Those Leaked Al Jazeera Emails On Charlie Hebdo

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The National Review Online, the web-version of the right-wing American current affairs magazine, has published a series of “leaked” emails from the Al Jazeera news network under the somewhat disingenuous headline “Leaked Newsroom Emails Reveal Al Jazeera Fury over Global Support for Charlie Hebdo“. In fact the emails don’t reveal any such “fury” but rather an internal debate amongst staff  sparked by an email from Salah-Aldeen Khadr, the editor and executive producer of  Al Jazeera English, calling for a more nuanced and analytical take on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. A not entirely unreasonable thing to do given the broadcaster’s roots in the Middle East and reflecting that region’s contrasting views on such matters. Unfortunately some Western news outlets, especially Anglophone ones (which of course primarily means the United States, Britain, etc.), seem incapable of understanding that not everyone in the world sees it the way they do. That we live in a global community of communities with a multiplicity of opinions shaped by local geopolitical, social, cultural and historical circumstances. Anyone who truly believes that the majority of staff at Al Jazeera opposed publicising popular support and sympathy for the people who lost their lives during the attacks in France is incapable of thinking the complex thoughts of an adult.

Below is the email from Salah-Aldeen Khadr to his staff:

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Subject: AJ coverage of events in Paris

Dear Editorial colleagues,

Please accept this note in the spirit it is intended – to make our coverage the best that it can be …. We are Al Jazeera!!!!

My suggestion is that we question and raise the following points in our coverage – studio/anchors/guests/correspondents:

  • This was a targeted attack, not a broad attack on the french population a la Twin towers or 7/7 style. So who was this attack against? The whole of France/EU society? Or specifically this magazine. The difference lies in how this is reported not in how terrible the act is obviously – murder is murder either way… but poses a narrower question of the “why”? attack on french society and values? Only if you consider CH’s racist caricatures to be the best of European intellectual production (total whitewash on that at the moment)

  • Was this really an attack on “Free speech”? Who is attacking free speech here exactly? Does an attack by 2-3 guys on a controversial magazine equate to a civilizational attack on European values..? Really?

  • “I am Charlie” as an alienating slogan – with us or against us type of statement – one can be anti-CH’s racism and ALSO against murdering people(!) (obvious I know but worth stating)

  • Also worth stating that we still don’t know much about the motivations of the attackers outside of the few words overheard on the video. Yes, clearly it was a “punishment” for the cartoons, but it didn’t take them 8/9 years to prep this attack (2006 was Danish/CH publication) – this is perhaps a response to something more immediate…French action against ISIL…? Mali? Libya? CH just the target ie focus of the attack..?

  • Danger in making this a free speech aka “European Values” under attack binary is that it once again constructs European identity in opposition to Islam (sacred depictions) and cements the notion of a European identity under threat from an Islamic retrograde culture of which the attackers are merely the violent tip of the iceberg (see the seeping of Far Right discourse into french normalcy with Houellebecque’s novel for example)

  • The key is to look at the biographies of these guys – contrary to conventional wisdom, they were radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed

  • You don’t actually stick it to the terrorists by insulting the majority of Muslims by reproducing more cartoons – you actually entrench the very animosity and divisions these guys seek to sow.

  • This is a clash of extremist fringes…

    I suggest a re-read of the Time magazine article back from 2011 and I have selected the most poignant/important excerpt….

  • It’s unclear what the objectives of the caricatures were other than to offend Muslims—and provoke hysteria among extremists.

Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response —however illegitimate — is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.

Kind regards

Salah-Aldeen Khadr
​Executive Producer
Al Jazeera English”

Far more obnoxious to my mind is this exchange from Fox News, a channel broadcasting into the homes of millions of American citizens every day. Here is Shannon Bream, TV anchor and Supreme Court correspondent:

“That’s my question about these guys. If we know they were speaking unaccented French and they had ski masks on, do we even know what color they were, what the tone of their skin was? I mean, what if they didn’t look like typical bad guys? As we define them when we think about terror groups.”

In other words when we encounter men with black, brown or beige skin we should immediately think of “typical bad guys”? As I said, when dealing with such opinions you are not dealing with adults – you are dealing with people who see the world as children.

