By Diana Moukalled
2 June 2015
Al-Jazeera’s TV interview with Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani has garnered controversy over whether the media should grant space to figures linked with terrorism. However, this has taken place throughout the history of journalism. For example, Western media outlets today scramble to get an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is responsible for major massacres, so why not Golani?
The issue is about how to present these figures and whether they are held accountable. In Golani’s case, the interview was a scoop, but it resembled propaganda because he was not challenged or asked investigative questions. The interview was between two people in total harmony. The questions implied admiration for Golani, and the statements were sectarian despite the calm tone and assurances that the only aim was to topple Assad.
Golani called on certain groups to abandon their religious convictions. He thinks Alawites must stop being Alawites, and Christians will be fine if they pay a tax. How tolerant! The interview gained the admiration of those who consider Al-Nusra, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, an acceptable alternative to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The danger of such an interview is that embellishing a figure such as Golani means deleting the history of the past four years. It is as if there has not been a revolution in Syria, and that people did not take out to the streets to demand freedom. The interview implies that the only options for Syria are Assad, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is a logic adopted by the Assad regime from the start of the revolution that erupted in 2011.
In the past, many interviews have been held with warlords for the sake of marketing them. This has not been limited to Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, but also to “resistance” movements and regimes. However, with the embellishment of Golani’s image, it seems that terrorism - whether Sunni or Shiite - is still a winning card in the region.
During the interview, Golani reassured the West that Al-Nusra posed it no threat. The Middle East’s ruling regimes have done the same while depriving their peoples of freedom. Golani assured the West but worried us. There will likely be more such interviews to come.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.