news Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | January 11, 2015 | 2:05 pm IST

As journalists worldwide debated in their studios about the brutal Charlie Hebdo shootout in Paris, Salah-Aldeen Khadr, Al Jazeera English editor and executive producer sent out an email to his staff.

According to a report in National Review Online, The mail consisted of a list of “suggestions” for how anchors and correspondents at the Qatar-based news outlet should cover the incident.

Khadr urged the employees to consider if the incident was really an "attack on free speech" as newsrooms across the world dubbed it.

“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" he added.

This mail was followed by a heated discussion which brings out the unspoken tension of the Al Jazeera's Arab center of gravity and the western correspondents that are employed by it.

Here is a copy of the mail and the full copy of the replies that followed can be found here.

Executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr:

Thursday, January 08, 2015
Subject: AJ coverage of events in Paris

Dear Editorial colleagues,

Please accept this note in the spirit it is intended – to make our coverage the best that it can be …. We are Al Jazeera!!!!

My suggestion is that we question and raise the following points in our coverage – studio/anchors/guests/correspondents:

This was a targeted attack, not a broad attack on the french population a la Twin towers or 7/7 style. So who was this attack against? The whole of France/EU society? Or specifically this magazine. The difference lies in how this is reported not in how terrible the act is obviously – murder is murder either way… but poses a narrower question of the “why”? attack on french society and values? Only if you consider CH’s racist caricatures to be the best of European intellectual production (total whitewash on that at the moment)

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?

“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..?

Danger in making this a free speech aka “European Values” under attack binary is that it once again constructs European identity in opposition to Islam (sacred depictions) and cements the notion of a European identity under threat from an Islamic retrograde culture of which the attackers are merely the violent tip of the iceberg (see the seeping of Far Right discourse into french normalcy with Houellebecque’s novel for example)

The key is to look at the biographies of these guys – contrary to conventional wisdom, they were radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed

You don’t actually stick it to the terrorists by insulting the majority of Muslims by reproducing more cartoons – you actually entrench the very animosity and divisions these guys seek to sow.

This is a clash of extremist fringes…

I suggest a re-read of the Time magazine article back from 2011 and I have selected the most poignant/important excerpt….

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. Baiting extremists isn’t bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it’s pointlessly all about you.

Kind regards

Salah-Aldeen Khadr
​Executive Producer
Al Jazeera English

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