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.
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.