"Free Speech" for Al-Fox and Al-CNN, but not for Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera


The essence of “free speech” is the ability of the individual(s) or group(s) to express openly a viewpoint that is contrary to the status quo. It is simply the ability to dissent. The greater the state (or society) tolerates dissent, the greater is its credential of upholding “free speech”. It is one of the axioms of a democratic state. Hence, the state often highlight its democratic credential by demonstrating how it tolerates its dissidents rather then resort to silencing them with imprisonment, torture and execution. If there were endless tolerance to any level of dissension then by definition “free speech” would also exist in the absolute form, without any limitation. In reality, every democratic state has certain limits to which it will tolerate its dissidents. Anyone going beyond those limits would be viewed as a threat to its interests and values. Under such circumstances, the demo! cratic state would act in similar manner to a dictator even though it may constantly boast about its “free speech” credentials. Therefore the usage of the word “free” is misleading, as the word implies absolute freedom, which has no existence except the lawless jungle. Similarly the constant bragging by Bush and Blair as being the sole possessor of “free speech” is also disingenuous, as every society implements its own version of “free speech” within its defined “subjective” parameters.

At present, abusing and insulting Islamic values is seen as compatible or at least not a threat to the US interests and hence licensed under “free speech”. As Donald Rumsfeld pointed out when the recent derogatory remarks were made by the obscure US General based in the Pentagon. On the contrary, any criticisms of Judaism with its overtly racist Talmudic laws are immediately curbed under the banner of “Anti-Semitism”. It seems that you can be anti anything except “Anti-Semitism”. Similarly, the “free” Iraqis protesting against the occupying powers are often imprisoned or shot at, as Rumsfeld would say they were “violently anti-coalition”. Any independent media broadcasting materials that the US does not approve of faces threats of bombs, arrests its members, and outright prohibition of its operation like that has been experienced by the Arabic satellite channel of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia. Over the past few months, out of the 16 journalists killed, 14 of them were as a direct result of US military action. Any newspaper opposing the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the US forces are either forced to close down under threats or suffers direct attacks from the US forces. So the motto is exercise your “free speech” as long as it does not threaten the interest(s) of the state, in this case not of Iraq but the US. When Teddy Roosevelt was building the Panama Canal in the 1900 by installing a puppet government in Panama, who would concede naturally to the American imperialist demands, many in the US objected that Roosevelt had acted unconstitutionally. To which he responded by saying:

"I took the isthmus, started the canal, and then left Congress — not to debate the canal, but to debate me. . . . While the debate goes on, the canal does too; and they are welcome to debate me as long as they wish, provided that we can go on with the canal."

President Bush recently taunted the anti-war demonstrators during his visit to the UK by stating that they should be grateful to the democratic system that allows (tolerates) the free expression of such dissension, unlike the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. This is simply because Mr Bush knows that such demonstrations do not pose any immediate threat to the US foreign policies and interests. So like Roosevelt, instead of debating, demonstrate, as long as the US teeth and claws are in operation. Mr Bush is also beginning to sound like an emperor dispensing privileges rather then acknowledging the essence of democracy is to “reflect” massive public opinion in the government. The war in Iraq was conducted with flagrant disregard for the massive public opposition, which has brought about more questions, apathy and scepticism rather than conviction of “freedom” and “democracy”. It is also a conven! ient way of avoiding the embarrassing issue of why so many “free” citizens around the world were exercising their “free speech” against the very proponents of “free speech”.

The closing down of the operation of Al-Arabia in Iraq is a visible example of “free speech” crossing the boundaries where it is deemed to be a threat against the interests of the occupying power rather then the Iraqis. The main reason cited for the closure of the station is the incitement to violence “caused” by the broadcasting of Saddam’s tape. Surely if Saddam was the most brutal dictator, and the Iraqis are “liberated”, why should his fuzzy tape pose any threat? Why should any Iraqi listen to such an oppressor like Saddam? In any case, incitement to violence could take many forms not just direct exhortation to fight, as the following points demonstrates with respect to the coverage provided by Al-CNN and Al-Fox.

a)The sanitised coverage of the war by not highlighting the pain and suffering of the victims encourages the violence inflicted upon the defenceless Islamic world. Whilst any retaliation is given a much more explicit coverage, with the victims displayed as stories rather then just numbers or percentages. Everyone knows the figure of 3000 casualties in 9/11 but who knows the true casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Now we have President Bush speaking on behalf of the Iraqis when he is not even entitled to speak on behalf of the Americans. He talks about a wonderful Iraq with its new “freedom”, especially for the American companies like AL-CNN, AL-Fox, AL-Halliburton and AL-Bechtel. What about asking those who have lost their loved ones, what they think about this imposed war of “liberation”. Will the CNN and Fox ever exercise their own “freedom” to conduct such exercise, or will they continue to project the few selected opportunists dissidents, and the Americanised Arabs as being representative of the entire Iraqi population?

b)The deployment of certain terms to demonise its opponents, therefore inflicting violence has become acceptable or often portrayed as a “defensive” operation, even if it violates their core values, such as “human rights”. So, call them “terrorists”, “fanatics”, or “fundamentalists”, then there is no problem in executing them with hands tied behind their backs like in Mazar-e-Sheriff — or simply incarcerate them in the Guantanamo Bay cages without legal representation or charge — or let the trigger happy US forces demonstrates their courage and bravery by indiscriminately bombing the retreating soldiers and civilians like it was done on the road to Basra. On the con! trary, bomb a few embassies, or kill a few soldiers in retaliation, everyone including the Pope comes out of hibernation to condemn such acts as brutal and uncivilised. Now that the US like Israel has started to issue collective punishment by demolishing houses, farms and indiscriminate bombings, no one is interested. However, when collective punishment was also dispensed upon the Jews in Istanbul in retaliation, suddenly everyone including the Arab governments rushed to condemn the acts. It even woke the Pope and his priests to express their criticism of violence!

c)The powerful media of Fox and CNN also help to shield the US government from their own citizens and world public opinion by not examining the issue critically and objectively. Do we not remember all the “dossiers” (PhD Thesis), “testimonies” of Iraqi dissidents, reliable “intelligence” (Niger Uranium) was used to advocate the case for war? The mass media simply colluded to convert the allegations into facts. All of which contributed towards the real violence on a scale that cannot be even compared with the broadcast of a fuzzy tape by Al-Arabia. Then when Iraq was occupied, Fox, CNN, and CNBC all went relatively silent on the issue of WMD, which was the legal pr! etext for the war. Its absence surely implies the criminality of Bush and Blair. The crime continues as Iraq is paying for the war with its oil rather than being awarded with war reparations. Here the media are protecting these criminals, allowing them to pursue their crimes into other countries.

One should remember that the author is not an expert in mass media but a simple lay person, hence a far greater details and reasons could be given by the real experts in the field. Therefore in “free” Iraq, it is not Al-Arabia or Al-Jazeera but Al-Fox or Al-CNN that will reign under the cover of “free speech” for the time being on behalf of the US in “free” Iraq!