Tuesday 18 December 2012

The Two Faces of Tunisia

Douglas Murray has written a thought-provoking post about the 'Arab Winter' over at The Spectator. Its starting point is the man Sue and I have been keeping a careful eye on for some two years now, ever since we both heard his daughter being courted by Paddy O'Connell's Broadcasting House back in January 2011. He's Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the guiding light behind post-revolutionary Tunisia's election-winning Islamist party, Ennahda. 

Mr. Murray is scathing about Britain's role in helping his rise to power and goes on to describe the sheikh's influence on the North African country in this way:
Since returning to Tunisia this Brotherhood leader and leading Hamas fan, has – through his leadership of the major Brotherhood party in the coalition – helped to lead Tunisia down the road of Islamic fascism.
Douglas Murray reports that Mr. Ghannouchi has recently taken part in a Tunisia-based ‘International Conference in Support of Palestinian Prisoners in the Jails of the Zionist Occupation' - a conference so closely tied to Hamas that the Palestinian Authority (Mahmoud Abbas's lot) were only invited as ‘observers’, provoking them to boycott the event in response to this snub. Having sat alongside a convicted Hamas terrorist who helped orchestrate the murder of eight Israeli children in a suicide bombing on a pizza restaurant, Sheikh Rachid went on to make the following statements:
‘Every day, the ummah is getting closer to the liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine…’

'Allah, permit me to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, or [grant] me martyrdom at Jerusalem’s doorstep.’
Not very moderate remarks, are they? And yet 'moderate' is the word that keeps getting applied to Rachid al-Ghannouchi and his Ennahda party - not least by the BBC. And that's been going on for some time.

Shamelessly plugging an old comment of mine from a Biased BBC Open Thread from the early days of the 'Arab Spring', he's how I heard the afore-mentioned appearance by Mr. al-Ghannouchi's daughter at the time:
Craig has commented 16 January 2011,19:54:40
George R's predicted likely Islamist takeover of Tunisia may be about the get the BBC's blessing if this morning's Broadcasting House (Radio 4) is anything to go by.     

The programme put in a call to the daughter of one of the exiled opposition leaders and, almost inevitably, it was an Islamist politician: "Yusra Khreeji is the daughter of Rached Ghannouchi, the chairman of the Tunisian moderate Islamist En Nahda movement".     
When the likes of Paddy O'Connell call an Islamist movement "moderate", we know from experience that this probably needs taking with a large pinch of salt.  Does a "moderate" man really believe that Zionists are plotting to take over the world? Sheikh Ghannouchi does:       
"The Zionist project wants to inherit our Ummah and inherit the West itself. It wants to lead the world. After (the natural shift of) the center of civilization from London to Washington, it wants to move it to Orshalim (Jerusalem) and destroy all other civilizational and religious projects we have today."     
Paddy O'Connell asked Ms Khreeji nothing about her father's ideology.    
 Sue was soon on the case too:

Political turmoil in Lebanon poses a serious threat to the stability of the region, but in an erratic tribute to impartiality, the BBC reports the utterances of Hassan Nasrallah, being scrupulously careful to avoid taking sides.

Kevin Connolly thinks the appointment of a pro-Hezbollah PM is a way out of Lebanon’s immediate political crisis, with the caveat: “It is an uncomfortable outcome for the US, which denounces Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and reflects the growing regional influence of the movement’s sponsors, Iran and Syria.”
The Syria/Iran infiltration of Lebanon may not worry the BBC, but then they wouldn’t be worried by the content of this article by Michael J Totten.
“Hezbollah had 10,000 rockets before the war in 2006. Now it has between 40,000 and 50,000. Some are stored in warehouses. Others are hidden away a few at a time in private homes.”
Hezbollah positions itself amongst houses and mosques because they know the Israelis cannot retaliate without killing civilians.
“Its fighters and officers wear no uniforms. Only rarely do they carry guns out in the open.”
The BBC should be very alarmed at what is happening in Lebanon, not complacently telling us that the political crisis is over.
The Foreign Office is reported as stating that they have no objection to dictators being overthrown, but they’d prefer it if they were replaced by secular rather than religious governments. For example, “democratically,” as in Lebanon. What? Are my ears deceiving me?