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20 comments

  1. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was a direct attack on European free speech. It is a common military strategy to bash in the head of your loudest opponent or most prolific proponent of action against you. Charlie Hebdo was one of the most outspoken, confrontational, and offensive of all of the French satire magazines. He was a perfect target in terms of that strategy. It will serve as a warning and intimidation to those more demure. The clear and well-articulated argument at the very beginning of this particular message mitigates the attack down to a causation based on the level of offensiveness and dismisses the greater strategy Just because some dismiss radical Islam as barbaric and medieval, does not make them incapable of following basic PSYOP strategies to further their agenda. Remember, the most prevalent Republican papers were also frequent targets back in the day, and for the same reason. The person who authored this e-mail is either not very knowledgeable, or is purposefully attempting to veil the somewhat obvious motivation behind the attack in the perpetrators’ supposed outrage. It would not surprise me if the e-mail was not leaked on purpose for the benefit of allaying some of the anger. What the American right-wingers make out of it…well, we all know crazy people are somewhat unpredictable. There was a time were folks of that ilk didn’t get that Springsteen’s song “Born in the USA” was actually critical of America’s foreign policies.

  2. ..agus, I like the banner on the bottom of the video referring to a particular type of infection. That is kind of what the whole US right wing is to the nation.

    1. That article appears like it is victim blaming. Nothing ever published in that magazine, at least by European standards, even remotely justified what happened.

      1. Cad is ‘European standards’ ann? Dlúthchuid den tsochaí Eorpach i gcoitinne anois is ea an Machmadachas, a bhaochas san ar lucht ceannais (polaitíochta is gnótha) na hEorpa a thug na milliúin Moslamach thar teorainn isteach thar na blianta, agus ar an ndream a bheireadh lántacaíocht dóibh lena linn .i. na meáin chumarsáide (thar ceann an dá ‘eite’), tráchtaírí sóisialta, cuallacht an acadaimh (leis an eite chlé don chuid is mó dóibh siúd), agus, gan amhras, lucht an ‘dul-chun-cinn’ (leis an eite chlé iad san ar fad). Aoinne go mbeadh amhras air i dtaobh pholasái oifigiúil seo na hollinimirce, do casfaí an ‘ciníochas’ leis. Bhoil, a fheara, tá buanphobal Machmadach lonnaithe anois inár measc, agus ar a shon nach díograiseoir díbhirceach gach duine acu, ná go deimhin a bhformhór, táid go léir ar aonaigne maidir le ceist an diamhasla de; ós rud é gur slánchuid dár saol iad na Moslamaigh, más ea, ní foláir a n-intinn-sean a chur san áireamh, agus stríocadh di, b’fhéidir, ar mhaithe leis an maitheas chomhchoiteann ar ndóigh… (munab ar olca léi é). Ar a laghad ar bith, meabhraíonn an gnáthphobal gnáthMhoslamach dúinn rud ab eol dár sinsir féin, rud ab ansa leo ná mbeo. Ina theannta san, bheirid dúshlán an chur i gcéill is ‘European (nó ‘Western’) standards’ ann, agus dúshlán an bhréagchrábhaidh sin, an ‘saorchead cainte’, nach bréag go dtí é, m.sh. ‘hatespeech’, ‘Holocaust Denial’ srl.

        1. European standards are that even the folks on the fringe may have their day in expressing “hate speech,” “Holocaust Denial,” and whatever else insulting, offensive, derogatory, their infantile and cruel minds may want to spew, without someone coming to their office and killing them for the mere words and the cartoons they publish (be it part of a greater military strategy or not). It is a hallmark of a truly free civilisation to allow for this. I want to make clear here that I have great respect for people’s religious beliefs as you may gather from other posts here in this forum, and have studied many religious texts, I know the Qu’ran as well as the bible, for example. I am highly offended by many of the “satirical” magazines and their depictions. However, what is deemed offensive and incites violence is matter of what time it is and what morals prevail. Today Charlie is offensive, tomorrow it may be Mohammed (peace be upon him). The standard is that even when the attitude towards certain morals and beliefs changes, the freedom to express them cannot be infringed upon, especially by means of the death penalty. The Holocaust is a great example, when the Jewish belief and heritage were deemed to be so offensive that millions were put to death for them. That is simply unacceptable. This is why this freedom must be vigorously defended in the face of extreme adversity. It is this very freedom that allows for believers of different religions to freely practise them in European countries, including Islam and Christianity (inclusive of the more militant beliefs in all of them). Blasphemy laws are, even though they exist in some European countries, actually unconstitutional, as not only do they infringe on free speech, but just like many moral interpretations, what constitutes blasphemy changes with time, making them unenforceable. Many religions, treat other religions as blasphemy. Who do you ban? When the argument is brought that only speech that could incite violence is to be forbidden, what if the mere sight of one religion’s expressions incites riotous behaviour in another (see the famous “porn” frescoes on some east-asian temples)? People like Charlie and their readership are the fringe. Their following and the people that act upon their message, are a tiny portion of society. In preserving freedom of expression for everyone else, theirs must be tolerated. The rest of the world cannot be so perturbed over the excesses of the few to sacrifice rights of the many or hurt the innocent to punish them. This assigns way too much importance and legitimacy to their ilk. Also, in most religions, faith and any offenses against faith are matters for God. Man should not interfere. “Vengeance is mine” – this one is in the old testament, for instance, which governs all of the major religions associated with it, including Islam الله أكبر، يا صديقي.

