Intercultural Communication as a Clash of Civilizations

Al-Jazeera and Qatar’s Soft Power

by Tal Samuel-Azran (Author)
©2016 Textbook XXIV, 145 Pages


Intercultural Communication as a Clash of Civilizations argues that Al-Jazeera is not an agent of globalization, as is widely argued, but a tool used by the Qatari government to advance its political as well as Islamist goals. This book also maps the Western tendency to reject the network outright despite Al-Jazeera’s billion-dollar investments designed to gain entrance into Western markets; it shows empirically that this rejection is similarly rooted in religious, cultural and national motives. This book asserts that the main outcome of Al-Jazeera’s activities is the promotion of religious and cultural conflicts. The network persistently portrays global events through the prism of conflicting religious and cultural values – propelling a clash of civilizations as per Samuel P. Huntington’s well-known thesis.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword Daya Thussu
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: The Qatar–Al-Jazeera Nexus
  • Chapter 1. Qatar Invents the Most Effective Contemporary State-Sponsored Broadcasting Network
  • Chapter 2. Qatar’s Soft Power: A Macro Perspective
  • Chapter 3. Qatar Operates Al-Jazeera as a Smart Power Tool in Its Relationship With Saudi Arabia
  • Chapter 4. Al-Jazeera’s Role in Qatar’s Race to Become a “Core State” in the Muslim World During the Arab Spring
  • Chapter 5. Al-Jazeera’s Obsession With the Clash-of-Civilizations Theory and Its Contribution to Qatar’s Core-State Ambition
  • Part II: Al-Jazeera’s Soft Power Strategies in the West
  • Chapter 6. Al-Jazeera in the US
  • Chapter 7. Al-Jazeera’s Soft Power and Israel
  • Chapter 8. Putting It All Together: The Al-Jazeera Effect and What It Means for International and Intercultural Studies
  • Appendix A: The Clash-of-Civilizations Theory and Its Discontents
  • Appendix B: Discourses of the “Global Public Sphere” and Its Critics
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


Ever since Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” way back in 1990 in an article published in the journal Foreign Policy, the phrase has been enthusiastically adopted or adapted by countries around the world. From China to Russia and from Iran and India, foreign policy mandarins have been busy creating new and innovative ways of promoting the soft aspects of their national power in an increasingly mediatized international arena. In recent years, many countries have set up “public diplomacy” departments within their ministries of foreign affairs, while a number of governments have sought the services of public relations and lobbying firms to coordinate their “nation-branding initiatives.”

Tal Azran’s engaging new book focuses on arguably the most significant entrant in this exciting world of public diplomacy. Within the contemporary geo-political environment, there is growing recognition of the importance of soft power in a digitally connected and globalized media and communication environment, and in this the media play a key role. The importance of mass media—especially visual media—is crucial in the on-going battle for images and ideas.

Al-Jazeera, which was launched in 1996 by the emir of Qatar with a $150 million grant, has grown into a major global broadcaster with annual expenditure ← ix | x → on the network’s multiple channels reaching nearly $650 million. Based in Doha, Al-Jazeera broadcasts news and current affairs in Arabic, English, Turkish and Serb-Croat. Al-Jazeera English, in operation since 2006, reaches 260 million homes in 130 countries, and in 2013 launched Al-Jazeera America, thus entering the lucrative US television market. Qatar, a nation of just two million, of whom only 250,000 are citizens, has been able to use this channel to play an important geo-political role in the region.

That Al-Jazeera has emerged in the last ten years as one of the most articulate and distinctive voices in the global news arena is well attested by many publications in recent years—both academic and policy-related—about this 24/7 news network. However, the focus of most of this work is on Al-Jazeera’s supposed journalistic excellence, both in its Arabic and international editions. What Arzan’s book does brilliantly is to provide a new and different perspective on how a small but enormously rich emirate has been able to develop and nourish a distinctive media voice, transforming broadcasting in the region and increasingly being noticed around the world—including in the cosmopolitan centers of the media globe. It is indicative of this change that Al-Jazeera’s London bureau is located in an iconic building—the Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe), incidentally also owned by the Qatari royal family.

Although Al-Jazeera’s American operations have not been particularly successful in commercial terms, the channel has created its own space, even among what remains one of the world’s most ethnocentric media systems. The channel has had much greater impact in the regional arena—not surprising, given that the Arab world, and the broader Middle East, remains a news-rich area—and it has become an increasingly important resource for journalists and viewers. The Qatari government has very successfully used this vital form of soft power to strengthen its geo-political and economic interests. The sources of such “soft” media power cannot be separated from Qatar’s hard economic power, as one of the world’s richest countries. The coverage of the so-called “Arab Spring,” especially in countries such as Egypt, demonstrated how Al-Jazeera used its considerable power to effect political change—supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and fiercely and consistently opposing the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the NATO-led invasion of Libya in 2011 and the campaign against the Syrian regime since 2012, as well as its support for Hamas in Gaza, show how it has used its visual power to influence Middle Eastern politics. Al-Jazeera English claims to privilege the global South in its coverage of international affairs, and its emergence as a broadcaster of substance has not only changed journalistic culture in the ← x | xi → region but also provided a space for a wider conversation in the global communication arena.

