This is not an attack on Abdel Bari Atwan

This essay was written by Arnold and Frimet Roth and originally published at their blog, ‘This Ongoing War

Nearly two years ago, here on this blog, we posted an article we called 4-Dec-10: Should this man be accorded the respect due to an objective, professional journalist?” It opened with these words:

“As newspaper editors go, Abdel Bari Atwan gets more than the average amount of prominence. Given the nature of his political views, he gets a surprisingly respectable degree of respect from such mainstream media channels as NPR, Sky News, CNN and the BBC (who call him Abdel-Bari Atwan) which have hosted him frequently and which, for reasons which can only leave us wondering, present him as an objective observer on events in this part of the world…”

We then quoted a small handful of offensive, racist and/or hate-based statements attributed to Atwan over a period of some years. (There are plenty to choose from.) We ended this way:

“Atwan said the March 2008 point-blank, cold-blooded shooting-massacre by a Palestinian Arab gunman of eight unarmed high school students, most of them aged 15 or 16, at Jerusalem’s Mercaz HaRav yeshiva “was justified“… Atwan says the celebrations in Gaza that followed the massacre symbolized “the courage of the Palestinian nation.” [Source: The Jerusalem Post] Depending on where you stand, justifying a terrorist massacre is not the worst of crimes. On the other hand, given what is at stake when it comes to defeating the practitioners of terror and their supporters, is Abdel Bari Atwan the kind of person who should be given public platforms in highly prominent settings? Or is Abdel Bari Atwan simply the innocent victim of some atrocious misquoting?”

To be blunt, any intelligent observer reviewing the work product of this toxic man realizes it’s not about misquoting. On his Wikipedia page, there’s this revealing anecdote:

“Following an October 2003 article in which Atwan claimed that the U.S. is to blame for the Arab world’s hatred of it, a Yemenite journalist and columnist for the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Munir Al-Mawari, stated: “The Abd Al Bari Atwan [appearing] on CNN is completely different from the Abdel Bari Atwan on the Al Jazeera network or in his Al Quds Al Arabi daily. On CNN, Atwan speaks solemnly and with total composure, presenting rational and balanced views. This is in complete contrast with his fuming appearances on Al Jazeera and in Al Quds Al Arabi, in which he whips up the emotions of multitudes of viewers and readers.” [Wikipedia’s source]

Now, today, there’s a report [Times of Israel] that Atwan’s London-based daily paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, one of the world’s leading Arab-language dailies and a news channel that focuses on Palestinian issues (the name literally means ‘Arab Jerusalem’), has run an editorial entitled “The only thing left is to send them to the gas ovens.”

The piece is unsigned, but the Twitter handle of editor-in-chief Atwan (@abdelbariatwan) appears at the bottom. He dominates the paper as its editor since 1989. Here’s a taste:

The Israeli army, through its inhumane treatment of over two million Palestinians besieged by land, sea and air, reminds us of similar treatment by the Nazi army of Jewish inmates in the Nazi camps. The only difference is that the Israeli army hasn’t sent the Palestinians to the gas ovens, at least not yet’

Holding out Israel’s defence forces as equivalent to the Nazis, and their intentions as genocidal, is not his invention. Other foaming-at-the-mouth polemicists and unadorned antisemites do it a lot and have done for years. And as our title suggests, we’re not attacking Atwan here. The man is what he is.

What we are taking this opportunity to criticize, this time with the disgusting Nazi analogy of today’s Atwan editorial in mind, is the way in which this unpleasant individual with his noxious views continues to be given public platforms in respectable places.

We think this can only be because the people in those places (a) don’t know what he writes in Arabic, (b) don’t care or (c) share Atwan’s self-opinion (on his website) that this is actually a function of his “lively and passionate debating style“.

Examples of the respectable places that give Abdel Bari Atwan a platform? His website lists some of them here: BBC News (as recently as two weeks ago); Al Jazeerah; BBC Dateline; BBC News Review; RT (“Russia Today”); Chatham House London. His website describes him as “a regular contributor to a number of UK, US, Middle Eastern and Turkish publications including ‘The Guardian’, ‘The Scottish Herald’, ‘Gulf News’ and ‘Star Gazet’“. 

These are the people who need to be criticized. We don’t say Atwan should be shut up or shut out. Many of us live in free societies, and obnoxious views like his are part of the price. What we do say is that presenting him as a sober and objective stakeholder in the robust public marketplace of ideas is irresponsible, dishonest and disingenuous.

His viewpoints on terrorism alone should have taken out of the mainstream broadcast media years ago. The fact that he keeps on popping up suggests a serious degree of systemic prejudice at work inside Bush House and other such places of huge global influence.

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