          1. Maith go leor, ach an ea go bhfuil staid idéalach Phlátónach i gceist agat, rud ba mhian leatsa bheith ann ach nach ann dó go fóill, óir, ach níl na ‘European standards’ atá luaite agat le fáil i dtír ar bith san Eoraip! (I dtaca le ‘Holocaust Denial’ de, sea, ní cuirfear duine chun báis, ach gearrfar príosún air i gcúig cinn déag de thíortha Eorpacha: An Bheilg, An Fhrainc (vive la liberté!), An Eilbhéis, An Ghearmáin, An Ísiltír, Liechtenstein (!), Lucsamburg, An Ostair, An Pholainn, An Phortaingéil, An Rómáin, An tSeic, An tSlóvaic, An Ungáir, An Liotuáin; agus déanfaidh na húdaráis i ngach tír acu deimhin de gur deacair dó slí bheatha a bhaint amach ina dhiaidh sin; seo dhuit an modh liobrálach – ciúin, de réir dlí, gan doirteadh fola gan trócaire). Tá ‘anti-hate laws’ (.i. ‘anti-free speech laws’) i bhfeidhm i ngach tír san AE. Mar sin, cá bhfuil an Eoraip úd go bhfuil na ‘European standards’ i réim inti? Deir tú: ‘People like Charlie and their readership are the fringe. Their following and the people that act upon their message, are a tiny portion of society.’. Au contraire, a chara. Ba pheataí bána de chuid bhuanréimeas na Fraince iad Charlie; bhíodar fé ghradam ag élite na tíre, idir chultúrtha is pholaitiúla; bronnadh suaitheantas oifigiúil (Légion d’Honneur) ar dhuine acu ar a laghad (Wolinski). Cleas iad a sheas i gcónaí do chearta scothaicme na Poblachta in aghaidh na n-íochtarán ab ábhar fuatha don élite: Caitlicigh, Moslamaigh, náisiúnaithe. Aisteach go leor, tugadh bata is bóthar do chartúnaí amháin (Siné) mar gheall ar ‘antisemitism’; i bhfriotal na bainríona: ‘some sensitivities are more equal than others’, nó, mar a duairt tráchtaire eile, in áit eile, ‘Charlie Hebdo spoke truth to the powerless’. Fírinne na Cinsealachta, gan amhras. Nílim á rá gur maith an rud é gur maraíodh Cabu, Tignous, Wolinski et al., ná gur chóir go gcuirfí daoine mar iad chun báis — ba dhrochrud san — ach má théir isteach ar tharbh fainic a dhá adharc.

            1. Good points. Yes the standard is an ideal, most such standards are. The belief that free speech is paramount to a free society in Europe is several hundred years old, and was made part of the most liberal (in that context) constitutions. It is the first amendment of the American constitution, for example. That it is regularly violated, is a shame, but also unfortunate reality. Controlling thought by controlling speech has always been the desire of those in charge. Using public outrage to justify limitations is a common power-play. It has been throughout human history. Most of the current restrictions are not that old, actually. Any country limiting free speech is simply not really free. The mere precedence allowing limitations opens the door to future repression. Is breá liom “An Fhrainc (vive la liberté!)”

