Monday, June 10, 2013

10-Jun-13: The terrorists and the eye of the beholder

Atwan last week: Click here for the video clip
We have just viewed a short video clip [here] of an Egyptian television interview translated from Arabic to English on (and by) the excellent MEMRI website.

In it, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of a London-based Arabic paper called Al-Quds Al-Araby ("Arab Jerusalem"), speaks about one of his favourite themes, Osama Bin Laden and how he was not what people think he was.

MEMRI headlines the video: "Bin Laden Was Only Half a Terrorist". It went to air a week ago.
If you support the Palestinian resistance, you do not consider [Bin Laden's attacks] terrorism. But if you are with America, Europe, and Israel, you do consider it terrorism. It depends on your definition of terrorism... Whoever fights America and its enterprise in the region, and whoever fights Israel and the American occupation, is not considered a terrorist by me... Are you trying to destroy me [spoken to the interviewer while laughing happily]?
We have written here several times before about Abdel Bari Atwan. For instance, "18-Oct-12: This is not an attack on Abdel Bari Atwan"; "4-Dec-10: Should this man be accorded the respect due to an objective, professional journalist?"; and "16-Mar-08: The unindicted co-conspirators".

The man's terrorism-friendly views, his repeated public embrace of the language of racism, should not take him outside the circle of viewpoints that get to be heard in open, democratic societies like ours. His values may be what they are, but that's no reason to let them impact on ours. He is what he is and his very publicly applying the term "Uncle Tom" to the current US president - as one example among many - should not change that.

Even as we watch him giggling [here] at the Egyptian interviewer's questions about Bin Laden and the very flexible way he approaches the question of who is and who is not a terrorist, it's worth reminding ourselves that this should not be a reason for suppressing his voice. On the contrary: we need to hear voices like that of Atwan; it speaks for a large constituency. It's authentic and it is representative. If more people would view last week's TV interview, then more would understand the depths of the man's cynicism and the hypocrisy, prejudice and hatred that inform it.

Our problem with Atwan is the free ride he gets in the respectable media. Why this happens is not entirely a puzzle, but bothersome nonetheless. We think anyone who reads English translations of his Arabic outbursts will ask themselves how he keeps getting invited back as some sort of objective regional expert.

Relative to the repugnance of his views, Atwan gets an astonishing amount of respect in the television, radio and newsprint world. Note the quality of the venues that regularly give him a platform: BBC News over and again; Al Jazeerah; BBC Dateline; BBC News Review; RT ("Russia Today"); Chatham House London; The Guardian, The Scottish Herald, Gulf News and others. Amnesty International is among the world-class not-for-profits that provide Atwan with a thoroughly unjustified and damaging megaphone.  

Please take a moment to watch Atwan chortle here about Bin Laden
"He was half a terrorist (laughs). He was fighting for some causes... When he was fighting the US... he was not a terrorist. That is my view."
Half a year ago, we wrote (in "18-Oct-12: This is not an attack on Abdel Bari Atwan"):
We don't say Atwan should be shut up or shut out. Many of us live in free societies, and obnoxious views like his are part of the price. What we do say is that presenting him as a sober and objective stakeholder in the robust public marketplace of ideas is irresponsible, dishonest and disingenuous. His viewpoints on terrorism alone should have been enough to remove him from mainstream broadcast media years ago. The fact that he keeps on popping up suggests a serious degree of systemic prejudice at work inside Bush House and other such places of huge global influence.
Not comprehending what terrorism is and what it does to us is far from a rhetorical or atmospheric issue. Atwan is not the problem. He's a mere symptom, and the problem is lethal.

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