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Imagine waking up in Afghanistan this morning. You are in a foreign country fighting a long war against international jihad. You joined the Australian army because you love your country. You love your country so much that you are prepared to sacrifice your life to keep Australians safe from terror. You serve because the war for freedom and democracy, global peace and safety is a war worth fighting. Every house surrendered to the Taliban is a girl who will never know freedom. But the human face of war is lost in the slow grind of nation-building for a country that isn’t yours. Maybe troops feel they are fighting someone else’s war and it erodes morale. There will be no heroes’ welcome when they return home. Instead, there will be Al Jazeera on the ABC and political correctness from Canberra.
The ABC’s deal with Al Jazeera compromises the credibility of the national broadcaster. The Al Jazeera network is owned by Qatar’s ruling family. Qatar harbours Taliban leaders and reportedly supports other Islamist interests that Australian troops are fighting in the region. David Kirkpatrick wrote in The New York Times: “Qatar has for many years helped support a spectrum of Islamist groups around the region by providing safe haven, diplomatic mediation, financial aid and, in certain instances, weapons.” The Egyptian media reports that: “Qatar is using groups such as the Taliban, Islamic State … for its own protection.”
Since 2001, Australia has fought its longest war to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban. By May this year, 42 Australian personnel had died. The US Department of Defence reports that 2216 American lives have been lost in the struggle to free Afghanistan from jihadism. Among them 1833 were killed in action. And the Taliban hasn’t stopped killing our allies. This month, US troops were killed by a Taliban suicide bomber attacking a convoy. Islamic State has emerged in the country also. When Western forces retreat, jihadis strike. The US and Australia have sent additional troops to consolidate democratic nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, taking the number of our personnel to 300.
We might expect Australia’s publicly-funded media to ride with us in the war on international jihad. Yet the ABC’s Al Jazeera coverage of the Western war on terror often seems to align with Qatari foreign policy. It promotes porous Western borders and mass migration from Islamist states to the West while casting our military action to prevent Islamist incursion in a negative light. It frequently plays down the risk that the movement for international jihad poses to the free world. Israel is commonly demonised while some of the Islamic world’s worst violators of human rights are liberated from sustained scrutiny.
Qatar’s relationship to the Taliban is highly problematic. In 2013, the Taliban Afghanistan Political Office was opened in Doha. Qatar’s assistant foreign minister cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony of what has become known as the Taliban embassy. Obama administration officials supported its establishment. Under a subsequent prisoner swap deal between the US and Qatar, the administration freed five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a US soldier being held by the Taliban, Bowe Bergdahl. He was feted by Democrats despite allegations that he might have deserted his post in Afghanistan before being taken by the Taliban. Bergdahl will stand trial in October for desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy.
Republican senator John McCain described the “Taliban five” freed by the Obama administration as “the hardest of the hard core. These are the highest high-risk people.” Notably, the UAE rejected the administration’s proposal to take the Taliban five because the Taliban would not agree to three conditions stipulated by the US. In a letter to The New York Times, UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba listed the conditions as, “the Taliban must denounce al-Qa’ida and its founder, Osama bin Laden … recognise the Afghan constitution … renounce violence and lay down their weapons”. Qatar reportedly accepted the jihadis without requiring the Taliban to observe any of the conditions.
The relationship between Qatar and the Taliban raises the question of credibility and bias in regard to the Al Jazeera network. Last month, Jewish leaders raised specific concerns in News Corp papers about the ABC’s coverage of Israeli affairs. Executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council Colin Rubenstein wrote in this paper: “Qatar’s ruling family, the owner of Al Jazeera, is one of the main supporters of Hamas — a terror group committed to Israel’s destruction.”
In June, Lateline host Emma Alberici interviewed Iranian academic Mohammad Marandi after jihadis attacked the Iranian parliament. Despite Islamic State taking responsibility for the attacks, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shifted the blame to Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump. Half-way through the interview, Marandi hadn’t mentioned Trump. Alberici prompted him twice. After her second prompt (where she called Trump’s condolences to Iran “provocative”), Marandi unleashed a tirade against the West. He said: “The United States is the country that created this whole mess. They helped create the extremists in Afghanistan with the Saudis. 9/11 was blowback … the whole region is collapsing and this is largely due to American policies … if there’s one country in the world that’s responsible for … the export of terrorism across the world, it is the United States. It chooses Israel which is an apartheid regime.” Alberici didn’t correct him.
It is unclear why the government is not addressing potential political bias produced by Al Jazeera’s partnership with the ABC. Perhaps the matter is complicated by the government’s reluctance to list the Taliban as a proscribed terrorist organisation. It is clearly dishonourable to make Australians pay for the distribution of news financed by a state that backs our military enemies. Under conditions of war, such material might be called propaganda.
What are we to call it?