The war on al-Jazeera: The US is determined to suppress the independent Arab media

From the archive (legacy material)

Dima Tareq Tahboub | The Guardian | 4 October 2003

When my husband decided to go to Baghdad, he knew that I would protest. He told me that I was exaggerating the risks; that there was nothing to be afraid of because he was a reporter, an objective witness, neither on this nor that side, and because of that was protected by world protocol. He bid us farewell, apologising for having been so busy. He promised to make it up to me and our daughter, Fatimah, when he returned.
Tareq left for al-Jazeera’s Baghdad office on April 5. He called me when he arrived – the journey was hellish, he said. He sounded exhausted, because he was sleeping only three hours a day, between shifts. Back home in Jordan, our life wasn’t any better; we could hardly sleep and sat mesmerised in front of the TV waiting for Tareq to appear in a live report so we’d know he was OK.
On the early morning of April 8, I was still awake at 6am and saw his last live report, in which he described the situation in Baghdad as being very calm and quiet. I was relieved and went to sleep, only to wake up one hour later to the sound of my mother crying and yelling.
At first, I didn’t know what had happened. I brought a chair and sat trembling in front of the TV. The house was suddenly full of people. I couldn’t see or hear anyone. I was waiting for the film to end. I was waiting for the hero to appear and end all evil. I was waiting for the story of my life to end with “and they lived happily ever after”. I couldn’t cry, I was just listening to the news, seeing again and again all through the day how the Americans bombed the al-Jazeera office and killed my husband.
I teach English translation. Once, when I was lecturing on the translation of political terminology, with reference to the UN charter and the declaration of human rights, one of the students said: “How can the US say that this war has a noble cause and a humane agenda? All the dictionary definitions of war involve bloodshed and overwhelming destruction.” Another student joined in: “Don’t tell us about charters and so-called noble missions, what we see is what we believe.” The whole class cheered; I had nothing to say.
I used to tell my students that the American dream is best described as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now I am convinced my students were right and I wrong. I learned the hard way when the Americans ruined my life, confiscated my liberty and ended my happiness.
The US bombed al-Jazeera because it was angered by reports that did not confirm its one-sided picture of the war. For the past five years, al-Jazeera and other Arab stations have been gaining credibility and fame not only in the Arab countries but also in the west, competing with international networks such as the BBC and CNN. Al-Jazeera in particular became very popular during the American war on Afghanistan. The channel aired voice recordings of al-Qaida and Taliban leaders as well as the speeches of President Bush and allied leaders. This decision to broadcast both sides was in keeping with its motto – “The opinion and the counter-opinion” – but the Americans could not allow such freedom of expression to prevail.
The US sent its first warning to al-Jazeera in November 2001, bombing its Kabul office, destroying its equipment and forcing its journalists to flee. An al-Jazeera cameraman was sent to Guantanamo Bay as a war prisoner.
In Baghdad during the war, the coverage of al-Jazeera again focused mainly on the daily suffering and loss of ordinary people; and again the Americans wanted their crimes and atrocities to pass unnoticed. The two bombs they dropped on al-Jazeera’s Baghdad office were the ones that killed my husband. Then the Americans opened fire on Abu Dhabi television, whose identity was spelled out in large blue letters on the roof. The next target was the Palestine hotel, the headquarters of world media representatives – an American tank fired a shell and two more journalists were killed. Thus the US tried to conceal evidence of its crimes from the world and kill the witnesses.
The US didn’t take responsibility for the attacks, claiming that all three were mistakes and insisting that it did not know the whereabouts of journalists, apart from those “embedded” with its troops. Later, al-Jazeera’s director confirmed that it had given the precise location of the station’s Baghdad office to the Pentagon three months before the war. My husband and the others were killed in broad daylight, in locations known to the Pentagon as media sites.
The US was not content with the message it sent to al-Jazeera signed with the blood of my husband; it accused al-Jazeera and other Arab channels of anti-American bias in their coverage of the war. But how biased can a picture of dead people be? A picture of a destroyed house doesn’t need a reporter to tell its story, and the tears of children and refugees need no interpreter.
Tell me, please, what should I do when my daughter, just 20 months old, starts calling her late father’s name and looking for him all around the house? What should I do when the clock strikes five and I keep waiting for Tareq to open the door with his smiling face but he never comes in? When the only way to have some rest is to cry myself to sleep? When I see my mother-in-law vomiting four times in less than half an hour? When my daughter brings her toys to play with me, as she used to do with her father, and I can’t even hold her? When my tears fall on my daughter’s face when I give her milk, remembering how her father used to do it? When I feel ruined and desperate, with no hope in life?
How should I raise my daughter? Allow me to answer the last question. I will raise her never to forgive or forget. Never to forget her father and never to forgive those who killed him.
Six months have passed since the killing of Tareq, and those responsible for his death are still in control, claiming ethical supervision of the world, and basking in their military achievements. The attacks on al-Jazeera continue – Iraq’s US-appointed governing council has just warned the station that if it continues to “misbehave”, its licence in Iraq will be revoked. Meanwhile, an al-Jazeera correspondent, Tayssir Alouni – the only television journalist who had a live link from Taliban Kabul, and a survivor of both the Kabul and Baghdad bombings – has been accused of helping al-Qaida and the Taliban. When he went to Spain to obtain his PhD, he was arrested by the Spanish authorities, widely believed to have been at the behest of the Americans. He is now in a high-security prison awaiting trial, despite there being no concrete evidence against him.
As for me, six months have passed since my husband’s death and I can’t find anyone to help me to launch legal action against those who killed him. When I thought I had found an outlet under Belgian law, US threats and ultimatums got the law repealed and put an end to my hopes of gaining justice.
When the Muslim Association of Britain invited me to speak at last weekend’s anti-war march in London, I hesitated because of the despair I have been in. But when I saw all these people marching against the war, condemning those responsible for it, my hope and belief in the solidarity of humankind, in humanity, justice and truth was rekindled.
My life and happiness came to an end on April 8, but I still have one last dream; that my Fatimah will have a better future full of love and security, that her heart and mind as well as mine will be relieved when those who committed the cold-blooded murder of her father and my husband are brought to justice.
Dima Tareq Tahboub is a lecturer at the Arab Open University in Amman and the widow of Tareq Ayyoub, a correspondent for al-Jazeera