Sunday, December 05, 2010

4-Dec-10: Should this man be accorded the respect due to an objective, professional journalist?

IAbdel al-Bari Atwan the kind of person who should be given
public platforms in highly prominent settings?  
As newspaper editors go, slick Abdel al-Bari Atwan gets more than the average amount of prominence.

Given the nature of his bluntly-expressed political views, he gets a surprising amount of respect from mainstream media channels including NPR, Sky News, CNN and the BBC (who call him Abdel-Bari Atwan) who host him frequently and which, for reasons which leave us wondering, present him as an objective observer on events in this part of the world.

Knowing what's on the public record (see an earlier blog article of ours: "16-Mar-08: The unindicted co-conspirators"), this might be surprising. He's far from objective as a cursory look at his output shows.

Mr. Atwan edits a London-based Arabic-language newspaper called Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The paper takes a robustly nationalistic Arab line and has several notable scoops to its name. In August 1996, it was the first to publish a fatwa, or declaration of war, "Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places". The author was Osama bin Laden.

In October 2003, after Atwan wrote that the hatred directed towards the United States by the Arab world is the fault of the United States itself, a US-based, Yemenite journalist and liberal columnist called Munir Al-Mawari who writes for another London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, made some interesting observations:
"The Abd Al-Bari Atwan [appearing] on CNN is completely different from the Abd Al-Bari Atwan on the Al-Jazeera network or in his Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily. On CNN, Atwan speaks solemnly and with total composure, presenting rational and balanced views. This is in complete contrast with his fuming appearances on Al-Jazeera and in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, in which he whips up the emotions of multitudes of viewers and readers."
We have been pondering those two faces of Atwan since learning that he is going to be honored by being invited to lecture publicly at the London School of Economics this coming Monday. (Source: "Terror supporting' Arabic-daily editor to speak at LSE")

The honor extended to this rather edgy journalist has aroused some controvery. Indeed, on his own personal website (the one where he describes himself as a "highly respected author" - and he would certainly know), Atwan claims at least some the uglier quotations attributed to him are false:
"I did not say any of the things listed on the Wikipedia site... They are false allegations, part of a smear campaign against me".
So in the interests of an open public record, and in the hope that someone attending the Atwan lecture in London might get the great man to go on the record and actually repudiate them, here are some Atwan statements that can be found in various online locations.

On one hand:
"I do not endorse or in any way support al-Qa'ida's agenda… I utterly condemn the attacks on innocent citizens in the West". [Source: The Secret History of Al-Qa'ida, Abdel Bari Atwan, Abacus (2006), ISBN 978-0-34-912035-5, p1]
On the other:
"The events of 11 September will be remembered as the end of the US empire. This is because all empires collapse when they pursue the arrogance of power."
Source: BBC
Sadam Hussein (who murdered countless numbers of Arabs and Iraqi Kurds) should be honored for preserving "the unity of Iraq, its Arab and Islamic identity and the coexistence of its different communities". Source: Africa News, December 31, 2006
In the case of war, Iran will retaliate against its Arab neighbors, American bases in the Gulf and "Allah willing, it will attack Israel, as well... If the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight."
Source: Wikipedia, referring to an interview in Arabic on Lebanese ANB television station, June 27, 2007 (also referred to in this Jerusalem Post article). The actual video clip (in Arabic with English subtitles) can be seen here. (Keep in mind that Atwan explicitly denies he said what is recorded in this video. He calls them "false allegations, part of a smear campaign".)
Atwan said the March 2008 point-blank, cold-blooded shooting-massacre by a Palestinian Arab gunman of eight unarmed high school students, most of them aged 15 or 16, at Jerusalem's Merkaz HaRav yeshiva "was justified." Their school is to blame, Atwan claims, by "hatching Israeli extremists and fundamentalists". Atwan says the celebrations in Gaza that followed the massacre symbolized "the courage of the Palestinian nation." Source: The Jerusalem Post
Depending on where you stand, justifying a terrorist massacre is not the worst of crimes. On the other hand, given what is at stake when it comes to defeating the practitioners of terror and their supporters, is Abdel al-Bari Atwan the kind of person who should be given public platforms in highly prominent settings?

Or is Abdel al-Bari Atwan simply the innocent victim of some atrocious misquoting?

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