The U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council will not allow Al-Jazeera to attend their press conferences or official events for the next month. The satellite Arab news network was banned after airing a point/counterpoint-style show called “Opposite Directions,” in which an Iraqi Communist Party spokesman, Nuri Al-Muradi, alleged links between the Governing Council and Israeli interests. The ban is a classic political misstep that gives power to marginal views and does nothing to promote free press or democratic ideals.
Because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera is now a household word. Mere mention of the news station reveals the western world’s most potent prejudices and assumptions about Arabs in general – the existence of a homogenous Muslim ideology imposed upon helpless, uncritical masses that are, conveniently, eager to take up arms for any cleric or ayatollah who asks.
Al-Jazeera’s power to inflame politicians extends beyond its true influence in the marketplace of ideas. In fact, in Iraq, the network is viewed as one of many sources for news and opinions. The country has a celebrated intellectual history in the Middle East and now welcomes dozens of independent newspapers. Despite Saddam Hussein’s despotic rule, which would seem to stifle intellectual freedom, Iraqi men are often found arguing politics and smoking in cafes.
Al-Jazeera represents the move away from government control of media in the Arab world. Although it is funded by the Qatari government and is notably less critical of that authority, Al-Jazeera is the most independent, mainstream media outlet ever in the Arab world.
Like a wounded dog, the Governing Council and its president, Adnan Pachachi, lashed out against fundamental freedoms. The ban on Al-Jazeera reveals deep-seeded fears among the Governing Council, right or wrong, that their views might not prevail in authentic dialogue.