By Franklin Lamb - Beirut
Having inherited the Bush administration's rising stack of terrorism lists, President Obama's team had expressed interest in culling them 'so they are more accurate and manageable and Americans experience less stress', according to Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano.
These lists, plus the reported existence of others that have not been made public, are supposed to reduce the fear and stress on Americans just knowing there are such lists and that someone is ‘watching out’.
In many cases travelers experience more stress because they never know when Transportation Security Authority (TSA) agents at airports might eye a ‘hit’ on a computer screen, lunge into action and ruin a trip. Duplicate names on various lists plus the difficulty of getting oneself off the lists have led to increasing pressure on the Obama administration to refine the concept of who really is a terrorist. The various “T” and watch lists are swelling annually by thousands of names-some quite similar leading to confusion and uncertainly who really is and isn’t on and who is on but shouldn’t be and vice versa.
As of Christmas Eve, the ‘Terrorism Watch List’ reportedly included some 900,000 names with a "selectee" list with somewhere close to 30,000 people within the higher-risk category, and a "no-fly" list with an estimated 10,000 names of people who are not allowed to board planes. Today it’s anyone’s guess who is on but shouldn’t be and who is off but should be on. All passengers departing the US may face more delays and physical’ pat downs’ of any part of their bodies and possibly being watched in bathrooms, according to the TSA.
Calls are increasing for full body scanning devices to be installed and used on anyone who wants to fly. Meanwhile, on 12/26/09, President Obama issued instructions to his administration "that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel”.
As Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab is interviewed to find out how he got on a US bound flight, since he was alleged to have said he was in contact with Al Qaeda in Yemen, the US ‘T’ lists remain a riddle inside a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, as Winston Churchill once described both Russia and Jane Austen.
Updating the ‘T’ Lists
One media outlet kept on a US Terrorism list is Lebanon’s Al Manar TV Channel, affiliated with Hezbollah, leader of the Lebanese National Resistance.
The “case” against Al Manar has never been convincingly explained since the Bush administration, on December 17, 2004 added Al Manar to a post 9/11 terrorist list at the behest of Israel’s then Prime Ministry Ehud Olmert.
According to Reporters without Borders, a press freedom organization, the listing appeared unjustified given no offered evidence of Al Manar being involved in terrorism. In addition, there was the fact that the Al Manar Channel was the first media anywhere to carry Hezbollah’s condemnation of the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. Reporters Without Borders urged the US authorities to "take care not to lump the fight against unproven anti-Semitism with the fight against terrorism and putting this TV station in the same category as terrorist groups worries us and does not strike us as the best solution." As if RWB foresaw H.R. 2278, the NGO warned, "We fear that this measure could be just the first of many others, and that all news media that have been accused of helping terrorist organizations in their coverage could end up on this list, in which case there will definitely be abuses."
The three other air terrorism attempts against the US were also denounced on Al Manar, including the latest one claimed by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah’s mortal enemy which on 12/28/09 called on “the people of the Arabian peninsula to attack American military installations, ships and "spying embassies." The U.S. Embassy in Yemen was attacked by Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in September 2008, and the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer, was hit by Al Qaeda in 2000. All these attacks were condemned on Al Manar. Beirut’s US Embassy and its personnel have been protected more by Hezbollah, from Al Qaeda and its affiliates, than the State Department would likely care to admit or may actually know about.
The main ‘evidence’ offered by the US State and Treasury departments forAl Manar being “anti-Semitic” for criticizing Israel was its showing the Syrian produced 29 Part television series, The Diaspora. Al Manar aired this series during October-November 2003.
The popular series surveys the history of the founding of the Zionist movement until the creation of the state of Israel. It includes discussions of some subjects sensitive to the Zionist movement including claimed Zionist-Nazi cooperation, alleged Zionist involvement in plotting the Russian Revolution, claims of Zionist pressure on US President Harry Truman to use Atomic bombs against Japan and later to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel on Arab land, ignoring the rights of the Arab population.
