Yet again, the Arab and Muslim worlds and their respective media organizations are faced with the thorny issue of how best to cover attacks on European capitals and the resulting loss of life. The latest events add to the controversy on the subjects of extremism, innocent victims, and the Arab and Muslim position.
The majority of Arab satellite television channels understood the importance of the series of explosions that rocked thee city of London on Thursday followed, a few hours later, by the execution of the Egyptian Ambassador in Iraq , Ihab al Sharif, by supporters of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The terrorists in Iraq kidnapped Cairo ’s representative and later made public photographs of al Sharif chained and blindfolded in a room as dark as his punishment turned out to be. Arab satellite stations covered both events albeit from different angles.
Perhaps the party most concerned with last Thursday’s deadly events is the Qatari channel al Jazeera because of the station’s connection to developments of this kind. The forceful language and condemnation exhibited by the station’s presenters and reporters when covering Iraq, Palestine, al Qaeda and other related extremists groups changes dramatically when discussing the West. It becomes cold and neutral, under the pretext of professionalism. Arguments on occupation and resistance can not justify this difference in coverage. Both events demand that sides be taken.
During its coverage of last Thursday’s bombings, in an interview with a guest on al Jazeera, the presenter referred to the events as “the assault on London ” quickly correcting himself to add “the attacks that shook the British capital”. This may be a minor confusion but it suggests a hidden justification of attacks on non-Muslim targets and implies a tolerance of those who carry them out, under the banner of journalistic ethics and neutrality.
Most of the questions of al Jazeera journalists, in the aftermath of the bombing, focused on the failure of US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair policy to “take the fight against terrorism to its source”. Questions of this type are justified and necessary but they should not form the initial and spontaneous reaction to the explosions. It may not be the role of the media to accuse any party but it is its job to describe events as they are. In this case, undoubtedly, the explosions in London are a crime. The questions asked by some journalists indicate that they must have prepared them in advance and waited for the explosions to occur so they could discuss the repercussions, before even reporting on the event!
Al Jazeera’s coverage of the brutal assassination of the Egyptian ambassador is best described as neutral but not frosty. In an analytical report, the channel analyzed the reasons for the kidnapping and subsequent murder: Was al Sharif punished for his government being the first to return its representatives to Baghdad ? Or was the diplomat the victim of his past as the ambassador to Israel ? Why, al Jazeera asked, was he targeted by the organization that is “described as extremist”?
Can it be that the Arab and Islamic worlds still lack a consensus on al Qaeda? Can we be courting controversy if we describe the organization as extremist?
The bombs in London and the execution of the Egyptian ambassador last Thursday are both heinous crimes. They should not be described otherwise.