As Azran ably shows in this pioneering study, the Qatari government has deployed a combination of hard (economic) and soft (media) powers to promote its interests in the region. This “smart” power has served its geo-political and economic interests. Other state-sponsored international broadcasters—such as Russia’s RT and China’s CCTV News—have failed to make much impact on international news flows and are often perceived, accurately, as little more than propaganda vehicles for broadly authoritarian media systems. RT is seen by many analysts as an effective instrument for President Putin’s formidable propaganda machine, as witnessed by the growing awareness and controversy that the channel has evoked, mostly in the West, while CCTV News tends to pursue a rather bland news agenda. Al-Jazeera, on the other hand, has managed to avoid major controversies outside the regional arena. Claiming to privilege a Southern media agenda, the channel has managed to provide a globalized and multi-perspectival approach to how international news should be reported, and thus has contributed to enriching the discourse on international communication and intercultural interactions in our increasingly globalizing world.

By writing this empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated book, Azran has contributed to widening the terms of debate in global news flow. By linking Al-Jazeera with the discourse of soft power, the book also contributes to the much-needed conversation between scholars of international relations and international communication. Researchers and policy mandarins will find this book a valuable resource to make sense of the growing importance of soft power in public diplomacy and the primacy of communication in this process.

Daya Thussu is professor of international communication at the University of Westminster in London and author of Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) ← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii →


This book would not have been written were it not for Mary Savigar from Peter Lang, who encouraged me to extend the ideas expressed in my first book, Al-Jazeera and US War Coverage. I would also like to thank Phyllis Korper for her great guidance throughout the publication of the book.

Annie Salem, my research assistant, provided me with insights and support throughout the writing process and I was fortunate to have her on board.

Finally, I want to thank my family for their eternal support. My wife and best friend, Rachel, is as always a source of unconditional love as well as a brilliant sounding board for ideas. My amazing mother, Nurit, always inspires me with her kind and positive spirit and pushes me to follow my dreams. My parents-in-law, Stephen and Judy, for their generosity. And last but definitely not least, I want to thank my amazing children, Daniel and Natalie, for filling me with so much happiness. ← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv →


The rise of Al-Jazeera to global fame has raised positive assertions over the Qatari-backed station’s effect on contemporary international and inter­cultural communication. The main trend is to think of Al-Jazeera Arabic as the first independent news network from the Arab world, and Al-Jazeera English as the first English network that brings the Arab perspective to the global news arena. Accordingly, the advent of the Al-Jazeera network to the news arena is widely perceived as a major positive contribution to the global media market.

Indeed, throughout the last two decades, Al-Jazeera Arabic has earned global acclaim for its thorough coverage of controversial topics, many of which are taboo in the Arab world, such as breaches of human rights.1 While these matters were seldom discussed in the Middle East outside the comfort of one’s own home, Al-Jazeera was contentiously broadcasting them on prime-time television, accessible to the vast majority of the Arab population. Accordingly, several accounts argued that Al-Jazeera had a considerable positive influence in fuelling the so-called Arab Spring, as each nation saw the struggles of their neighboring brethren in Al-Jazeera broadcasts and subsequently embraced them as their own, resulting in political protests sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa region.2 The argument goes that Al-Jazeera’s open and persistent scrutiny of the autocratic Arab governments gave rebel ← xv | xvi → groups the courage needed to rise up against their repressive governments, as was the case in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt.3 Wadah Khanfar, the network’s former director-general, asserted, “That was Al-Jazeera’s role: liberating the Arab mind. We created the idea in the Arab mind that when you have a right, you should fight for it.”4


XXIV, 145
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Muslim world Arab spring Qatar Intercultural communication Globalization Broadcasting network Al-Jazeera
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXIV, 145 pp.

Biographical notes

Tal Samuel-Azran (Author)

Tal Samuel-Azran (PhD, University of Melbourne) is Associate Professor and the Head of the International Program at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. His research has been published in American Behavioral Scientist and Computers in Human Behavior, among others, and he is the author of Al-Jazeera and US War Coverage (Peter Lang, 2010).


Title: Intercultural Communication as a Clash of Civilizations
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
172 pages