One example of claimed “Diaspora” anti-Semitism was the challenged statement of an alleged Zionist leader talking to Adolf Eichmann and telling the SS official, “Mr. Eichmann, believe me that if we Zionists were not Jewish, we would have been Nazis. You Nazis consider the Aryan race to belong to the perfect people and the German people as the most perfect. We also consider ourselves a perfect people, and Zionists, the most perfect ones.”
According to the US based Anti-Defamation League, this statement is not accurate but rather was based on the 1982 comment of Ariel Sharon in which he was reported to have said to Menachem Begin, while arguing in favor of invading Lebanon, “The Nazis of course were correct Prime Minister, they just chose the wrong people to persecute”, implying that killing of the Roma gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, French and Russian prisoners, and Polish citizens was acceptable as was the likely 20,000 deaths estimated to occur during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
Stereotypical myths about Jews do appear in the documentary, as clichés.. Specifically in the form of repeating the unproven 1840 accusation that the Damascus Jewish community murdered a priest and his assistant to obtain their blood for making Passover matzo, unleavened bread. The Diaspora series also includes some unproven accusations from the discredited 1891 Russian Protocols of the Elders of Zion about Rabbi’s sanctioning the killing of Christian children.
Al Manar management apologized for airing the series, dropped it and explained that the Station had purchased it without first viewing the entire series. Al Manar’s lawyer at the time, Frenchman, Dinis Garreau added that the broadcast of the series had been "unfortunate" and asked for a chance to demonstrate that such airings would not be repeated, while adding that Al Manar’s management was in agreement that showing the series was a mistake, and that it violated Al Manar’s Professional Values and Principles for verifying information before it is aired.
He explained that Hezbollah is well known for its frequent differentiation between Judaism and Zionism, believing Jews, as ‘people of the book’ are to accorded the same respect as Christian and Muslims (see “The Professional Values & Principles of Al Manar Channel,, paragraph 19 and Al Manar’s Values and Principles pages, 6, 7.and 12, published by the Lebanese Communication Group, Beirut, 2009). On the other hand, as with most people in the Middle East, and increasing beyond, Hezbollah believes that Zionism is a 19th Century racist colonial enterprise which must be expelled from Palestine, and is committed to the Right of Return of those ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and their offspring-now living in 59 camps in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
In 2004, the Diaspora series was shown in Iran. And then in Jordan during October 2005 on Al-Mamnou, a Jordanian satellite network. Not a murmur from the Bush administration was heard in either case about anti-Semitism and millions have since viewed the Diaspora series without apparent complications.
On 12/16/04, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision to put Al Manar on the Terrorist Exclusion List (T list # 2 in Department of Homeland Security lingo) was taken because of “Al Manar’s incitement of terrorist activity." Al-Manar’s Foreign Editor Ibrahim Mousawi replied to BBC News, that the proposed ban resulted from "political pressure by the Jewish lobby". "We are not anti-Semites and we do not incite hatred," he insisted.
The Bush administration did not acknowledge Al Manar’s explanation and the TV channel remains on the ‘T” list. The standard of “incitement of terrorism” has been recently change, one reason being that for the past five years no evidence of “incitement of terrorism” involving Al Manar (or Hezbollah) has been documented by the CIA despite requests for proof from the US Senate Intelligence Committee. This failure of the CIA to support the Israel lobby case disappointed Tel Aviv and led AIPAC to craft a new standard which is now being used in H.R. 2278. The new applicable standard is “incitement of violence against American citizens.” This new language is believed by many lawyers and the Center for Constitutional Rights, based in New York, to be too broad to constitute a legal basis for prosecution. This view is not of concern to the US Israel lobby since its goal are not judicial prosecutions but rather intimidation--of more than 400 channels operating in 19 Middle East countries.
Lest other Middle East countries than Lebanon believe they can escape the wide net of H.R. 2278, according to a 12/16/09 report in the Egyptian daily Al-Mesryoon, “The American administration intends to threaten the blocking or reduction of American aid offered to Egypt each year in order to pressure the Egyptian government into discontinuing the broadcasting of a number of satellite channels ( reportedly at least ten in number) airing from Egypt via the Egyptian NileSat, under claims that they are violating the new ‘incitement’ standard and are attacking American policies in the region.”
Al Manar as “inciter of violence against American citizens”
Concerning the claim that Al Manar is anti-American, the channel regularly invites American and western guests to discuss all manner of subjects. Indeed, American and western achievements and beliefs in human rights, scientific achievements, protection for women, are featured and openly admired.
The evidence from scholars, including years of Al Manar program monitoring by Professor Anne Marie Baylouny, Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at the Naval Postgraduate School in California suggests that H.R. 228 is not even applicable to Al Manar and its programming, but rather that the Lebanese station is being scapegoated for purely political motives.
The claimed xenophobia of Hezbollah to the West is nowhere to be found in Al Manar programming and while political programs are critical of US Middle East policy, no more so than some programs aired in all 50 States in America. Often, on these programs, American scientific studies are used to support a debate thesis. Guests are international with many being from America, often with Lebanese expatriates.
Al Manar’s Professional Values & Principles as outlined in its publication by the Lebanese Communication Group, noted above, has been described as being as rigorous as any in the industry. And they are applied with respect to fairness, admitting mistakes, respect for women and youth, encouragement of dialogue, sensitivity for the public’s distaste for offensive materials and profanity, and working to achieve transparency, independence, and objectivity.
Al Manar strictly applies its standards for interviewing, respect for all religions, privacy, prohibition on secret recording, and ‘gotcha’ or ‘ambush’ interviews, disclosing sources and exhibiting respect for the audience.
Some examples of its rigorous application of these rules can be found in recent programs where: a hostess disconnected a caller who referred to an Israeli leader as “a dog”, a hostess ignoring a caller who insisted that Lebanon should look only to Islamic solutions for domestic problems, such as spousal abuse and not Western ideas, and Al Manar hosts or hostesses often correcting a guest for repeating stereotypes.
These are some facts about Al Manar that American and French citizens can’t learn by watching their TV sets at home given that this Lebanese Channel is banned in both countries in violation of international customary law and numerous conventions requiring protection for journalists, free access to the airwaves, and freedom of speech. Only by watching Internet free steaming can the French and American public watch Al Manar. It is apparent that those who cast their automatic vote to AIPAC to fast track H.R. 2278 did not bother to investigate Al Manar programing.
As Hezbollah has ‘Lebanonized’ following its 1992 entrance into politics and its expulsion of Israel in 2000, its dramatic changes are reflected in Al Manar TV programing. Al Manar demonstrates Hezbollah’s evolution over the past quarter century and the parties desire to reach out to its former adversaries by its integration with the multi-religious community that is Lebanon, particularly with programming for youth and women;
The bulk of Al Manar programs have nothing to do with Hezbollah, the resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestine or Shia religious beliefs.
Women without veils dominate much of the programming with only about 90 minutes per day having to do with praying or religious subjects;
Christians are frequently invited as experts and audience members including priests, bishops and non-believers from the west without regard to personal beliefs; Al Manar’s programming regularly promotes values considered western such as individual and human rights, and non-violence.
Al Manar programs frequently discuss subjects critical of some aspects of a patriarchal system including examining domestic violence, rights of women, shared household chores, violent videos games etc. Al Manar programs generally feature more of an Oprah style of discussion rather than a Pat Robertson or Fox TV approach. A common theme is encouraging civil society to volunteer and help those in society who need assistance;
Al Manar is viewed by a broad array of broadcasting analysts in Lebanon and abroad, as progressive in the sense that it focuses attention on women, youth, and civil society with multi-communal aspects of programming that is in contrast to the Lebanese norm of media promoting the sponsor’s particular confession.
Al Manar programming involves the participation all of Lebanon’s sects and the acceptance of diverse lifestyles and ideas beyond the communities with which Hezbollah is politically allied;
Programming eschews the affirmation of violence in daily lives, and tend to avoid religious preaching or proselytizing found on many western evangelical channels;
For the past decade there is no evidence in any Al Manar programming, as claimed by MEMRi and AIPAC of “bomb making classes."
