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Live From Qatar: It's Jihad Television
By Kenneth R. Timmerman


For once, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher didn't mince words. "We've expressed our concerns about some of the kinds of things we've seen on their air, particularly inflammatory stories, totally untrue stories, things like that" he said at a daily briefing in early October 2001. "We would certainly like to see them tone down the rhetoric."

Boucher was not talking about the old Soviet Union, whose active-measures teams dreamed up wild conspiratorial stories about U.S. domination of the Third World and fed them to disinformation agents as "news." The culprit he was speaking of was the al-Jazeera TV satellite network, the proud creation of the emir of Qatar -- a U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf who has agreed to host U.S. Marine Expeditionary Units and allow U.S. fighter jets to base combat missions in his territory. Yet he finances the most vile anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda imaginable.

During the first month after Sept. 11, Al Jazeera rebroadcast excerpts from a 1998 canned interview with Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden dozens of times -- sometimes several times in a day -- in which bin Laden called on Muslims to kill Americans, Christians and Jews. The prominence given to the bin Laden statements prompted an unusual public scolding from Secretary of State Colin Powell on Oct. 8, 2001, during a visit to Washington by Sheik Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar.


The emir shrugged off the criticism, claiming al-Jazeera was part of his plan to create a parliamentary system for his kingdom.

Al-Jazeera's Washington correspondent, Hafiz al-Mirazi, had a similar response. "When you have a 24-hour broadcast, there are a lot of empty holes," he tells INSIGHT, explaining the frequent replays of the bin Laden interview. "Many people didn't know who bin Laden was before September 11. We do no propaganda for bin Laden. When you put President [George W.] Bush on live television at a memorial for one-and-a-half hours, it's the same thing," he adds.

While few Americans would agree with that equivalence, al-Jazeera's record does not tally with al-Mirazi's account. Prior to Sept. 11, the satellite-TV network prominently featured bin Laden in its broadcasts, and regularly invited bin Laden friends and sympathizers onto the air. "They had become jihad television," says U.S. scholar of Islam Daniel Pipes.

Consider this July 10, 2001, broadcast called Opposite Direction, one of many al-Jazeera talk shows touted as presenting "balanced" opinion and "fair" comment. Host Faysal al-Qassem called the program "Bin Laden -- The Arab Despair and American Fear," and opened it like this:

"Good evening, dear viewers. Do you know how much Osama bin Laden weighs? That's what one of the Arab leaders at the recent summit in Amman asked. The answer is: No more than 50 kilograms [110 pounds]. In contrast, the average weight of the Arab leaders is at least 80 kilograms [176 pounds], not to mention the weight of the [Arab] armies and the huge budgets. Nevertheless, the slender bin Laden has made the greatest power in history shudder at the sound of his name, [while] the physical and material heavyweights arouse only America's pity and ridicule." Click to continue reading the article.

 
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