In June of 1991 the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah aired the first broadcast on its own satellite channel, al-Manar or "The Beacon." The Iranian/Syrian funded channel quickly took off and became a regional hit with its combination of relentlessly anti-Semitic/American programming and conspiratorial "news" that wouldn't even clear the lax fact-checkers over at al-Jazeera.
Sadly, the station's success in the poisoned, regressive culture that reigns throughout much of the Middle East is no surprise. But it was somewhat of a shock when two weeks ago France gave al-Manar a license to broadcast throughout the European Union over the protests of already-embattled Jews throughout Europe. France's Higher Audiovisual Council dismissed the criticism with a haughty announcement that al-Manar had agreed not to "incite hatred or violence." Al-Manar's head, Mohammed Haidar, was even so kind as to call the decision to air accusations that Jews use the blood of goyim in their holiday treats as an, um, "mistake."
Well, we all make mistakes, right? Still, not a week after the channel began beaming into European homes it aired a program on Israel's dastardly plan to infect the entire Arab world with AIDS through exports. Now, embarrassed, France's Higher Audiovisual Council is scrambling to ban the channel they just proudly (and publicly) announced a deal with -- but because the organization has authorized the program, it's up to the French courts to decide what will happen. In the meantime, Hate TV is on the air, spewing a degree of anti-Semitic propaganda not seen in Europe since the 1930s.
All of this could have been avoided if the French government, eager as it is to embrace anything even vaguely anti-Israeli, had bothered to take a quick glance at the al-Manar programming guide.
Consider the following: One of al-Manar's most popular programs is the game show, "The Mission." For every question a contestant answers correctly about the American-Zionist conspiracy, he moves a step closer to Jerusalem on a large map. The standard game show chitchat is here as well, except instead of talking about contestant hobbies, the host praises suicide bombings and pleads for viewers to keep the faith that one day Arabs will "recapture" the land stolen by the Jews. The first contestant to reach 60 points stands atop the holy city and receives a check for $3,000 while the Hezbollah anthem plays in the background -- "Jerusalem is ours and we are coming to it."
And this isn't the worst of it. The popular weekly program, "Sincere Men," for example, airs edifying profiles of suicide bombers. Hate-laden "sermons" by well-known Hamas and Hezbollah figures are broadcast over and over again alongside video of terrorist marches. A new documentary series promises to expose "crimes perpetrated by the Zionist enemy" and "recalls the Zionist massacres, and brutal practices." Before Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, the station aired attacks against Israeli soldiers live and broadcast threats against the Jewish state in Hebrew.
Showing its own true colors, the al-Jazeera network ran a story describing French protests against al-Manar as being based on "perceived anti-Semitic content." Al-Jazeera was recently lionized as the sole unbiased organization fighting American deceit and lies in the provocative film, The Control Room, and yet it cannot come out and say that claims that Jews sacrifice children to make better bread are anti-Semitic. Some truth-tellers.
How's this for "perceived anti-Semitic content"? Al-Manar was the first station to air the rumor -- persistent to this day in fundamentalist circles -- that 4,000 Jews failed to report to work at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, thereby suspiciously avoiding the terror attacks, which were perpetrated not by Osama bin Laden, but the "Jews, Israel, and Mossad," of course.
This bit of investigative reporting doesn't quite make al-Manar Friends of America, however.
"Today, as the region fills up with hundreds of thousands of American troops, our slogan was and will remain 'Death to America,'" a Hezbollah official warned Americans during a broadcast earlier this year.
Defying all facts on the ground and programming on the air, France opted to take a leap of blind faith and go on Mohammed Haidar's word that al-Manar was not owned by Hezbollah -- an organization that France, at any rate, refuses to label as a terrorist organization. But in Beacon of Hatred, an exhaustive study of al-Manar, Avi Jorisch of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, quotes al-Manar's chairman of the board, Nayef Krayem, describing the relationship between Hezbollah and the station thusly: "They breathe life into one another. Each provides the other with inspiration. Hezbollah uses al-Manar to express its stands and its views, etc. Al-Manar in turn receives political support for its continuation."
Jorisch also quotes an al-Manar employee explaining the station helps members of the public who are "on the way to committing what you in the West call a suicide mission. It is meant to be the first step on the process of a freedom fighter operation." This must be the perception gap the folks over at al-Jazeera are referring to.
But the truth is, there is some hope in the whiff of desperation one comes across while scanning the al-Manar website. It sometimes reads as if they are rage, rage, raging against the dying of the fundamentalist light.
"Despite its huge burden on every Lebanese, the occupation was not the one and only concern," the station's website reads. "Lebanese TV channels have been overwhelmed by a trend of movies and programs that can only be described as immoral…Numerous TV channels have been broadcasting programs that would decay one's ethics and provoke his or her instincts, instigating violence and identifying with western living patterns which are quite remote from our Islamic and Eastern values and culture."
Al-Manar is a token act of desperation as technology facilitates communication and an escape from the persistent, singular message of fundamentalist/totalitarian governments. They are more afraid of our music and our movies than our bombs, because our popular culture carries with it an inherent sense of individualism and freedom. Those ideas are not exclusive to America, and are more powerful than even the most powerful army in the world. So, does anyone honestly believe the stilted, clunky entertainment of al-Manar will prevail over Western entertainment in the long-term? Apparently even the French government has been disabused of that foolish notion now.