heads in the sand I: denial of service

(via Cursor) Al-Jazeera network has launched an english-version website. However, it has already been subjected to a denial-of-service attack (DoS) which has taken the website offline (this is marginally more subtle than bombing their offices). There is a direct causal relationship between this hacking and the atmosphere of stifling dissent in the name of patriotism that has been deliberately fostered by the Bush Administration.

This isn't the first time that Al-Jazeera has been forcibly silenced. The Bush Administration epecially took a heavy hand response to the station during the Afghanistan campaign:

The case of Al-Jazeera offers a telling example of American failure, say analysts. The State Department recently lodged a complaint with the government of Qatar, which hosts the news channel, urging it to tone down Al-Jazeera's allegedly biased, anti-American coverage. But the move backfired badly among Muslims who saw it as an arrogant attempt by the U.S. to muzzle the Arabs' only free press.

"Asking Al-Jazeera to rein in its coverage was incredibly harmful," says Jillian Schwedler, assistant professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, and an expert on Jordan.

The White House has even undermined its own position by asking that American news networks censor themselves when broadcasting taped messages from al-Qaida terrorists that are originally shown on Al-Jazeera.

The Bush administration has expressed concern that the messages might contain coded messages to bin Laden's followers, but regardless of whether that fear has merit, from an Arab perspective, the move, like the formal complaint lodged against Al-Jazeera, represents another stumble, says Abdulaziz Sachedina, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia who monitors Arab media closely. "There will be a very negative reaction to it [in the Middle East] because the message does not go well with our claim of being a free press country."

The argument that Al-J was being used for coded messages was especially ludicrous. Al-Qaeda operatives have been using Yahoo and Hotmail accounts, IRC chat, faxes and cell phones, and many other innovative ways to communicate. Osama bin Laden[1] himself responded to the claim with devastating logic:

bin Laden ridiculed White House concerns that other on-camera statements he has issued since September 11 might carry hidden messages.

"They made hilarious claims. They said that Osama's messages have codes in them to the terrorists. It's as if we were living in the time of mail by carrier pigeon, when there are no phones, no travelers, no Internet, no regular mail, no express mail and no electronic mail. I mean, these are very humorous things. They discount people's intellect," bin Laden said.

Eventually AlJ's english website will be back online, and i intend to frequent it as regularly as I do Ha'aretz Daily. For some excellent background on Al-Jazeera, I highly recommend this archive of links, and this latest news page, by Cursor. Some of the best articles on Al-Jazeera are these:

Al-Jazeera Draws Flak Outside -- and Inside -- the Arab World

Al-Jazeera: Media Pariah or Pioneer?

Inside Al-Jazeera

Telling All Sides of the Story Isn't Easy for Al-Jazeera

Fouad Ajami, noted middle east analyst of the Samuel Huntington sympathizer camp, had also written a very alarmist and inflammatory piece on Al Jazeera, in the New York Times. This is the reference piece that most critics of Al-Jazeera use (hey, it's from Ajami! Arab! Expert!) in their dismissal of AlJ. However, the Ajami piece is directly referenced in many of the pieces I link to above as well as the others on the Cursor archive. Those who only read Ajami and don't bother to read the links above are guilty of the same heads-in-the-sand stifling as the hackers of the website.

UPDATE: Al-Jazeera has been banned from the floor of the NYSE. NASDAQ has joined in.

Al-Jazeera raised the ire of Americans on Sunday when it aired shaken U.S. prisoners of war and dead U.S. soldiers with gaping bullet wounds, prompting the Pentagon to issue a rare appeal to U.S. networks not to use the footage.
As the storm over the American soldier footage raged this week, the New York Stock Exchange withdrew credentials for two al-Jazeera journalists. It said it had to cut back on the number of reporters on the exchange floor.

Media pundits were stunned by the exchange's decision, saying it smacked of a dangerous opening salvo in a game of media quid pro quo which could see Western media's access cut off. Iraq last week ordered CNN journalists to leave Baghdad.

"The New York Stock Exchange has many useful functions, especially in turbulent times. Making foreign policy is not one of them," the New York Times wrote in a Wednesday editorial.

In the comments below, I stated that I don't believe the Bush Administration is behind the hacker attack on the english website, but this is another matter entirely. I realise that there are many people who disagree with me about al_jazeera's value as a media press entity. But consider, given that our ostensible purpose is to liberate Iraq, the suppression of Al-Jazeera by the NYSE at the very least undermines our PR as we strive to convince Iraqis that it's about liberty, not oil. So even if one is unwilling to grant freedom of the Press (not as popular a Right as gun ownership, I realise), it must be acknowledged that tyhese actions are still harmful from a pragmatic perspective. This is something that we all need to agree on.

You can follow this story through the magic of Google News. This series continues in part II.

[1] lanat upon him and all his ilk.

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