While citizens around the free world embraced the mantra “Je suis Charlie” to show solidarity with the murdered employees of a French satirical magazine, a top editor at a Muslim-owned news organization had a different message for his colleagues: “We are Al Jazeera.”
A leaked email from Al Jazeera English Editor and Executive Producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr used the twist on a viral phrase used around the world to show support for victims of the Wednesday slaughter of 12 in an Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdow in Paris. The magazine was targeted for its penchant for publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, which it did in addition to poking fun at other religions.
“Was this really an attack on “free speech?” Khadr asked his subordinates in the email blast. “Who is attacking free speech here exactly?
“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,” wrote Khadr, quoting Time magazine, as he urged Al Jazeera staffers to consider that “I am Charlie” is an “alienating slogan – with us or against us type of statement – one can be anti-CH’s racism and ALSO against murdering people.”
“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,”
The email, first obtained by National Review Online, appears to have touched off a vigorous debate among editorial employees of the Qatar-owned outlet, which has often been accused of showing sympathy to Muslim extremists.
Al Jazeera English channel reporter Omar Al Saleh responded with an obligatory condemnation of the killings of 12 people, including four well-known cartoonists, in the attack, but made his real point in all capital letters, for extra emphasis.
“I AM NOT CHARLIE,” Saleh wrote. “JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME. INSULTISM IS NOT JOURNALISM AND NOT DOING JOURNALISM PROPERLY IS CRIME.”
But Al Jazeera’s U.S. correspondent Tom Ackerman disagreed, in another portion of the leaked email chain.
“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,” Ackerman wrote. “When offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.
Al Jazeera, whose headquarters are in Doha, also has international offices in London and New York. It received a U.S. license and began broadcasting in August 2013 under its Al Jazeera America brand. On its mission statement the company outlines its values saying, “We maintain credibility through impartial, accurate and comprehensive representation of the story,” and adds, “Integrity and respect guide our conduct internally and externally.”
The company is Al Jazeera and is owned and funded by Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family, whose regime has been accused of financing radical Islamist terror groups in the Middle East, most notably Hamas in Gaza and the Al Nusra Front in Syria.
Reached for comment about the internal debate, an Al Jazeera spokesman said such discussions are part of the reporting process.
“We have arguably the most diverse newsroom in the world, and the robustness of our internal discussions that flow from this are a great strength,” the spokesman said. “Viewers judge us on our output, which on the Paris story has been first class, relaying events in real time, all the while providing a full spectrum of context.”
The spokesman also added that Khadr is one of several executive producers at the organization and his opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera