BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Last month, a federal indictment claimed that two New York area businessmen provided, quote, “Material support to a US-designated terrorist organization,” specifically the Lebanon-based militant group, Hezbollah.
That support came not in the form of money or arms, but rather air time. Through their satellite TV company HDTV Limited, Javed Iqbal and Saleh Elahwal enabled customers to receive broadcasts from Hezbollah’s media outlet, Al Manar, itself tagged a terrorist entity in 2004.
The man who tipped off the government and provided the information necessary to obtain the search warrant that led to their arrests was Mark Dubowitz, head of the Coalition Against Terrorist Media. For more than two years, Dubowitz has been lobbying satellite TV companies around the world to drop Al Manar, which he says is no mere propaganda tool, but actually an operational weapon.
MARK DUBOWITZ: It’s used to raise funds. It’s used to recruit new members to Hezbollah and in fact, members of Al Manar have conducted operational surveillance on behalf of Hezbollah. So really, it is a terrorist organization masquerading as a media outlet.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, I haven’t seen it, but I understand from reading about it that maybe a quarter of its programming is kids’ programming, seemingly designed to get them interested in martyrdom. Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes on the Middle East for The New Yorker, calls it the Suicide Channel.
Let’s take it as read that it’s bad, ugly stuff, but don’t Americans, especially Americans, have the right to choose what they see or read?
MARK DUBOWITZ: I think they do, but I think one needs to understand that at least in America, Al Manar has been designated not because of its content but because it’s provided direct operational support to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is a designated terrorist organization.
In contrast, the Europeans, which have banned Al Manar, all four European satellite providers have actually banned it based on its content. The French and the Germans have very strict laws in Europe, and that’s up to Europeans to decide how far they’re going to go in banning speech.
I mean, it’s bitterly racist, anti-Semitic. It glorifies suicide bombing. It’s not only yelling fire in a crowded movie theater. In a sense, it’s providing the match, the gasoline and the arsonist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I understand what you’re saying, that you aren’t attacking the speech so much as the organization, but don’t we have to be arguing the case for democracy from a point of moral authority? Isn’t it hard for us to take positions on torture now, given that the administration’s rereading of the Geneva Convention has cut that ground out from under us?
The same thing about the role that free speech plays in democracy – if we’re closing down TV stations, however odious they are, aren’t we undermining our larger message?
MARK DUBOWITZ: Well, I think that, you know, this is not just about Middle East media outlets. If you recall, during the Kosovo War, NATO forces actually bombed Serbian television because it was being used by Milosevic to incite Serbs to genocide.
In Rwanda, two radio executives actually were tried for war crimes for using their radio station, again, to incite for genocide, and if I recall, Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch, who’s a vigorous defender of First Amendment rights and democratic values, said at the time that if you fan the flames, you will bear the consequences. If you call for the murder of people, you are crossing all red lines with respect to free speech, and in fact, if we don‘t stand against that, then I think we lack the moral authority to speak out against violence, terrorism and genocide.
So I think it’s something that we vigorously need to defend and fight against to ensure that media outlets are not being used as a cover for murder.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But your principal interest here is twofold. It’s to prevent Al Manar from supporting Hezbollah. but it’s also to prevent Al Manar from getting its message out. Obviously, people who want to see it will find their way to a web stream. Do you advocate blocking web sites like China and Iran do?
MARK DUBOWITZ: First of all, as an American, you know I object to anti-American speech. As somebody who cares about democratic values and women’s issues and gay rights, I object to speech that demonizes those groups.
But I do believe in the marketplace of ideas and I believe you have to counter bad speech with good speech.
The fundamental difference here is that al Manar incites to violence. It calls for the death and destruction of civilians, and I think in that case it’s violating all First Amendment protections, as recognized under US law.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you’re suggesting that the government ought to consider blocking technology then, to keep it out of the country, ‘cause it will come in if they don’t.
MARK DUBOWITZ: If it could be effective, then I probably would support it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You may be able to follow the money trail and cut off the support to terrorist organizations. We saw it happen in the wake of 9/11, but I don’t think you can cut off the sentiment, the message, the impulse to violence, by putting a cork in the broadcasters.
MARK DUBOWITZ: Al Manar is no longer available in America, Canada, Central America, South America, Asia, Australia and most of Africa, so for those of us who would prefer to see a non-military solution [LAUGHS] to the war on terrorism, we have to acknowledge that there have to be other avenues that we need to take in order to prevent these organizations from growing, metastasizing and murdering.
And I think cutting off their funding, making it much more difficult for them to acquire equipment, cutting off any kind of support services that facilitate their activities, is exactly the kind of approach that we should support if we’re going to empower moderate Muslims and Arabs to speak out against this kind of violence, that we have to help them and choke these terrorist organizations financially, operationally and otherwise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark, thank you very much.
MARK DUBOWITZ: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Dubowitz, head of the Coalition Against Terrorist Media, a project of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"Fight For Your Mind"
by Ben Harper