I did not anticipate that my editorial, “Bombing Aljazeera: a silly joke” would generate the amount of responses and debate that it did. My words were clear and unequivocal. I expected a response from those most concerned by its content but not from the countless scarecrows who did. Of course, I am not denying them the right to react but their response did not address the main issue at stake. Instead, they chose to give advice, judge my intentions and worse.
My stand towards Aljazeera is not caused by the state of Saudi- Qatari relations. Even if agreement replaced discord, as someone who became a symbol of reason once said to me, my answer would be that I would still disagree with the satellite channel. The difference of opinion is purely professional.
On a related note, I received an email by mistake from an employee at Aljazeera. It said, “Once more, Tariq Alhomayed, Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al Awsat, has volunteered to defend US policies and insult Aljazeera and its staff. I emailed him the following message yesterday and I urge my colleagues to follow suit…”
Is there a difference between such behavior and the internet and fax campaigns by Islamist extremists targeting writers and intellectuals? Nowadays, professional PR companies are responsible for such activities, not a satellite channel employee.
Another individual, who identified himself as an Aljazeera member of staff, emailed me and accused me of being “vile” because I allegedly quoted Aljazeera correspondent Tayseer Allouni who is currently in jail and therefore unable to respond. In truth, what I attributed to Allouni appeared in Asharq al Awsat on 28 February 2003. At the time, Allouni was not imprisoned but in Doha!
If my statements deserve such an accusation, then what about the Aljazeera presenter who once excused himself on air, and would return later on air? Or the journalist who quoted the dead? It seems I am being accused of their own ills.
My dispute with Aljazeera is professional; I disagree with everyone who promotes extremism and provides it with a platform. Broadcasting a videotape is vastly different to publicizing its message. Most of these tapes urge buildings be bombed and individuals killed across the Arab world. Terrorism supporters can be seen accusing leaders and society of infidelity, with the notable exception of the channel’s owners. We are told this is an exemplary media. I clearly disagree based not only on the message intended to viewers but also on professionalism.
This is why I will respond to the friends of Aljazeera from a professional angle and refrain from discussing their different points of view. If they hate the United States and Bush, this is entirely their affair. We are not in a football game where every party supports their team. I have decided to use logic and respect my professionalism, unlike others who choose to portray my comments as a defense of Bush.
I referred to Aljazeera as Abu Adas’ channel because of its coverage of the videotape in which Abu Adas confessed to the murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and how it contravened the most basic of journalistic principles! A mention of the channel was included in the Mehlis report but strangely, no one has discussed this or criticized the report, adding credibility to their defense of Aljazeera!
I disagree with Aljazeera just as I have done with al Hurra and Al Arabiyah in the past. I have spoken my mind on both channels, whether correct or wrong. Everyone warns of the dangers of sectarianism and civil war yet no one seems to want to realize that we have a sectarian and ideologically- driven media, one that seeks to set fire to our cities in order to search for a mouse in the darkness! Take Iraq as an example of the channel’s coverage: have the thousands of dead earned the right to receive the same air time as the masked insurgents?
A prominent writer, as he describes himself, wrote that the Americans did not appreciate hospitality, referring to the US bases in Qatar! Hospitality? He should have said presence given that Aljazeera, who he had recommended should receive a medal, used the term occupation to describe the same US presence but outside of Qatar. Didn’t the channel devote countless programs, talk shows and guest speakers to attack this occupation? What about the military bases in today’s coverage?
In its quest to enflame public opinion against these bases, currently referred to as hospitality, Aljazeera celebrated Osama bin Laden and went as far as covering his son’s wedding and broadcast footage of him riding his horse! Has this channel ever excited its viewers with news on Qatar? Or does the country’s democracy resemble the Iraqi’s joke when he told an American, whilst Saddam was still in power, “We enjoy as much freedom as you do when you attack your president. You curse him daily and so do we.”
The difference between me and other celebrated journalists is that I do not believe yelling and talking at random are heroic acts. I also refuse to give in to media hype. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of freedom is the responsibility it carries with it.
By that I mean journalism should be based on facts and not lies and exaggeration, such as the one that prompted a prominent writer to use the term “male prostitute” in his article. Let me remind him of the saying, “the most important thing for a hero – if he ever was one- is to know when to stop”!
To the dear colleagues who want us to believe the silly joke about the US bombing of Aljazeera, I can only say, “If the sane individual believes the unbelievable, then he is not sane after all”. Hating America is not the same as self-deprecation. Is Qatar more powerful than Europe and its armies or stronger than China to merit a US strike on a television station?
Faces and opinions have not changed at Aljazeera; why should the US decide to bomb it at this present time?
Here was the editor-in-chief who lectured and attacked those who opted to be rational and said, “A media outlet does not rejoice at the number of supporters but that of viewers from all persuasions. Nothing harms a media institution more than marginalization and negligence”.
Don’t these criteria apply to, say, pornographic channels? With this standard, aren’t extremist forums more successful than your publication with respect to the number of followers? Our university professor was right when he criticized the Arab media for being the profession of those unqualified for any other!
As for another former editor-in-chief, a slightly more intelligent and humorous character, he wrote to me quoting snippets of information in order to portray my position as a defense of the US president. He demanded I respect the intelligence of my readers and refrain from vile language!
I shall let him do all the talking and quote from an article published on 29 May 2003 in which he discussed Aljazeera, which he now sees as an invigorating channel. “Aljazeera invents a lie, publicizes it and then believes it. It then builds analysis and opinions onto it. Suffice it to say, Aljazeera you lie. Lying never leads to glory! The imagination of those at the helm will dry out and they will find themselves, sooner or later, borrowing from Jewish and Buddhist myths. These will quench the thirst of those attracted by the feeble minded”, he wrote at the time.
The above was a direct quote from his article. The difference between us is that he subjected his position to politics while I wrote and will do continue to do so, in the future, based on journalistic criteria. Needless to say, my tone was never as low as this.
When I wrote clearly and directly, I wanted to be open and refrain from hiding behind rhetoric. Writing by conviction is not motivated by ideology or personal spats, as some have chosen to do.