The editor and executive producer of Al Jazeera English reportedly sent out a company-wide memo following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices imploring his staff to avoid characterizing the killing of the cartoonists as an assault on free speech and European values and alternately asked if the attackers could have been motivated by French actions in Mali, Libya and against the Islamic State group.
He also asked the network’s anchors and correspondents to question on air if the phrase being used to express sympathy “I am Charlie” is “an alienating slogan.”
National Review Online obtained the Thursday internal email sent by Salah-Aldeen Khadr, Al Jazeera English’s executive producer, as well as critical responses from non-Qatar-based reporters for the network.
Khadr opened his email writing, “Please accept this note in the spirit it is intended – to make our coverage the best that it can be …. We are Al Jazeera!!!!”
He then presented a list of suggestions for on-air talking points, including arguing that, “This was a targeted attack, not a broad attack on the french population a la Twin towers or 7/7 style.”
“Was this really an attack on ‘Free speech’? Who is attacking free speech here exactly? Does an attack by 2-3 guys on a controversial magazine equate to a civilizational attack on European values..? Really?” Khadr wrote.
He further asked his reporters to examine: “’I am Charlie’ as an alienating slogan – with us or against us type of statement – one can be anti-CH’s racism and ALSO against murdering people(!) (obvious I know but worth stating).”
“Also worth stating that we still don’t know much about the motivations of the attackers outside of the few words overheard on the video. Yes, clearly it was a ‘punishment’ for the cartoons, but it didn’t take them 8/9 years to prep this attack (2006 was Danish/CH publication) – this is perhaps a response to something more immediate…French action against ISIL…? Mali? Libya? CH just the target ie focus of the attack..?” Khadr wrote.
The Al Jazeera executive also asked if the attackers “were radicalized by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed.”
He harshly criticized the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, writing, “It’s unclear what the objectives of the caricatures were other than to offend Muslims—and provoke hysteria among extremists.”
“Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile,” Khadr added.
U.S.-based correspondent Tom Ackerman responded with an excerpt from a New York Times blog post by Ross Douthat who wrote in part, “If a large enough group of someone is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more.”
According to the emails obtained by the National Review, Doha-based correspondent Mohamed Vall Salem responded to this by declaring “I’M NOT CHARLIE” and accused Charlie Hebdo cartoonists of abusing free speech.
He wrote, “I guess if you insult 1.5 billion people chances are one or two of them will kill you… they don’t represent the 1.5 who swallowed the insult in silence and patience in the name of free speech.”
“And I guess if you encourage people to go on insulting 1.5 billion people about their most sacred icons then you just want more killings because as I said in 1.5 billion there will remain some fools who don’t abide by the laws or know about free speech,” the Doha-based reporter wrote.
“[W]hat Charlie Hebdo did was not free speech it was an abuse of free speech in my opinion, go back to the cartoons and have a look at them! It’ snot [sic] about what the drawing said, it was about how they said it,” he added.
“I condemn those heinous killings, but I’M NOT CHARLIE,” Mohamed Vall Salem added.
Senior Paris correspondent Jacky Rowland piped in, reportedly writing, “We are Aljazeera. So, a polite reminder: #journalismisnotacrime.”
Roving reporter Omar Al Saleh wrote, “JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME [and] INSULTISM IS NOT JOURNALISM AND NOT DOING JOURNALISM PROPERLY IS CRIME.”
National Review Online observed, “The heated back-and-forth reflects Al Jazeera English’s precarious balance between its Arab center of gravity and the Western correspondents it employs.”