Yemen, the media and the threat of al-Qaeda

The defeat of ISIS does not mean that Islamist extremism has been defeated.

A displaced Yemeni boy is seen at a refugee camp located between Marib and Sanaa, Yemen March 29, 2018.  (photo credit: ALI OWIDHA/ REUTERS)
A displaced Yemeni boy is seen at a refugee camp located between Marib and Sanaa, Yemen March 29, 2018.
(photo credit: ALI OWIDHA/ REUTERS)
In January, the US confirmed launching a drone strike in Yemen that killed al-Qaeda leader Jamal Al Badawi, the mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 that left 17 American sailors dead. Last month, UK Security Minister Ben Wallace warned that al-Qaeda was resurgent and preparing to launch attacks in Europe and Britain against airliners.
The defeat of ISIS does not mean that Islamist extremism has been defeated. On the contrary, Islamist extremists have demonstrated an unmatched ability to reincarnate under different names or by using different causes. We now face a real threat from a new al-Qaeda that not only carries the same evil ideology behind such atrocities as 9/11 and 7/7, but one that is energized by piggy-bagging on what seem to be benign human-rights causes. For al-Qaeda, Yemen is ideal ground on which to regroup and from which it can launch attacks. Yemen was already a launch pad for attacks against the West, but is set to become an even more dangerous focus.
Yemen has been a hotbed of extremism for decades. The failed Yemeni state has encouraged both Sunni and Shia Islamists to train their combatants to attack their enemies both inside and outside Yemen, including in the United Kingdom. They have succeeded in shedding blood on the streets of London before, and given half a chance, they will do so again. Doubting this irrefutable fact could cost innocent lives. The Iranian backed Houthi militias’ slogan of choice is “Death to Israel, death to America.” They are not only antisemitic and anti-Western, but they openly and unashamedly call for the annihilation of everything Western.
In claiming responsibility for the 2010 US-bound cargo-planes bomb plot, al-Qaeda denounced Saudi Arabia’s help in uncovering the plot, saying, “God has exposed you and showed the world that you are nothing but treacherous agents to the Jews, because these bomb packages were headed to Jewish-Zionist temples, and you had to intervene with your treacherous ways to protect them”.
This is what the Houthis share with the Sunni extremist camp, Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen are also fighting the local branch of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. This is a side of the war that receives little attention, but has serious long-term implications for the West. The unfortunate price of war is the inevitable humanitarian price it costs.
WAR IS evil and no innocent human life is a price worth paying. But the war has been thrust upon the West and upon its Arab allies in Yemen to defeat those who threaten our way of life.
The Qatari channel, Al Jazeera Arabic, continues to provide a platform for extremists and antisemites fighting in the Yemen war, just like it continues to be the channel of choice for all Islamist extremists. Al Jazeera hosted as what it called an “exclusive” interview with Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Adel Hassani. Al Jazeera sought to legitimate Hassani and used him to attack the Arab coalition. This seemed part of a campaign by Islamists to legitimize the most dangerous Islamist extremists. Al Jazeera’s broadcast coincided with the UK’s Channel 4 broadcasting a United Arab Emirate documentary about alleged human rights abuses in Yemen using the testimony of none other than Hassani.
The British anti-extremism charity Faith Matters has pointed out that the testimony the Channel 4 documentary was based on one person, Adel Hassani, misleadingly translating a song he was singing as a song against tyrants. What Channel 4 failed to mention is that this song is an al-Qaeda anthem, authored by Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader executed in 1966, whose ideology the British government said inspired al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda sympathizers are again trying to infiltrate Western media, promoting themselves as the ones on the side of human rights. They seem to be making a comeback, thanks to the legitimizing of the likes of Al Jazeera. It is not about whether what they say at any moment is right or wrong, it is about giving them any platform at all.
Yemen is a lawless state. It took the Americans 19 years to kill Al Badawi, even longer than killing Osama Bin Laden. We cannot allow al-Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen to use freedom of expression in Britain to legitimize their cause, even if at times it misleadingly appears to be aligned with human rights. If we are concerned about human rights abuses in Yemen, it goes totally against the interests of any country to use testimonies of the very people who want to destroy us. We cannot afford to have Islamist extremists presented as human-rights defenders, in Yemen or elsewhere. The media have a duty to ensure they don’t become a platform for terrorists, a task that some people have so far failed to understand.
The writer chairs Muslims against antisemitism, and is the founder of Cornerstone Global Associates. Twitter@gnuseibeh.