Shut Down al-Jazeera

Ralph Peters makes a controversial argument this morning.

MAGINE if, on D-Day, the Nazis had been al lowed to place camera teams on Omaha Beach — with our suffering soldiers forbidden to interfere. What if, on top of that, the Germans had invented American atrocities against French civilians — and our own officials defended their right to do so in the name of press freedom?

That’s the situation with al-Jazeera in Iraq. Staffed by embittered exiles and pan-Arabist ideologues — the last Nasserites — al-Jazeera is so consumed by hatred of America and the West that the network would rather see Iraq collapse into a bloodbath than permit the emergence of a democracy sponsored by Washington. Despite his slaughter of a million-and-a-half Muslims in wars and campaigns of repression, al-Jazeera cheered for Saddam during Operation Iraqi Freedom, inventing Iraqi victories. Its staff reacted with horror to the fall of Baghdad — and suppressed film clips of celebrating Arabs. Since then, al-Jazeera has glamorized Islamic terrorists (who, were they ever to come to power, would close al-Jazeera and butcher its staff) while portraying the Baathist campaign of murder and sabotage as a noble freedom struggle. Al-Jazeera is so bigoted and morally debased that its reporters and producers delight in Coalition casualties, in dead Iraqi doctors and engineers and (above all) in dead Kurds. Al-Jazeera not only encourages the assassination of American soldiers, but pulls out all the stops to excite anti-U.S. hatred throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

The response of our own officials in Iraq? Al-Jazeera is only exercising freedom of the press. Isn’t that why we fought to bring down Saddam? This is idiocy, a perverse political correctness based upon a rejection of common sense. Press freedom is a treasure of our civilization, but it’s also distinctly a product of our civilization — one that doesn’t always export well. It works in our society for numerous reasons. First, despite undeniable excesses, there’s a fundamental respect for facts in our media. Second, our press is not rewarded for encouraging mass murder. Third, we have libel and hate-crime laws that work. Fourth, the great majority of journalists take pride in the standards of their profession — despite popular notions to the contrary.

We also have healthy, vigorous, combative competition. In the end, the members of our media keep each other honest. One should never underestimate the jealousy journalists feel toward one another as a factor in exposing fabrications. The glee with which reporters unmask the sins of more successful colleagues is an unappreciated virtue of the profession.

Al-Jazeera has no such controls. It’s Pravda without the truth — in living color. As long as the network glorifies its host, the Emir of Qatar, and avoids anything beyond the most lightweight criticism of select Arab leaders, it’s allowed to incite hatred, assassination and genocide.

He’s got a point. The mere fact that al-Jazeera calls itself a news organization does not make it so. Stopping them from broadcasting enemy propaganda isn’t the same as trampling free speech.

Unfortunately, al-Jazeera is a very small part of the Islamist propaganda machine. The most important element are the mosques and madrassas, which have so far proven beyond the ability of even host governments to moderate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James Joyner says:


    If you can’t distinguish between Western partisan politics and the incitement of terrorist activity, there’s no point in trying to reason with you. It’s rather like saying Trent Lott and Adolf Hitler are just the same, since both made racially insensitive remarks.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Stopping them from broadcasting enemy propaganda isn’t the same as trampling free speech.

    Uh, riiiight.

  3. James Joyner says:

    We’ve long ago decided that falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater isn’t protected speech. Ditto, we limit speech that could incite a riot and punish “hate speech.”

    No one is advocating shutting down stations that merely put forth the Islamist point of view. But al-Jazeera is a tool of enemy propaganda that directly incites violence against the US. This ain’t that hard.

  4. Jim Henley says:

    James: I take “directly” to mean that they specifically urge people to go fight American troops, in the same way, say, stations here urge people to vote or send kids to camp. Is this what you’re saying? Can you give some examples? Peters is long on thesis statements and short on supporting paragraphs. Reading him, I can’t conclude that al-Jazeerah does anything in particular.

    Also, here’s the thing about crowded theaters under law. We’re talking about American theaters. The US government says nothing about theaters in France or Algeria or, oh, Qatar. They don’t fall within our writ.

    The thing about Al-Jazeerah is, they are not an American operation. They have no special duty to the US. We have no special veto over their coverage.

    Peters’ column and your review of Through the Enemy’s Eyes strike me as classic examples of Hayekian information loss. Really, amputation rather than loss. If signs crop up that things aren’t going so well, get rid of the signs. Al-Jazeerah clearly has a receptive audience. That receptivity is the problem. Getting rid of the symptom (the satellite channel) simply masks the problem while it festers. Getting bent out of shape because a book simply does what its title tells you it intends to do is the same kind of thing.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Jim: The nature of this war, as experts on both sides of the Iraq question seem to agree, is that it’s about controlling information and influencing people’s mindsets. We’re not going to be able to win it without gaining control of the media and dismantling the infowar apparatus of the enemy–the madrassah system, al-Jazeera, and so forth in addition to taking out terrorists and their operational bases.

    I don’t disagree that A-J isn’t an American institution. It is, however, an organ of our enemies. And it’s not tantamount to, say, the BBC or the Guardian, which have a clear anti-American bias in their coverage, but at least present something akin to the facts.

    Despite TOEE’s title, the book isn’t written from the vantagepoint of our enemies but rather of an American intelligence analyst explaining their appeal. It’s one thing to say that, from the viewpoint of an illiterate peasant exposed only to limited information, Jefferson and bin Laden seem comparable. It’s quite another to actually pretend that’s rational.

  6. capt joe says:

    I am reminded of the many leftists who were quite happy with Hilter while he was allied with Stalin. So many arguments were made for why they were abandoning their communist brethen in Germany. Yes, it was an unjust war. Whay couldn’t the US stay out of it.

    Off course, the moment that he betrayed Stalin (as one of them was bound to do to the other), then suddenly it was a just war and they were happy to go and fight for the motherland. Whose, ithat is a matter of debate.

    Glenn is right off course, they aren’t antiwar, they are on the other side.

    Jim won’t get it until his head is resting peacably on the small of his back.