Al-Jazeera and the glorification of barbarity


I have often wondered why some of the best thinkers of our time refuse to believe in human progress. After all, there was a time when tens of
thousands of ordinary citizens flocked to the gates of the Roman Coliseum to enjoy the sight of wild beasts tearing human beings to pieces. Today, such a sight would evoke revulsion and disbelief.

Of course, inhumanity still exists, but it is no longer laudable or fashionable in the public sphere. With the exception of exhibition killings by jihadist recruiters, cruelty is no longer a catalyst of mass arousal. Even the Nazis tried to hide their deeds from the eyes of history. Be it for fear or shame, the trend is clear: The norms of civilized society are moving forward, and it is those norms, not their exceptions, that shape the minds of our youngsters and invigorate our hopes for a better world.

All this was true until about four weeks ago, when the royal procession of Samir Kuntar brought barbarism back to the public square. Kuntar is the killer who smashed the head of a 4-year-old girl with his rifle butt in 1979 after killing her father before her eyes. The mother, hiding in a crawl space, accidentally suffocated her 2-year-old child while trying to keep her from giving away their hiding place.

Kuntar was tried, convicted and sentenced to 542 years in prison and never expressed any remorse. He was released by Israel on July 26 in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2006.

As anticipated, Hezbollah’s mass celebration in Beirut in the presence of its leader, Hassan Nassralla, evoked a chivalrous scene from a fairy tale gone awry. One by one, the whole Lebanese leadership stepped up to “brother Kuntar” to shake the hand and kiss the cheeks of that archsymbol of barbarity. There was Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, President Michel Sulayman, even the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt — a whole nation bowed down to a moral deformity in a Hezbollah’s fatigue and a “Heil Hitler” salute.

The focus of my attention naturally turned to Al-Jazeera because, with its outreach of 50 million viewers from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, this pan-Arab satellite channel is considered the conscience and future of the Arab world.

“What would they tell their children?” I thought. “How would they present a Lebanon — once the crown jewel of the Arab world — kneeling before a child-killing psychopath?”

A chill went down my spine when British-accented announcers introduced Al-Jazeera’s English channel correspondent Rula Amin in Abeih, Kuntar’s home village, and translated the wisdom of Kuntar’s words from the original Arabic. Imagine a voice cast in an impeccable Oxford accent articulating in obvious empathy: “He has returned to a hero’s welcome…. After 29 years in [an] Israeli prison, Samir Kuntar spent his first day of freedom vowing to continue to fight against Israel. He says he hopes to see the enemy again very soon.”