Does this mean that the Foreign Office thinks that Hezbollah, having murdered the Lebanese Prime Minister, refused to accept responsibility for the murder, promised to cut off the hand of any accuser, embedded a massive stockpile of arms within civilian areas and in mosques, not to mention being dedicated to the destruction of Israel – does the foreign office or a spokesperson thereof, really hold Hezbollah’s roughshod trampling over the Lebanese government as an example of democracy, desirable for Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen et al ? And to add insult to that salty wound William Hague has gone off to suck up to Syria.
I wrote here about the BBC’s decisive action over a film produced by Christopher Mitchell. They abandoned it.
Professor Paul Rogers, author of “Why We’re Losing the War on Terror” has been on BBC discussing Rachid Ghannouchi’s return to Tunisia. “He’s anti American, but a moderate.” he reassures us casually.
Rachid Ghannouchi a moderate? Christopher Hitchins begs to differ.
He visited Tunis University “to talk to a female professor of theology named Mongia Souahi. She is the author of a serious scholarly work explaining why the veil has no authority in the Quran. One response had come from an exiled Tunisian Islamist named Rachid al-Ghannouchi, who declared her to be a kuffar, or unbeliever. This, as everybody knows, is the prelude to declaring her life to be forfeit as an apostate. I was slightly alarmed to see Ghannouchi and his organization, Hizb al-Nahda, described in Sunday’s New York Times as “progressive,” and to learn that he is on his way home from London."

The BBC may be hoping Rachid Ghannouchi is a moderate, but didn’t blink an eye at his being “anti American.” To them that’s a trivial detail. The Ghannouchi daughter, or is that daughters, contribute to the Guardian and the BBC. Yusra Khreeji was on Broadcasting House a week ago, and Soumaya Ghannouchi is a regular contributor to the Guardian, and attends anti-Israel rallies, unleashing a mean impersonation of Lauren Booth.
Paul Rogers thinks we mishandle Islamists, driving them towards likes of Al Qaeda. Terrorism is our fault, we’re too hard line.
This morning we were treated to the oily reassurances of the odious Tariq Ramadan, another professor who has insinuated himself into the BBC’s speed dial directory.
We’ve seen John Kerry, he of the cylindrical head and massive chin, evidently fresh from overdosing on PaliLeaks, advising Israel to make concessions and stop oppressing the Palestinians.
“Israel is worried”, someone is saying now, on the BBC.
Abdul Bari Atwan, another speed dial buddy: “Illegal set-telments under internationallaw” he screeched, his eyes nearly popping out of his head.
“Yes” said Polly Toynbee, also high on the Guardian’s deceitful spin on  the PaliLeaks. “It’s all Israel’s fault.”
Everyone is rooting for the Egyptian protesters. “Look at the chaos! Whatever next?" Whatever next indeed.
So, even so early in the course of Tunisia's post-revolutionary history, the nagging doubts about Tunisia's 'moderate' Islamist leader were being aired on blogs critical of the BBC, whilst being largely airbrushed out of the story by the BBC itself - almost as if they couldn't see or hear them because they didn't want to see or hear them.

Our joint tracking of Rachid Ghannouchi's career continued, over at Biased BBC

Here's me again, commenting on a post of Sue's from May 2011:
Craig has commented 22 May 2011,16:53:08
The full Obama-Netanyahu statement was put up on the BBC website, perhaps compensating a little for what can be seen as either the News Channel's characteristic miscalculation ("let's not miss a single word Obama says but sod anyone else") or a casual/deliberate anti-Israeli bias ("who wants to hear what Netanyahu says?").   
Newsnight did make a slight amends for months of misinformation last week by broadcasting a scary if somewhat punch-pulling report from Egypt on the anti-Israeli mood there, showing flag-burning protests outside the Israeli embassy and featuring various anti-Israeli 'talking heads'.  
However, the point Sue makes about the BBC misinforming us about the 'Arab Spring' is becoming ever more obviously true.  
Since the "moderate" Tunisian Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi was plugged on my (least) favourite BBC programme, Broadcasting House, (the word "moderate" being prominently used) I've been following his fortunes and despite voices on the BBC - and, in fairness, much of the MSM - constantly reassuring us that Tunisia wasn't fertile ground for Islamists (even "moderates" like Mr Ghannouchi), it now seems that the Islamists of Ennahda might win the forthcoming Tunisian elections. Thanks BBC for warning us about that - not!!  
And thanks also for failing to report Mr Ghannouchi's latest pronouncements which (if we are to believe the sources, including the Ahlul Bayt News Agency), show his "moderate" image to be a sham. It appears he's gleefully predicting the end of Israel:  
"Ghannouchi said that the revolution sweeping through the Arab world is a good omen for the Palestinians for it would bring Israel to an end. According to Ghannouchi, Arab regimes that have been supporting the West would all fall, and he quotes the prophecy of Sheikh Ahman Yassin that Israel will fall before 2027.  
Reports identify Ghannouchi as a leader of the Islamist movement Al Nahda of  Tunisia, in exile. Al Nahda has ties with the international Muslim Brotherhood.  
Ghannouchi alleges that the "Jews everywhere are behind a worldwide campaign against Islam" and that Islam and the West could reach an accommodation "were it not for the worldwide machinations of the Jews."" 