Foreign soap operas, including unveiled and scantily-clad women, and men’s and women’s personal problems are shown uncut and uncensored.
Al Manar is said by Ha'aretz to be the most popular TV Channel in much of the region during conflicts and for news of the Palestinian resistance. The reason is because of its trusted coverage and up to the minute reports, often with reporters embedded close to fighters at the front and resisters on the West Bank and in Gaza. It is also the most popular channel in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian Refugee camps.
Several of Al Manar’s programs parallel US and western public broadcasting such as PBS, featuring “Discovery” type features on animals, agriculture, the environment, nature and children’s programs including puppet shows warning about bad habits such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol.
The MEMRI claim that Al Manar program showed puppets of children stabbing US President George W. Bush turned out to fake.
Al Manar has won more International Awards for its programming than any other International Channels in its category, including more than 76 Awards for excellence in broadcasting between 1998 and November of 2009. One internationally coveted award was received from the 8th Cairo Television and Radio Festival where Al Manar won the most awards. In 2008 it was awarded the prestigious Thompson Prize from the BBC for the best documentary. Al Manar’s subject was Lebanon’s Pollution crisis.
A random sampling of Al Manar broadcasting awards during a 48 month period is illustrative of the scope and variety of reorganization the Channel received for its programming: Cairo Festival for Radio and Television Supreme Committee Award - the documentary film "Observatory" 1998, Beirut Documentary Film Festival prize for the documentary film "victors" 1999, United Nations Prize in Beirut-the first prize for "sustainable development" 1999 ,The first exhibition of the media Beirut Award "the best television station from" 200l, The first exhibition of the media Beirut Award "the best sports program GOAL" 2001, The first exhibition of the media Beirut Award "the best cultural program and pen N" 2001, Arab States Broadcasting Union Gold Award program "evidence of time" 2002, Ebona Festival - France award for a news report "Donkey stuck in the minefield," 2002.
A typical broadcast day at Al Manar starts with Prayers just like the other religiously oriented stations in Lebanon. Then the News, followed by Manar’s Morning show, a talk show, program for youth, travel, soap opera, and often five hours per day of live programs on issues of interest to the Lebanese such as social or family problems. The public is involved with guests and callers urged to participate. Most Al Manar programming is all about participation, dialogue, and discussion.
A teaching assistant at Harvard’s school of communications, studying Al Manar programming, offered her opinion: “Frankly, the same agility and competence Hezbollah exhibits on the battlefield its TV channel replicates on the TV screen. Al Manar is deliberative, analytical, state of the art, dedicated, and innovative. Both Hezbollah’s military wing and its TV Channel come from the same culture and if channeled, no pun intended, they will to continue to lead the way to remarkable achievements.”
Many Americans and Westerners in Beirut choose Al Manar TV News in English on the internet) for the latest news on Lebanon, Palestine, and the region because it is usually first in presenting details with accuracy as well as sound analysis.
Time for the State and Treasury departments of show their cards?
To say that there is no justification for the Al Manar TV Channel to be on the US Terrorism is an understatement. That any TV station is on the list is a disgrace and humiliation for fair minded Americans everywhere and makes a mockery of the First Amendment to our Constitution.
Al Manar will survive and likely its audience will continue to grow despite being targeted by H.R. 2278 and other efforts to silence its quality programming and to prevent the American public from judging for themselves the worth Al Manar’s programming.
Presumably Lebanon’s President and Parliament will make known their views of projects like H.R. 2278 to the White House and Congress and encourage the 22 member League of Arab States and the 57 member International Organization of the Islamic Conference to raise this issue publicly and demand that the US government drop this assault on free speech in the Middle East.
Now that Lebanon has a two year tenured seat on the UN Security Council, which has the responsibility under the UN Charter to address “all threats to International Peace and Security”, the effort to intimidate Middle East satellite providers and hundreds of TV Channels in the region will no doubt be placed on the Security Council’s agenda.
- Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.