It has been a long time that I have heard that Al Qaeda represents a threat to anybody, at least the Al Qaeda core, consisting of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri and the pack still hanging out with them. Do they still exist? Or are the stories of their hiding out in the tribal areas of Pakistan a political myth that is about to fade once and forever?
And it has been another while since Osama bin Laden posted his "Letter to America" - you might call it the "Jihadi Manifesto" - on the internet. (Yes, the internet already existed in 2002.) While many of his arguments against America made some sense, his answers didn't: Killing people and promoting terrorism won't make a better world, won't lead to a sustainable pursuit of happiness for the people in the Arab world.
Was Osama's message ever heard? No it wasn't, not by a meaningful share of the population he wanted to reach out to. Al Qaeda has never established the base it aimed to be in the Arab world, but has moved out instead, more and more, out of the center of attention of the Arab mind, to an island somewhere drifting in the ideological ocean.
Al Jazeera is the Island. And it is Al Jazeera's message that is heard now, in 2011, when the world takes notice of an uprising in the Arab world. Surprisingly for the rest of the world, the uprisings are not directed at the "West" - the clash of civilization didn't happen - but against dictators and leaders of revolutions long cherished by the very same "West".
Reporting the revolutions: Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin
Al Jazeera was for a long time, and still is, suspected to be the press office of Al Qaeda. Of course it didn't help that Tayseer Alouni, their famous reporter and bin Laden interviewer, later was convicted for carrying money for Al Qaeda and sentenced to seven years in prison. For some, like the Israeli historian Itamar Rabinovich or German journalist Elmar Thevessen, Al Jazeera has long ago stopped to be impartial but has become an instrument for a nationalistic and islamistic agenda. But how can one be impartial in a world full of injustice? And: does anybody ask Fox News to be impartial?
Some call Al Jazeera the 23rd state of the Arab League. But what is Al Jazeera really, what do they strive to be? "It's complicated", says Wadah Khanfar, their well spoken Director General. Al Jazeera aims high. In an interview with Democracy Now!, Khanfar puts it this way: "Al Jazeera is a reflection of the collective minds of the nations, cultures and civilizations that we report from and report to. Al Jazeera is the profession as the forefathers of this profession accepted it to be. We can't be part of the centers of power. We do not accept associations with centers of power, neither commercial nor political. This is a very heavy price that we are paying."
Any self-respecting journalist can't be part of the centers of power - their job is to monitor these centers. But what is the heavy price Al Jazeera is paying? Don't they make money (not enough apparently; they get funding by the government of Qatar)? Do they have to bribe somebody to keep going and feel bad about it (not the Emir of Qatar it seems; he keeps his hands off the AJ newsroom)? Unfortunately Khanfar didn't elaborate further on that. But you can't expect love when you (try to) tell an unpleasant truth. You might get called all kinds of names, as it happened with Al Jazeera: the Hebraia, founded by the CIA, the Zionists and the Mossad, reflecting the ideologies of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. I believe you are doing something right when you have enemies. There is almost no Arabic country where Al Jazeera wasn't shut down at one time or another, and even Bush bombed their office in Baghdad in 2003 (and never apologized for it!).
Almost as a shock to many, the Arab revolutions have, so far, no religious motivation. The people protesting are Muslim allright, but they don't want to replace the Pharaos with a caliphate or an emirate. Isn't religion the driving force behind every move in the Arab world? Does the "West" get it all wrong? Tariq Ramadan make this point for a long time, as controversial as he might be for many. In a post on his website, he celebrates the "Fridays of Freedom", with people reuniting to preach and to resist, as "a direct marriage between Islam - the Muslim - and freedom, justice and democratic principles". (Now what is the difference between "democracy" and "democratic principles"? Tariq Ramadan has a talent for having people to keep second guessing his statements.) Looking at this run for freedom, I repeat my claim I have made before: Historically, Europeans have more in common with the Arab culture than with the American culture. If only Europe would realize and acknowledge this.
Let's pretend for a moment that Gaddafi is right and he indeed is fighting Al Qaeda forces in Eastern Libya. The military intervention and the no-fly zone the US and NATO are deliberating now, would then protect Osama bin Laden and his loyal men. What an ironic twist of history that would be. George W. Bush is rotating in his political grave only thinking of it. Please Al Jazeera, send a reporter down there.
PS: Ayman Mohyeldin is @AymanM on Twitter - you might consider following.