the divide between one camp and the other, few have been as intriguing or captivating as that of a young Marine Captain-turned-Al-Jazeera journalist--Josh Rushing.” —The Ambassadors

“an entertaining and unique account of Al Jazeera International by an insider who arrived at the TV channel from an unlikely background.” —Roy Greenslade

“With America losing the information and public relations war around the world today, "Mission al-Jazeera" is a fascinating and timely book that should be required reading by the many Administration Public Affairs and press secretary's.” —Andrew Lubin, Reviewer's Bookwatch

“An eye-opener for readers....reads quickly and clearly.” —The National Catholic Weekly

“revelatory and insightful” —Choice

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780230605077
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
06/12/2007
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
850,247
File size:
469 KB

Read an Excerpt

Mission Al Jazeera

Build a Bridge Seek the Truth Change the World


By Josh Rushing, Sean Elder

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2007 Josh Rushing
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-60507-7



CHAPTER 1

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE BULLDOG


I'm a Texan from a long line of Texans. When people ask how I became so interested in other people, other faiths, and other cultures, I point to my family, my education, and my experience in the Marine Corps—although perhaps not in that order.

My immediate family is one that strongly believes in civic service. Mom and Dad, Dinah and Gayland, instilled in my sister, D'Lee, and me early on the belief that we have the responsibility to repay a debt to the society we were born and raised in. My parents expected us to select a job after college from a variety of acceptable careers—military, firefighting, law enforcement, or education. We were expected to give something back and, hopefully, leave society a better place than we found it. D'Lee became a high school geography teacher in Texas, and I enlisted in the military.

My parents lead by example. Even today, Mom serves on the city council of Lone Star, Texas, and is on the governing board of her church. My sixty-three-year-old father volunteers as a firefighter in his community. When he went to firefighting school recently, he was the oldest guy there, wearing bunker gear, climbing ladders, carrying equipment up and down, the whole bit, and in the hottest month of the year.


* * *

Dad graduated from high school in 1961. Two weeks later, he married my mother, his sweetheart since 1951, and shipped out with the Navy the following month. Mom remained in Texas to finish her final year of high school while Dad reported to the USS Constellation, more familiarly known as the Connie. As a member of the Connie 's first crew, Dad sailed the world and participated in the blockade of Cuba in 1962. After a couple of years in the Navy, he switched to American Airlines, where he worked for more than thirty years, climbing his way up from a reservation agent—before the airline had computers, no less—to a mainframe computer programmer. During these three decades, he gave our family the opportunity to explore the world he had fallen in love with while at sea. But, of course, he didn't do it alone. Mom's amazing energy has always been the driving force behind our family's success and happiness. And even though she worked at the same dental office for twenty years Mom's greatest priority has always been her family.

As a child, I did my best to keep her busy. I was often rebellious and looking for trouble. When I was thirteen years old, my parents sent me to the Marine Military Academy (MMA) in Harlingen, Texas, for a few weeks during the summer in an attempt to scare some of the wild child out of me. It was as close to the real deal as a kid could get. The instructors shaved my head and treated me like I was a recruit in boot camp. My parents' goal may have been to use the threat of military service to straighten me out, but I flourished in that environment and even asked to finish high school there. Mom and Dad refused—they didn't want me to spend my final childhood years away from home—so I graduated instead from Lewisville High School in 1990.

I had been accepted to the University of Texas (UT), and Mom and Dad were ready to pay for my first semester's orientation and dorm fees. Neither of my parents had attended college and placed their hopes on my sister and me. They really wanted me to go to college; to one day wear a heavy graduation ring. But out of respect for my father, a self-made man (with Mom's help), I wanted to best him on the same field he had played on. I thought if I went to college on his dime I would spend my whole life wondering if I, too, could have made it on my own.

The desire to fulfill my civic responsibility, pay for school, and find self-transformation, together with, perhaps, some awareness that I wasn't quite ready for college, presented the military as the obvious option. My days at the MMA had left such an impression on me that I knew I was a Marine at heart, and deep inside, I felt that if I signed up with the Army, I would always wonder if I could have made it as a Marine, since the Corps has the longest, toughest boot camp. Still, I met with an Army recruiter first. The soldier I visited at the Army recruiting center had his feet on the desk and was reading the newspaper, which he would occasionally glance over to look at me as he answered my questions. The interview reinforced my preconceived notion that the Army was not as sharp and polished as the Marines, so I left and headed straight for the Marine Corps' recruiting office. I immediately told the recruiter behind the desk, Sergeant Jamal Baadani, that I wanted to be a Marine. While I've never regretted my choice of service, I have since met and worked with enough topnotch soldiers, sailors, and airmen to have a more nuanced respect for the other services.

Jamal, who is now a Gunnery Sergeant, was and continues to be what Marines call squared-away. In his mid-twenties at the time, he maintained a sharp uniform and knew how to carry himself. Instead of wooing me with benefits or career preparation for life after the service or a chance to see the world, like the other armed forces, Jamal promised me a hard time, discipline, and the profound transformation I knew I needed.

At the tender age of seventeen, I still needed my parents' permission to join the Corps, and so, as Jamal had done with so many other potential recruits, he came to our house one night to get the signatures that would seal my fate. He remembers the night as "sitting at the dinner table for two hours across from your parents—with no dinner." My mom called him a liar to his face and said the Marines would never deliver on the promises he made. She told him to get out of her house. In retrospect, I should have been the one to promise Jamal a hard time in meeting my mother and trying to convince her to let me join the Marines. My parents weren't opposed to me serving in the military, but they were dead set on me going to college right after high school.

Dad suggested Jamal and I drive around the block to give them time to privately digest our conversation. While Jamal and I were out considering our next move, Dad told Mom, who was still clinging to the dream that I would go to college and have the educational experience she missed out on, "Either we allow him to join now or he does it on his own when he's eighteen."

On October 9, 1990, the night before I was to report to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and enter boot camp, the Marines put me up in a motel in Dallas. Jamal took me to Hooters for a last hurrah and sprang for chicken wings and beer, the feast of champions. Such treatment wasn't necessarily par for the course but, as a recruiter, Jamal was grateful because my enthusiasm about joining the Corps was infectious, and a handful of my friends followed my example and enlisted as well.

Though the Marines are well known and get a lot of press, they command only about 7 percent of the military budget, and are about one-third the size of the Army. Unlike the other services, everyone who joins the Marines is first trained as an infantryman, independent of what their final assignment will be. Even if a Marine is to be a cook, he will be first trained as a rifleman, adept at dismantling and shooting an M–16 rifle. All recruits from west of the Mississippi River go to the San Diego boot camp, and that's where I stayed for three months, enduring endless physical drills and exhausting psychological pressure. In boot camp, recruits cannot use pronouns—it's one of the ways drill instructors erase their recruits' sense of individuality—and one has to ask permission before speaking: "This recruit requests permission to speak." Only at the end of training is a recruit officially called Marine and therefore allowed to refer to oneself in the first person again.

Another of boot camp's countless rules is that recruits are not allowed to take food out of the chow hall. I forgot this rule only once: I felt a cold coming on, so I pocketed a couple of oranges and kept them in my footlocker. The day I took the oranges was, coincidentally, one of the few days during training when we were allowed to call our parents. When the time came to make our calls, we all lined up. Suddenly, I was pulled out of line—the drill instructors had found my oranges—and the meanest one, always called "the heavy," spent the next couple of hours reducing me to a puddle of sweat while everyone else went to call their parents.

I guaranteed myself a rough time at boot camp by telling my superiors that I planned to be an officer and go to college. Enlisted men, as all drill instructors are, have a long history of detesting officers as pampered, blueblood college boys who more often than not "don't know shit from Shinola." It also didn't help that I had a bulldog—the mascot of the Marines—tattooed on my left butt cheek and a tattoo of a butterfly counterbalancing the other cheek. The butterfly was weird and, not surprisingly, unwelcome, but the bulldog really got under their skins. As people who consider themselves world-class professionals at breaking others and weeding out the weak, they found it presumptuous and personally offensive that I should be so confident. They took me on as a personal challenge; an extra glint of joy shined in their eyes when I gave them cause to go after me. Nothing would have pleased these masters of pain and humiliation more than to send me packing as a civilian, with a permanent reminder of my failure forever shaming my left ass cheek.

While you're in boot camp, it's good to remember that the physical and psychological challenges just make you stronger. But it's not strength that got me through in the end. My saving grace was a dark sense of humor, born on the sweatshop floor of the quarterdeck (as a nod to their Naval heritage, Marines use nautical terms whenever possible and call the front of the large room shared by the platoon the quarterdeck; it's also where drill instructors spend one-on-one time with recruits in need of extra mentoring). Although I found it hard, salty Marines describe boot camp these days as a walk in the park in comparison to the training they endured. Boot camp used to be harsher in its physical abuse, but thanks to political correctness, now you are only pushed as hard as the weakest recruit. Boot camp builds your pride, your sense of being part of a team—even in punishment (normally we were punished all together even if only one person were at fault). Boot camp gives you a sense of invincibility, a feeling that if you can survive the drill instructors and all the challenges the training offers, then you can survive anything. To me, one of the biggest takeaways from boot camp—and of my career—wasn't as much the discipline as it was the ability to suffer and survive.

After boot camp, I was transferred to Camp Pendleton for infantry training. The physical and psychological harassment continued, but at least at this stage I was a Marine and proud to be so. That didn't stop me from putting myself in my superiors' line of fire occasionally.

Every day, the order of things seemed to be hurry up and wait. Our group of sixty brand-new Marines would rush to the .50-cal machine gun firing line, and then we'd wait an hour for our turn to fire it. Then we'd all run to the grenade tossing area, and again wait around forever for our turn to throw one. I remedied this spastic style of time management by always keeping a book in the large, mid-leg pocket of my uniform, but even that led to trouble.

One day while walking from one building to another, I was engrossed in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and eating an apple. When I crossed paths with an officer, rather than rendering the required proper salute for an enlisted Marine—right hand straight as a board, touching the tip of your cover (Marine word for hat) with the elbow at a 45-degree angle—to all officers they see, I distractedly put the apple in my mouth pig-at-a-luau style, saluted with my left hand, and kept reading and walking. Behind me I heard an eruption of profanity. I tore away from the book just in time to have my proverbial ass handed to me by the intensely shocked and deeply offended officer, in such a way as to make Lennie, Steinbeck's childlike giant, look like Einstein compared to how I felt at the moment.

It wasn't long thereafter that I found out I wouldn't be making a career out of the infantry skills I was learning. Instead, the Marines were sending me to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) in Indianapolis. From the name of the school, I thought it would be an intelligence job, but when I arrived I was assigned to the Marines' basic journalism school. I had no idea that the military had a journalism course, and had no idea why they chose me—I excelled at math back then, not writing, which I proved throughout the course.

Journalism school was my first taste of freedom after boot camp and I did my best to take advantage of it. Our commanding officer was a crusty Marine who used to say, "When you raise young lions, sometimes you have to listen to them roar." But because of the roaring nights, I kept falling asleep during class—once, they took my chair away and I fell asleep standing up. My instructors ordered me to go to the hospital to be tested for narcolepsy. It remains the first entry in my military medical record. I suspect the only reason I graduated at all was because my instructor was teaching for the first time, and the school wasn't entirely sure if the problem was with him or me.

At my first duty station, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, I was no better a journalist than I had been a journalism student. I kept getting in trouble for missing deadlines and turning in poorly-written stories—I was assigned such barnburners as the base gas station's grand reopening and the occasional wins of the base military police dog, Sonja, at regional police dog competitions.

Help came from who I thought at the time was the least likely of sources when Gunnery Sergeant Cliff Hill took me under his wing. Most Marines pride themselves on keeping their uniforms in immaculate condition, but Gunny Hill's uniform was anything but uniform. His shirt and trousers were from vastly different time periods, clearly discernable by their contrasting fades. He always wore camouflaged fatigues and carried a briefcase, which, when combined with his oversized, square-lens glasses held together with tape at the hinge, gave him the look of a haggard accountant walking into combat. Gunny Hill was the first of a short list of real Marine leaders who took the time to mentor me. He taught me how to write and how to get the most out of an interview.

While stationed at Cherry Point I traveled all over the world, reporting for military and civilian newspapers and acting as a liaison to the media. I then was transferred to New Orleans, where I became editor of a monthly recruiting magazine called The Round Up. It was a one-man editing show, with Marines at recruiting stations submitting articles. I won my first Thomas Jefferson award, a military-wide award for journalism, for a Round Up issue covering the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, where a number of military recruiters were among the 168 people killed.

