Al-Jazeera tells the truth about war
My station is a threat to American media control - and they know it
Friday March 28, 2003
Last month, when it became clear that the US-led drive to war was irreversible,
I - like many other British journalists - relocated to Qatar for a ringside
seat. But I am an Islamist journalist, so while the others bedded down at the
£1m media centre at US central command in As-Sayliyah, I found a more humble
berth in the capital Doha, working for the internet arm of al-Jazeera.
And yet, only a week into the war, I find myself working for the most
sought-after news resource in the world. On March 23, the night the channel
screened the first footage of captured US PoW's, al-Jazeera was the most
searched item on the internet portal, Lycos, registering three times as many
hits as the next item.
I do not mean to brag - people are turning to us simply because the western
media coverage has been so poor. For although Doha is just a 15-minute drive
from central command, the view of events from here could not be more different.
Of all the major global networks, al-Jazeera has been alone in proceeding from
the premise that this war should be viewed as an illegal enterprise. It has
broadcast the horror of the bombing campaign, the blown-out brains, the
blood-spattered pavements, the screaming infants and the corpses. Its team of
on-the-ground, unembedded correspondents has provided a corrective to the
official line that the campaign is, barring occasional resistance, going to
Last Tuesday, while western channels were celebrating a Basra "uprising" which
none of them could have witnessed since they don't have reporters in the city,
our correspondent in the Sheraton there returned a rather flat verdict of
"uneventful" - a view confirmed shortly afterwards by a spokesman for the
opposition Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. By reporting
propaganda as fact, the mainstream media had simply mirrored the Blair/Bush
fantasy that the people who have been starved by UN sanctions and deformed by
depleted uranium since 1991 will greet them as saviours.
Only hours before the Basra non-event, one of Iraq's most esteemed Shia
authorities, Ayatollah Sistani, had dented coalition hopes of a southern
uprising by reiterating a fatwa calling on all Muslims to resist the US-led
forces. This real, and highly significant, event went unreported in the west.
Earlier in the week Arab viewers had seen the gruesome aftermath of the
coalition bombing of "Ansar al-Islam" positions in the north-east of the
country. All but two of the 35 killed were civilians in an area controlled by a
neutral Islamist group, a fact passed over with undue haste in western reports.
And before that, on the second day of the war, most of the western media
reported verbatim central command statements that Umm Qasr was under
"coalition" control - it was not until Wednesday that al-Jazeera could confirm
all resistance there had been pacified.
Throughout the past week, armed peoples in the west and south have been
attacking the exposed rearguard of coalition positions, while all the time -
despite debilitating sandstorms - western TV audiences have seen litte except
their steady advance towards Baghdad. This is not truthful reporting.
There is also a marked difference when reporting the anger the invasion has
unleashed on the Muslim street. The view from here is that any vestige of
goodwill towards the US has evaporated with this latest aggression, and that
Britain has now joined the US and Israel as a target of this rage.
The British media has condemned al-Jazeera's decision to screen a 30-second
video clip of two dead British soldiers. This is simple hypocrisy. From the
outset of the war, the British media has not balked at showing images of Iraqi
soliders either dead or captured and humiliated.
Amid the battle for hearts and minds in the most information-controlled war in
history, one measure of the importance of those American PoW pictures and the
images of the dead British soldiers is surely the sustained "shock and awe"
hacking campaign directed at aljazeera.net since the start of the war. As I
write, the al-Jazeera website has been down for three days and few here doubt
that the provenance of the attack is the Pentagon. Meanwhile, our hosting
company, the US-based DataPipe, has terminated our contract after lobbying by
other clients whose websites have been brought down by the hacking.
It's too early for me to say when, or indeed if, I will return to my homeland.
So far this war has progressed according to a near worst-case scenario. Iraqis
have not turned against their tormentor. The southern Shia regard the invasion
force as the greater Satan. Opposition in surrounding countries is shaking
their regimes. I fear there remains much work to be done.
· Faisal Bodi is a senior editor for aljazeera.net
[log in to unmask]