The Guardian Newspaper has run an oped style query titled “Why Do You Want to Bomb Me, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair?” by Al-Jazeera Managing Director Wadah Kanfar today, and it’s very interesting, particularly because it reminds us that Al-Jazeera was thought of very differently before 9/11.
One point of headline confusion though. It is my understanding that the memo the British don’t want to release and about which a prosecution may be underway under the Official Secrets Act states that President Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera. Tony Blair, in contrast, was trying to dissuade our Commander-in-Chief from doing so. Just want to make sure that Tony Blair gets credit for decency here.
Furthermore, TWN has confirmed this morning that there were several other government officials and civil servants in the meeting between Bush and Blair and that Secretary of State Colin Powell was one of them. Powell would have known that few things would be worse for America’s image than bombing Al-Jazeera‘s Doha headquarters, so let’s hope that he helped broker restraint. So far, Powell has continued his silence on these closely-held policy discussions.
I also had no idea that Al-Jazeera was the “fifth most influential brand name in the world,” following Starbucks, Ikea, Apple, and Google.
Here is a longish excerpt of Kanfar’s article, but do read the whole thing:
I have lost count of the number of accusations levelled against al-Jazeera and the incidents of harassment to which it has been subjected since it was founded in 1996. It was rumoured to have been set up by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency with the purpose of improving Israel’s standing in the Arab world. It has also been accused of being a CIA mouthpiece designed to disseminate western culture among the Arabs.
Some have suggested that it is part of an international conspiracy to break up the Arab world by means of stirring up discord and creating problems for the Arab regimes. Others decided it was a front for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban; or funded by Saddam Hussein. And, at the same time, it has been condemned by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and bitterly criticised by Donald Rumsfeld.
We know that the intelligence services of some Arab regimes have resorted to spreading rumours about al-Jazeera in an effort to deter Arab viewers from watching it. These are the same regimes that recalled ambassadors from Qatar in protest at its hosting al-Jazeera, and the same regimes that closed the station’s offices in their countries and detained its correspondents.
Until 2001, al-Jazeera was perceived in a positive way in the west as a whole and the US in particular. It was seen as the single most important force for reform and democracy across the Arab region. Harassment by Arab regimes was considered proof of its professionalism and testimony to its objectivity.
Indeed, al-Jazeera had from its foundation the slogan of “the opinion and the other opinion” and refused to favour one side over another at the expense of truth. As a result, in record time al-Jazeera became the Arabs’ number one channel, and last year it was voted the fifth most influential brand name in the world, after Starbucks, Ikea, Apple and Google.
In the aftermath of the September 11 events, al-Jazeera found itself on the frontline of media coverage in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The greater its reputation became globally, the more frustrated some western governments became.
The “other opinion” this time did not seem to suit international decision-makers. Criticisms started pouring in and created an opportunity for some Arab regimes to incite the US administration against al-Jazeera; some have even gone as far as demanding the closure of al-Jazeera as a precondition for full cooperation with the US.
Iraq has been a crucial turning point not only in al-Jazeera’s work but for media coverage as a whole; 74 journalists, crew and their translators have lost their lives since the start of the war – two of them belonging to al-Jazeera. As far as harassment goes, al-Jazeera has incurred the biggest share.
It has been accused by the US of inciting violence through the broadcast of al-Qaida tapes and of playing footage of beheadings. Our viewers know that no beheadings whatsoever were shown on our screens. And we follow strict professional rules in handling the tapes of Bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders; we only play short, carefully selected and clearly newsworthy clips, and they are followed by analytical discussion, frequently including American commentators.
Al-Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed; we were told at the time that both bombings were mistakes. We pushed for an official investigation, but thus far have received neither the findings of any investigation nor any official apology.
Wadah Kanfar is planning a trip to Washington soon, and if I am here, I plan to meet him to dig more deeply into what Al-Jazeera knows about the memo itself.
I’ll give fair warning to the blogging-addicted political commentators in London and Tel Aviv that I will be on their turf soon. I’ll be in London from December 4 til the 9th, and then Tel Aviv from December 10th til the 14th.
Also in The Guardian this morning was a piece on Bush’s Iraq victory strategy by D.C. Bureau Chief Julian Borger, who was good to include a short missive by TWN‘s publisher:
Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Programme at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, said Mr Bush’s war aims failed to address the strains on US armed forces imposed by Iraq.
“It’s a very expansive commitment and it blows by the structural questions,” Mr Clemons said. He added that those problems could only be resolved by a withdrawal, changing the current rules limiting the frequency of combat tours for individual units, or by moving towards a draft. He said Mr Bush was trying to escape those problems by portraying Iraqi forces as more ready than they actually are.
In other words, George Bush engaged in some very duplicitous “grade inflation” yesterday in his rosy performance assessment of Iraqi security battalions, kind of like giving an illiterate high school graduate a passing grade.
— Steve Clemons