...and here's Sue again from later in the same year:

           By Sue |  

The English-language news station France 24 with its youthful, well-informed presenters makes BBC News 24 seem parochial.
France 24′s extensive coverage of Gilad Shalit’s homecoming was, from what I’ve heard, broadly similar to the BBC’s. It was the main topic for the best part of two days. The French are conscious that the Shalit family are French-Israeli, but nevertheless their coverage of the released Palestinian prisoners and their families, and the jubilant celebrations by massed Palestinians and their leadership appeared more than even handed. Did I detect that the implication of moral equivalence was more muted chez France 24? I’m not sure.
We saw snippets from Gilad’s notorious interview with Egyptian TV, the off camera Hamas minder was as invisible in France as he was here, and the translation as selective. Shalit was quoted as expressing hopes for peace, whereas the Palestinians were said to be calling for “more Gilads”.
Gilad’s haunted, gaunt appearance spoke volumes, whereas one particular Palestinian returnee hero, his countenance brimming with glee and good health was filmed uttering: “They [the Israelis] treated us like dogs!” (He must’ve meant like the British treat dogs. With his shiny coat and waggy tail he certainly looked full of Pedigree Chum)
The biggest difference between the BBC and French television’s news coverage, apart from endless analyses of the ‘Euro crisis’ was the amount of time devoted to foreign affairs, and in particular Tunisia. Well, they would be interested, wouldn’t they.
There were televised debates, discussions and speculation by ‘experts’ before, during and after the election, and although there was a palpable undercurrent of disquiet about the so-called moderate Islamist party that eventually won the expected majority, they seemed, as we do, disturbingly ready willing and able to sweep their concerns under the carpet..
One memorable debate was chaired by a youthful attractive well-informed France 24 presenter with smiley dimples.
The all-Tunisian panel consisted of a headscarved member of the Ennahda party, an Islamic scholar, a young female blogger and a secular journalist/political commentator. The gist was that the moderate Islamist party has promised to listen, be inclusive etc., that there would be continuing democracy, and not a once in a lifetime Hamas style election. There appeared to be a willingness to accept this at face value, with reservations, in an ‘only time will tell’ kind of way.
I heard the exact same thing on the Sunday programme this morning, where Jane Little chatted to speed-dial experts Prof. Paul ‘Peace Studies’ Rogers of Bradford University and our old friend Professor Fawaz Gerges from the LSE. They were happy about Tunisia, if a little uneasy about Libya and Egypt, but that’s another story.
Rachid Ghannouchi’s record of making extreme fundamentalist public utterances are being ignored, forgotten and subsumed by a tsunami of wishful thinking.
His pledge not to jeopardise Tunisia’s economic future (tourism) by ‘permitting’ the immodest sunbathing and wine-drinking that we debauched tourists require for our hols seems, for the time being, to have appeased all the pessimistic doubting Thomases out there.
He has provided enough reassurance to allay the misgivings of we sceptics who weren’t wholly seduced by the Disneyland happy ever after of the glorious Arab Spring. We are all free to believe what we want to believe, but if his pragmatic promises turn out to be worth little or nothing don’t say I didn’t warn ye.
Oh for a well-informed, attractive, rounded, unbiased BBC with a healthy interest in foreign affairs and some respect for the audience’s intelligence.
  By Sue |   

