[Author's note: This weblog entry covers the period 2004-08; for in-depth reports on the beheading of Aasiya Hassan and its consequences, please see a second entry, "Bridges TV, a Wife's Beheading, and Honor Murder."]
The Buffalo News carries a puff-piece today on the Nov. 30 opening of "Bridges TV," a new cable channel aimed at American Muslim viewers. Its founder and chief executive officer, Muzzammil ("Mo") S. Hassan, 40, says he chose the name because its purpose is "to build bridges of friendship and understanding." He told the Voice of America that "There should be a Muslim media so that Muslim children growing up in America grow up with the self confidence and high self esteem about their identity both as Americans and as Muslims."
Logo of Bridges TV
It is hard to imagine that hard-headed investors would put their funds into an operation premised on the mythical but faulty figure of 7 million Muslims in the United States, but if they really did, then I suspect it won't be around very long. (November 26, 2004)
Nov. 29, 2004 update: The press release announcing Bridges TV's going on air casually mentions "the 8 million Muslims of North America." Given that Canada has an authenticated Muslim population of just under 600,000, that implies U.S. Muslims number 7.4 million. The release goes yet further out on a limb, quoting a Zogby 2000 survey to predict that the American Muslim population will "more than double to 15 million in the next ten years." Who is fooling whom?
Dec. 2, 2004 update: Robert Spencer did a bit of digging into Bridges TV and notes this FAQ exchange:
How can I check the legitimacy of Bridges TV?
You may wish to check the legitimacy of Bridges TV with:
1. Imam W. Deen Muhammad. Imam of American Society of Muslims, the largest Muslim organization in North America. Their Muslim Journal has run cover story articles and full-page ads on Bridges TV. Phone number: 708-798-6750.
2. Dr. Souheil Ghannouchi, President of Muslim American Society, the largest Arab American national organization. Phone number: 703-998-6525.
3. Nihad Awad, Executive Director of CAIR -- the most prestigious American Muslim advocacy group in North America. CAIR phone number: 202-488-8787.
4. Aleem Rahman, President & CEO of IslamiCity.com, the largest Muslim Web site in North America. Phone number: 310-642-0006.
5. Mr. Alex Kronemer, creator and producer of $3 million PBS movie Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. Phone number: 301-438-3993.
W. Deen Mohammed has a mixed record but the other four are all out-and-out Islamists. So, I take back my "It all sounds great" comment above. It sounds, rather, like another dismal effort of the Wahhabi lobby.
Jan. 5, 2005 update: Indeed, a bit more research into Bridges TV turns up some of the advance publicity its leadership garnered to help with fundraising. The original PDF from 2003 at http://www.bridges.tv/BTV_Overview.pdf has disappeared but I have posted its contents on this website at "Bridges TV Testimonials." It includes fawning laudatory quotations from such Islamists as Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR, Laila Al-Marayati of the Muslim Women's League, Eric Vickers, Khalid Qazi, and Faiz Rehman of the American Muslim Council, Iqbal Yunus of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and Louay Safi of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists.
Feb. 15, 2005 update: A puff-piece today states that "With 10,000 subscribers already paid up, there is clearly a great demand for programming catered to this niche." Out of a supposed potential audience of 7.4 million, that does not strike me as "clearly a great demand" for what Bridges TV has to offer.
Apr. 5, 2005 update: CAIR's Chicago office is calling on members to demand that Comcast add Bridges TV to its programming.
Adding Bridges TV to Comcast Update: Proactive community members have reacted swiftly and powerfully to our campaign to get Comcast to add Bridges TV to its programming lineup. A Comcast executive has admitted receiving an overwhelming number of requests! But more work has yet to be done. If you have not already, please contact Comcast to add Bridges TV to its Chicago service. Call: 1-888-comcast
May 18, 2005 update: A Bridges TV press release today includes another interesting demographic statistic: that Islam has "a 6.2 percent annual growth rate" in the United States. I sure wonder where that comes from.
May 1, 2006 update: After nearly a year and a half in operation, where does Bridges TV stand? Judging by a report in the Buffalo News, its commercial prospects look pretty desperate. Responding to an aggressive campaign (which has included accusations of "Islamophobia") to include the station as part of Adelphia Communications' basic cable lineup, Adelphia has released some figures: In the Erie and Niagara counties of New York State, only 34 subscribers of its 300,000 customers have signed up to pay the additional $14.99 per month to receive Bridges TV. The company also indicated it had received a total of 106 e-mail complaints about the premium service fee, of which only 19 came from western New York and only 10 from current customers.
June 14, 2006 update: Thirty-four subscribers out of 300,000, when backed by an effective pressure campaign, turns out to be an adequate number, after all. "Bridges TV Goes Mainstream on Adelphia Cable: The Network Is No Longer a Premium Service on Adelphia Cable," reads Bridges TV's triumphant press release. The programming will be available on channel 260 of Adelphia Digital Basic Cable service. Nancy Sanders, Bridges TV's news director, helpfully pointed out that her station offers "a completely unique perspective on issues from Danish Cartoons to Dubai Ports."
