Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why the AQ brass is up in arms about AlJazeera

Al-Fajr Media Center has posted on the internet a more-detailed explanation of the complaint the AlQaeda media establishment is pressing against the satellite news channel AlJazeera for its broadcast, this past Monday, of only excerpts of the Bin Laden statement. (And Al-Fajr posts the statement not only in Arabic but also in an English-language rendition, suggesting that for some reason even the AQ brass have become sensitive the state of opinions in the anglosphere).

The Al-Fajr statement naturally complains about the fact that the AlJazeera excerpting left out any mention of Bin Laden's warning against allowing jihadis to participate in the electoral or parliamentary process, his warning against the "hypocrites" who join the factions in order to sow fitna, and against listening to the bought-and-paid-for Saudi clerics, and so on. But their main point is a more general one, namely the idea that AlJazeera deliberately misrepresented who it was that Bin Laden's advice and criticism was directed to. The statement says:
While the speech was intended as advice to the people of Iraq generally, and to sincere (or creditable) people of jihad in particular, in that it advised them to settle their disputes via the precise application of law (shariah) and he invited all to submit to the judgment of God almighty, and warned them not to submit to jurisdiction of the clerics of the [Arabian] peninsula...
In other words, Bin Laden, according to the AQ brass, was addressing himself to everyone--the whole ummah or that part of it living in Iraq--and more in particular to everyone in Iraq who has genuinely taken up the obligation of jihad. The "advice" respecting settlement of disputes and so on is intended as advice to that whole universe of Muslims and then to the subgroup that has taken up jihad, and not to some particular defined group or faction called "AlQaeda". That is their point. And it means that the whole speech on avoiding "taassub" (which means clinging together in a narrow group; and more particularly "fanatical adherence" to a narrow group) was intended in that way. If you want to talk on the level of "factions", then you could say AQ is just as much a bundle of "factions" as any of the other group and "mistakes were made" and so on and so forth, and of course that is true, but the whole point is to get beyond this thinking in terms of factions. Mistakes were made everywhere. That's what the culture of the "men of knowlege and virtue" is supposed to be able to address. So the Al-Fajr complaint is this: Bin Laden was addressing the ummah in Iraq and telling them to abandon factionalism and think in terms of the whole, submitting to a system for the resolution of disputes by those who are qualified to do so. And what AlJazeera did, according to this complaint, was to turn that around and make it appear that this was addressed to only one particular "faction", namely AlQaeda, and the Al-Fajr statement goes on:
The editors at the [AlJazeera] channel turned this matter on its head and make it appear that the words of Sheikh Osama were directed [only] to his brothers and sons in the AlQaeda organization, as if he was inculpating them, and in effect absolving them of jihad and of their commitment to it.
Which is not, of course, what AlJazeera was doing, or what Atwan, or what any of Iraqi resistance-supporters think they were doing. This is where it gets interesting.

In fact, if you look carefully at the statement of Bin Laden, and then at the AlJazeera excerpts and then at the Al-Fajr complaint, you will see something that, speaking just for myself, completely escaped me up to now. It is that in fact Bin Laden was making an important concession on behalf of his group, and it wasn't really just about "mistakes". It was that AlQaeda is not the exclusive vehicle of legitimate jihad. AlFajr's point about his addressing the whole of Iraq and more particularly the "genuine people of jihad", with recourse to authorities "of understanding and virtue" for dispute-settlement means that he was addressing the whole range of resistance groups, and by implication a whole range of mistakes, on all sides, without distinction. That's what he was getting at. On the ideological level that is.

In reality, some in Iraq see the mistakes overwhelmingly on the side of ISI brutality and arrogance; others see the mistakes more on the side of caving in to the American-sponsored political process. But it would be wrong to focus exclusively on this as a matter of taking sides, because the bigger importance of the Bin Laden message is that it has started people thinking about the need to get past that particular form of "factionalism" and start focusing instead on common aims. Or not that it started people thinking along those lines, but that it takes up the idea that Harith al-Dhari expressed in more partial terms in a widely-quoted AlJazeera interview recently, to the effect that AQ operatives are overwhelmingly Iraqis and "they are of us and we are of them."

All of which has caused me to reflect: When reading and thinking about material that is strange to you, you really have to be careful not to be too dogmatic or absolute about what you take from it. If you wanted a really ugly phrase for what I am getting at here, it would be "English language absolutism". Speaking just for myself, when I looked at the whole Bin Laden tape I thought it would be quite a stretch to interpret it as having to do with cross-group unity (I thought it sounded a bit more like domestic AQ housekeeping). Of course that was completely wrong, because I wasn't paying attention to the underlying assumption about the unity of the ummah and of jihad. That's what happens when you take someone else's ideology and dismiss it as mere words, because what then happens is that unbeknowns to yourself you substitute your own ideology. Sometimes it makes a difference. One example of that would be the assumption in 2003 that the American tanks were going to be garlanded with rose-petals or at least that organized or un-organized resistance wasn't something that needed to be worried about. And here we have a smaller example, but of the same phenomenon. If you throw out and disregard the ideology of the unity of the ummah and of jihad, and you thus interpret current resistance-group jockeying as mere oneupmanship such as you might see in Washington, say, then you will surely be caught flat-footed when and if there is in fact a meeting of the jihadi-resistance minds. It might not happen, but then again it seemed to many in the anglosphere that organized resistance to the American invasion might not happen either.


Blogger annie said...

thanks badger, i don't say it enough

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the past has Al Jazeera usually screened Bin Laden videos in full? ie was this redaction common or uncommon practise for AlJ?

3:57 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I'm not aware of any other cases of it.

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn. I was reading Juan Cole (which I've done less and less lately), and he linked back to you. I guess the point I'd like to make is that even though I sometimes get annoyed with his sometimes passive acceptance of, uh, stuff, I still think he's a good guy. He's just busy and doing a career.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never mind. Just found the link reference.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al-Jazeera is under no obligation to transmit Bin Laden messages in full. Any more than the statements of anyone anywhere. Selecting and compressing is a necessary and essential component of TV journalism. One has one's audience to think about, after all. And in this particular case al-Jazeera was probably right. If the rather arcane reflections of our Sheikh had been inflicted on an al-Jazeera audience in full, they would have switched off or -God forbid- have zapped to al-Arabiyya.

11:31 AM  
Blogger annie said...

al jaazera changed management last summer . the government of qatar was under a lot of pressure from certain circles. we won't be having any more 'accidental bombings' of their news stations, or 'accidentla killings' of their journalists anymore i presume.

In May the Amir of Qatar sacked the entire management board, including Wadah Khanfar, its director. In the turbulent politics of the Middle East this would not be considered unusual, except that the new chief is none other than Hamad Abdul Aziz al-Kuwari, a former Qatari ambassador to Washington, who is known for his close links with both Republican and Democratic politicians in the US.

Al-Jazeera may replace CNN in Israel

Al-Jazeera is under no obligation

lol, they are under obligation to somebody.

1:23 PM  
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