Wyre Davies is a nice chap. Like Eric Idle, Wyre always looks on the bright side of life. He was in Tunisia, happily soaking up the atmosphere of optimism surrounding the glorious Arab Spring and basking in the warm glow of the inclusive and moderate Islamism of Rachid Ghannouchi’s newly elected Ennahda party.
What a shame that Wyre had missed the joyous story of Ennahda’s first diplomatic move, their generous invitation to kindly Ismail Haniyeh. Wyre must have been so engrossed in excitement over the new democracy that he completely overlooked it. Unbeknownst to Wyre, the loveable Hamas leader had been greeted with wild enthusiasm by ecstatic crowds of Tunisians who pledged their undying support the Palestinian cause. The distant sounds of chanting “kick the Jews- it’s our religious duty,” “expel the Jews- it’s our religious duty,” and “kill the Jews- it’s our religious duty” proved but a teeny blip in the haze of optimism surrounding Wyre.
Tunisia’s outstretched hand of friendship, symbolic of new directions and new beginnings, was an open-hearted gesture that even took priority over the urgent business of organising themselves into an economically viable democracy. What a scoop! And there was Wyre, oblivious to the whole lot.
Innocently, he set off to find a story of joy and happiness. The resulting video report: “Tunisian Jews reject calls to leave” and accompanying article entitled “Tunisia’s Jews shun ‘migrate to Israel’ idea” has surprised many listeners who really should have known what a treasure the BBC has in well meaning Wyre. His dutiful pursuit of the exceptional story that proves the rule plays an pivotal role in the BBC’s concerted but puzzling drive to play down significant aspects of the Arab Spring.
Rachid Ghannouchi’s transition from ‘conservative’ intolerant Islamism to inclusive, moderate new-fangled democratically-elected political leader has been widely detailed. By distancing himself from his previous pronouncements on apostasy, women, Jews and Israel he has persuaded the West of his sincerity, almost effortlessly, it seems, as though we’re all gripped in a weird collective act of wishful thinking. But concerns have been raised over his curious reluctance to condemn the blatant antisemitism expressed by masses of his supporters.
So not only does Wyre ferret out some happy Jews who agree with him that they would be stupid to flee, and stupider still to consider fleeing to that ghastly Israel, but he also invents a fanciful version of the history of Tunisia’s dwindling Jewish community, making Tunisia seem like a haven of benevolence.
All this seems part of an inexplicable policy of self-destruction adopted by the BBC and the government alike. It involves a total refusal to accept that religious fanaticism is beyond reason and rationality. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the BBC and evidently our present government determinedly regards religious fanatics as jolly nice chaps and chapesses whose sense of fair play and goodwill can be appealed to ‘at the end of the day’. By which time, of course, it will be too late.
In October 2012, a secretly recorded video emerged that appears to further undermine the idea of Rachid Ghannouchi’s 'moderation'. This story was a major development in the Tunisia, sparking fears among liberals inside and outside of the country that an Islamist plot was being uncovered. Reuters take on it can be read here.

France 24 was also straight onto the story (12/10/2012):

A video leaked this week of a conversation between Tunisian ruling Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi (pictured) and a group of Salafists has exposed the divide and lack of comprehension between Tunisia’s Islamists and secularists.
...when a secret video of a tête-à-tête between the leader of Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party and radical Salafists surfaced on the Internet earlier this week, it sparked a storm across the region.
The nearly eight-minute video showed Ennahda party’s intellectual leader Rached Ghannouchi engaged in a rambling lecture on Islamist strategies with a captive audience of select Salafist youths. 
Over a cup of tea, the 71-year-old scholar-politician advised his Salafist interlocutors to consider a more measured approach to an Islamisation process.
"I tell our young Salafists to be patient... Why hurry? Take your time, to consolidate what you have gained," said Ghannouchi before advising them to "create television channels, radio stations, schools and universities."
If you looked for this story at the time on the BBC News website, however, you would have found no such report. You have to go to 21 November for a 'Viewpoint' feature from outside the hallowed circle of BBC reporters - namely from 