Oct. 19, 2006 update: Bridges TV has extended its availability into six states, creating a potential audience of nearly 2 million. As its reach spreads, so does the scrutiny. Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) reports on some of its more dubious guests:
One religious figure who appeared October 3 said Muslims have a duty to change America and to increase their numbers to 50% of the population from 2%. He recommended that Shariah, or Islamic law, be implemented in American courts. During a roundtable discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict on October 5, one participant offered a solution: "For the Jews to leave and return to Europe."
Bridges TV aired a speech by the influential Muslim scholar Jamal Badawi on October 4. Mr. Badawi, who teaches Islam throughout North America, gave an interview to the Saudi Gazette on June 24, 2005, in which he raised questions about who was behind the September 11 attacks and suggested that Americans could be behind the car bombings of Iraqi markets.
Every night, Bridges TV shows a news program, "Talking Points." Its guest on October 4 was Imam Mohammad Alo Elahi, whom it described as a leading "interfaith figure." According to his Web site, Imam Elahi was a spiritual leader in Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian navy and also is the leader of "one of the largest mosques in the U.S.," in Dearborn, Mich. The Web site describes his meetings with world leaders and shows photographs of him with the spiritual adviser of Hezbollah, Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah; Ayatollah Khomeini; Presidents Khatemi and Rafsanjani of Iran; Secretary-General Annan of the United Nations; and Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Throughout the day, Bridges TV airs segments of Koranic verses, quite a few of which denounce "unbelievers." One notable verse that aired October 9 praised martyrdom.
Since the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began, the channel has been showing official, Saudi government-controlled Wahhabi sermons from Mecca's holiest mosque, Al-Haram. The sermons stream live via Saudi TV Channel one every day at 4 p.m., and Bridges TV adds its own English subtitles. An anti-Jewish, anti-Christian sermon from October 5 included the call, "May God destroy them!"
Dec. 1, 2006 update: Hassan took time off from a fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia (makes sense he'd look for money there, the United States proving so infertile for his schemes), to grant an informative interview to the English-language Arab News.
First, he explains how the idea for the station originated with his wife:
The idea of Bridges TV came about soon after 9/11. My wife, Aasiya Zubair, and I were driving from New York to Detroit in November 2001 and we were listening to the radio. During the radio program, a number of derogatory comments were made about Muslims and Arabs. It was very upsetting. So my wife suggested that there should be some kind of media which would give Muslims in America a voice. "Why don't you do it?" she asked me. That is how I got started on this project.
Second, Hassan has grand plans for his little network.
Bridges TV is a very important need in our time. It is very historic. For the first time in America, the estimated eight million American Muslims have a voice in the mainstream media. We have been able to present Arab and Muslim points of view, but at the same time we have been very respectful of other people.
NB: Hassan still puts the count of U.S. Muslims at eight million. Third, he boasts of being a home-grown product:
Bridges TV allows Americans to learn more about Muslims. Most importantly, we have a cable distribution contract. That is extremely difficult to come by. Unlike other TV stations [an allusion to the recently launched Al Jazeera English TV channel] we are considered an American channel, owned and operated by Americans and that kind of gives us credibility with average Americans.
Fourth, Hassan confirms his Islamist colors by chosing to invite CAIR to his station:
There is tension between the Muslim community and the FBI. So we recently had a show in which we did something like a FBI-Muslim town hall meeting. We invited a top FBI official. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the largest civil rights Muslim organizations in the US, hosted the show, and then people from all across the country called in with their questions and issues. It became a direct, live interaction between the Muslim community and the FBI. It gave the FBI an opportunity on national television to listen to our people's concerns and worries.
Fifth, Hassan tries to convince his Arab News readership that all is well in Bridges TV-land, which is gaining a national audience:
When we were in the pay-channel model, people had to pay to watch us and so 90 percent of the subscribers of Bridges TV were Muslims. But now since we are moving into the basic cable TV model where the channel will be free, it will be watched by everybody. And so there will be substantial participation from non-Muslims.
Finally, Hassan closes with pious, gooey expressions of Islamic-American similarities that must leave Saudi readers shaking their heads:
The level of ignorance regarding Muslims and Islam is very high in the United States and it will take a lot of time for non-Muslim Americans to realize that they and their Muslim neighbors share many of the same values — raising families, pursuing careers and finding peace."
"Muzzammil Hassan receives award from CAIR-PA Chairman Iftekhar Hussain and CAIR National Chairman Parvez Ahmed."
Oct. 5, 2008 update: Today is "Muslim Family Day" at the Six Flags over Texas amusement park, hosted by the Dallas branch of an Islamist organization, the Islamic Circle of North America. The day's sponsors include a who's who of Wahhabi lobby denizens, including Amana Mutual Funds Trust, CAIR, Lariba, and Bridges TV.
Aug. 2, 2007 update: For anyone interested in the contents of Bridges TV programming, its YouTube channel offers a taste: it's at http://www.youtube.com/user/BridgesTVdotcom.
Feb. 13, 2009 update: For coverage of the beheading of Aasiya Z. Hassan at the Bridge TV studio and its consequences, see my new weblog entry, "Bridges TV, a Wife's Beheading, and Honor Murder."