  3. All the talk in the media about the primacy of free speech in the west is so much hot air. Most western countries rigorously enforce laws that infringe on the right to say or write what one likes. For example many European countries, including France, have outlawed holocaust denial in recent times. The Franco African comedian Dieudonne has been banned from tv in France for mocking Jews. Britain banned the American shock jock Michael Savage from its shores several years ago. Muslim clerics in Britain have been prosecuted for incitement, as have several far-right politicians. Section 31 was widely supported in Ireland by both the media and the political class. You may agree or disagree with some, or all, of these restrictions, but that is not germane in this context. The real point is that such restrictions, justified or not, illustrate the absurdity of western leaders and western media preening themselves on their commitment to free speech as an absolute value. What they really mean when they say this is that they are committed to upholding the right to free speech as long as those exercising this right speak in ways they approve of – or at least in ways they don’t strongly DISAPPROVE of. In that sense western liberals don’t differ greatly from the Islamic fundamentalists they excoriate. And by the way, the manner in which events such as 9/11, the London bombings of 7/7 and the Paris attack are uniformly reported in the western media itself gives the lie to the idea of a free and diverse journalistic culture in the west. As usual there has been zero journalistic questioning of the official story of what happened in Paris. The alleged culprits had already been convicted by the corporate media well before they were reported to have been shot dead.

    1. Very good points about section31 and those people mentioned been banned also.
      I am not religious but under the religion of Islam they are against Iconography. I think they could do satire on Islam without this. After all when we watch the news we don’t see the actual beheadings carried out by Islamic State etc…I definately don’t want to see this.
      So, If the media ; rightly in my view doesn’t show this horror it could also show restraint in other areas..Such as in the abuse of Icons Just my two cents.
      Surely some things should remain “beyond the Pale”?

    2. Very good points, indeed. That is why a critical public must remind them of their duty to stick to preserving that freedom by being selective in elections and where they spend their money when it comes to the media.

    3. Just on another point about free speech. It is reported that this Charlie newspaper sacked a worker in 2009 for allegedly doing a piece that was anti Semitic. Hypocrisy runs deep. I hope this same paper will a piece that will mock netanyahus attendance at the rally last Sunday. To be associated with a man who has no compunction about killing Moslems surely should be confronted by the great and the good?

      1. Yes, and as I understand it the piece merely implied that Sarkozy’s son’s conversion to Judaism may have had motives that weren’t 100 per cent religious in nature. Not only was he sacked from Hebdo for making this mildly satirical comment – he was also charged with hate speech. It’s also worth pointing out that Hebdo strongly supported western liberal interventionist wars in Syria, Libya and elsewhere – the many victims of which don’t get a huge amount of coverage, much less sympathy, in western political and media circles. Today the aforementioned French-African comedian Dieudonne has been questioned by French police for allegedly posting offensive tweets about last week’s events in Paris. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

        “Accept our passionate commitment to Free Speech or we will lock you up” seems to be the new motto of our ruling class.

          1. I know little about Diedonne, but personally I regard the state of Israel as racist and anti-Semitic (in the sense of being anti-Arab). Imagine the huge outcry if Diedonne, or anyone else, had said that France should define itself as a Catholic state, or a Huguenot state or a Muslim state. Yet Israel defines itself as an explicitly Jewish state and this is fine as far as liberal opinion formers in the west are concerned. Not only that, but it has a very harsh policy of imprisoning and/or expelling African asylum seekers. Again imagine the huge outcry from liberals, leftists and neocons if any other western nation adopted this approach to refugees.

          2. I don’t think the Vox piece comes remotely close to proving its assertion that Dieudonne is anti-Semitic. Really, identity politics left liberals can’t have it both ways: they can’t on the one hand celebrate the likes of Father Ted (which I personally believe is akin to 19th century Punch in its anti-Irish racism) as good healthy clergy bashing, not to mention the Hebdo cartoons, and so on, and then scream “anti-Semitic” when someone dresses up in orthodox Jewish clothes to make a political point about the power he – rightly or wrongly – perceives the Zionist lobby to have. As for what his “fans” did outside synagogues: no entertainer is responsible for the behaviour of his or her fans. If that were the case, mod groups in the 1960s and late 1970s would have a lot to answer for. Ditto punk, skinhead, and ska groups of the late 1970s and early 1980s. None of which is to argue that Dieudonne is NOT anti-Semitic (as I say, I know little about the man) – merely that the Vox piece fails completely to substantiate its categorical accusation.

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