In 1995, sixty-four fellow marines and I were accepted for Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP). Through this program I was allowed to finally enroll at UT (five years after promising my parents, and drill instructors), where I helped train future officers while studying philosophy, religion, and ancient Greek. My areas of course study probably weren't the most career-savvy choices, but I was guaranteed a job after college: I was going to be a Marine officer.

While in college, I felt I really had an opportunity to study something meaningful, and I wanted to answer the big questions in life, which seemed to lead me back to the origins of Western philosophy and religion. Many of the core documents on those topics are in ancient Greek—all twenty-seven books of the New Testament, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates—so I studied ancient Greek. Given my situation, I had the luxury of treating university as it once was regarded, as classical education based on debate, reason, and logic, rather than as advanced job training. My transcript bears the names of many classes from UT's Religious Studies Department. For my mother, this bolstered the premonition she has held since myinfancy—after I survived two bouts of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—that I would become a priest.

In 1999, I graduated from UT with a Bachelor of Arts in classical civilization and ancient history, the first such diploma to be awarded by a newly founded hybrid program rather than a degree in divinity as my mother had hoped.

I left UT with more than just a degree in hand; I also had a ring on my finger. I met my wife, Paige, when she came out for a run with the Marines one early morning before classes to see if she was interested in the joining the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program. After dating for almost two years, she finally did join the Marine Corps, but through its spousal program rather than its active-duty ranks. When we were wed near Quantico, Virginia, my seven-year-old son, Joshua Luke (named after Paul Newman's character in the 1967 classic Cool Hand Luke), stood as my best man. We now have a second son, Ethan Coltrane (named after saxophonist John Coltrane, whose masterpiece, A Love Supreme, could be a soundtrack for our family).

After college, I attended The Basic School (TBS), on the Marine base in Quantico. TBS is every Marine officer's first (and least favorite) duty station. For six hellish months the school's instructors teach every second lieutenant the necessary leadership skills to be an infantry platoon commander and to deal with the exponential responsibilities that accompany their newly-appointed authority. In addition to weeks spent living in the woods learning combat skills, we were taught to write a "five-paragraph order," or instructions, for the troops under our command. The order outlines the details of a mission: situation, mission, execution, administration, logistics, command, and signals. Having memorized a rigid structure for passing along vital information meant that we were less likely to leave out important details when under fire, exhausted, or hungry.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Mission Al Jazeera by Josh Rushing, Sean Elder. Copyright © 2007 Josh Rushing. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Josh Rushing works for Al Jazeera English as a military and current affairs correspondent. While providing news packages and insight on military issues, the Texas native also shoots thought-provoking stand-alone specials and long-form documentaries. A former U.S. Marine captain with 15 years of service, Josh served as a spokesperson at Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unbeknownst to him the documentary film, Control Room, captured his efforts to communicate the American message on Al Jazeera and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. The film was released in theaters across America and on DVD by Lionsgate Films.
Josh speaks to universities and organizations across America and around the world. He has been featured in GQ, Fast Company magazine, Time Magazine, and USA Today , and has appeared on The Today Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and The O'Reilly Factor. Josh lives in Washington, D.C, with his wife and two sons. More can be found about Josh at www.JoshRushing.com.

Sean Elder work has appeared in Salon.com, Details, New York magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and many other publications. He teaches writing at the Eugene Lang College at theNew School and lives in Brooklyn.


Josh Rushing works for Al Jazeera English as a military and current affairs correspondent. While providing news packages and insight on military issues, the Texas native also shoots thought-provoking stand-alone specials and long-form documentaries. A former U.S. Marine captain with 15 years of service, Josh served as a spokesperson at Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unbeknownst to him the documentary film, Control Room, captured his efforts to communicate the American message on Al Jazeera and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. The film was released in theaters across America and on DVD by Lionsgate Films.
Josh speaks to universities and organizations across America and around the world. He has been featured in GQ, Fast Company magazine, Time Magazine, and USA Today, and has appeared on The Today Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and The O'Reilly Factor. He is the author of Mission Al-Jazeera. Josh lives in Washington, D.C, with his wife and two sons.


Sean Elder has written for Newsweek; New York; National Geographic; O, The Oprah Magazine; and numerous other publications. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

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