“Was it something I said?” [Archives:1999/12/Viewpoint]

March 22 1999

So the British authorities finally arrested the loud mouth called Abul-Hamza Al-Masri. This twisted person basked under the attention of the cameras and said a lot of things no normal human beings would say, even if they were involved in what he claimed to be involved with. Making such people pay for the heart-burn, and possibly other damage, they cause to others is necessary.
But let me address two other issues here.
As our civilization continues to evolve, the role of the state and that of the media also changes. I want to speak about the role of the state and the media in combatting terrorists and their evil.
A: The Role of State:
In general, I prefer small governments. The smaller they are, the more useful they are in my opinion. That means, state organs should not infringe on the rights of individuals and groups as they go about their lives. But, I do not think the state has a duty to protect society and its interests from those who break the law. In my opinion, the British Government is behaving in a lethargic way in handling terrorists.
What I mean is that when people openly espouse and promote terror and violence, they should be reigned in. Even if there is no evidence that they engage in such activities, the state should not wait until the events occur. In my opinion, if an individual or group proclaim a philosophy that is dangerous and violent, something must be done.
Going beyond the Abul-Hamza Al-Masri example, the US government, as well as many other Western governments, tolerate militant groups which have their own training and arming camps. The creed of these groups is based on race, religion or some twisted political ideology.
I feel that if an individual or group uses arms or espouses the use of arms against others outside of legal channels, then preemptive action against them is warranted.
B: Role of the Media:
The media plays an important role in bringing the truth to the public. That is very good. Sometimes authoritarian governments try to stop the media from bringing out certain information, and the media takes the heat for going against such official policy. Here I side with the media.
But, what happens if the media is manipulated.
For examples, some one month ago, the Yemen Times received a statement threatening American and British interests. We pondered over what to do with it, as the people behind it definitely wanted the publicity. We decided to pass the stuff to the authorities, and left it there.
What is the moral position of the media in giving circulation to the bad guys? We don’t want to pass judgement as to who is bad or good, but those who promote violence should not be given a free ride.
The line between providing information and promoting a cult or terrorism is a fine one. I believe the Schools of Journalism need to re-structure their curricula to better train the reporters to handle these new situations.
Now, will the British authorities put this Abdul-Hamza fellow on trial, or ship him to wherever he is wanted to stand a fair and open trial?