The Islamist Ennahda party, supported by Qatar, which now rules in coalition with two smaller parties, including the Congress for the Republic party of President Moncef Marzouki, has done little to stop the escalation of violence which led a mob of its supporters and bearded flag-burning zealots to attack the US mission and burn the American school in Tunis two months ago.
The central bank's governor was fired on 27 June. A videotape showing the paramount leader of the Islamists, Rachid Ghannouchi, meeting and apparently co-ordinating policy with the same Salafists - some of whom have the support of Saudi Arabia and call for all foreign investors and tourists to be banned from Tunisia - has humiliated a force once seen as unstoppable.
Beji Caid Essebsi, one of Tunisia's first post-revolution prime ministers, has succeeded in pulling badly fragmented liberal and leftists forces together since he founded the Nidha Tunes (The Call From Tunis) party four months ago, while Islamists' recent missteps and thuggery have eroded their popularity. Mr Essebsi called the death of one of his party's senior officials, Lotfi Naguedh, a "political assassination".
Mr Naguedh's death last month came days before an Amnesty International report spoke of human rights "being reversed". Tombs of local Sufi shrines, such as the Sayida Manouba in Tunis, are being destroyed by Salafist zealots, in a pattern all too familiar in neighbouring Tripoli and Timbuktu. Rachid Ghannouchi is the true puppetmaster of the Tunisian government. Ahead of last year's elections, he threatened to order troops onto the streets of Tunis if the minimum threshold of votes he expected Ennahda candidates to receive did not materialise. Now he warns that Nidha Tunes supporters are "more dangerous than Salafists". Were this exercise in calculated ambiguity to continue until the general elections announced for June 2013, the damage to the fabric of Tunisian economy and body politic would be enormous.  
The BBC's very own Chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet has, however, just been to Tunisia to assess the state of the nation two years on from the self-immolation of Mohammad Bouazizi. You can read her article here. Has she taken on board any of the doubts about Rachid Ghannouchi and Ennhahda? Or that video?:

It comes after the UGTT [trade union] accused the League for the Protection of the Revolution of attacking its recent march in the capital with knives, sticks, and stones.
Union leaders describe the league as an armed wing of the ruling Ennahda party, a moderate Islamist group that dominates Tunisia's post-revolution government. It is demanding that the league be disbanded. Ennahda strongly condemned the attack.Many Tunisians, in a country regarded as a stronghold of Arab secularism, see the Salafists and more moderate Ennahda as one and the same."Ennahda came to power legitimately though elections," says retired Ambassador Ahmed Abderraouf Ounaies who served briefly as foreign minister last year."They tried to impose their views, but they are now fully aware that they have to come to a compromise with modern Tunisian society."Ennahda's leading architect of change, 71-year-old Rachid Ghannouchi told me: "If we want the transition to succeed we need moderates, in all camps, to work together."
So, no. Very little to worry about then, at least on that front, according to one of the BBC's star reporters. That glancing reference to concerns about Ennahda from Lyse Doucet, immediately passed over and move on from, is - as far as I can see - the best the BBC itself has done to report the fears online. And nothing, you will have spotted, about that video in Lyse's article. Still, at least we got a "more moderate" alongside the "moderate". That's a small bit of progress, I suppose! 

Now, that France 24 article cited above, features an alternative take from Monica Marks of St Antony's College, Oxford, who has researched Islamism in Tunisia. She puts the case for the defence of Mr. Ghannouchi over the secret video - that he's a politician!:
“The accusation of interchangeability is a conspiracy theory that demonstrates near-total ignorance of who Tunisia’s young Salafis are, and what Ennahda stands for vis-a-vis Salafi goals,” said Marks in an emailed response to FRANCE 24. “All political parties couch and package their message differently in order to appeal to different audiences — this is nothing new: it’s why we tend to think of politicians as silver-tongued liars. Ennahda wants to rope in the right-wing vote, and is very afraid of losing the mantle of Islamic purity."
It's not entirely implausible, is it? However, would she explain his appearance alongside a child-killing terrorist or his  recent inflammatory statements about Israel or his early inflammatory statements about Jews in the same way? A politician playing to the gallery - sometimes in private, sometimes in public? Or is he, as Douglas Murray & Co. would surely argue, a wolf in sheep's clothing, saying exactly what he meant to say in private and exactly what he meant to say in public to those he felt safe saying it to

It's up to you to read beyond us, beyond Douglas Murray and - above all - beyond the BBC to judge Rachid Ghannouchi for yourselves. The internet is yours! 

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