Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, upset with the coverage of Iraq on Al-Jazeera, an Arabic-language television channel based in Qatar, brought up this subject with Qatar's foreign minister a few days ago, saying "the friendship between our two nations is such that we can also talk about difficult issues that intrude in that relationship, such as the issue of the coverage of Al Jazeera." His remarks, the New York Times explains, are part of a "growing chorus of complaints from American policy makers and military officials. They say their efforts in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are being undercut by politically motivated or erroneous reports, by both Al Jazeera … and the Saudi-based Al Arabiya."
I am glad the U.S. government is finally paying attention to the "news" coming out of Al-Jazeera, but it is, to use a favorite Americanism, a day late and dollar short. Al-Jazeera has been a problem long before the Iraq invasion. Here, for example, is what I wrote in January 2002 in a discussion of U.S. war goals in the war on terror:
In Qatar, the home of al-Jazeera television, Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece, pressure has to be put on the government to promote the teachings of a moderate sheikh rather than those of the entrenched extremist Yusuf al-Qaradawi ("On the hour of judgment, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them").
Comment: In the two years and more since I urged this policy, I have been repeatedly told that Washington cannot lean on a friendly government in this fashion. I guess that's now disproved. Whether to take such a step is a matter of understanding and will, not of capability. (April 29, 2004)
May 8, 2004 update: I have a distinctly checkered history with Al-Jazeera. As long ago as August 1998, I flew to London to appear on one of its shows, which I found responsible and interesting. But since then, the channel has gone wild. There was the occasion a year ago when I walked off the set before saying a word (due to the producers' breaking their promise concerning my U.S. Institute of Peace nomination). One time, I never made it to the station because the promised transportation never materialized, so some of the other participants on the show bad-mouthed me. A few months ago, after agreeing to discuss the prospective Israel-Hizbullah trade, the producers surprised me by having members of the Hizbullah captives' families confront me on air. Today, I had a similar experience, invited on to the program "Hiwar Maftuh" to discuss the clash or not of civilizations and then finding myself having to deal with the multi-minute description of alleged torture by an Iraqi. I continue to appear on the channel because it is important, but I do so with a certain dread at what unscrupulous tactics the producers will use next.