Qatar needs self-reflection before pointing fingers at its neighbours

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Sheltering and funding of extremist ideologies is not the ideal way to fight terrorism
Shajahan Madampat

IN an impassioned op-ed in the Guardian (on June 8, 2017), the former Al Jazeera honcho, Wadah Khanfar, tells us that “Qatar is not a democracy, yet it was not hostile to the Arab Spring”. That is hilariously specious and partially truthful.
Qatar indeed wanted the waves of Arab Spring to envelop the whole region while steadfastly preserving itself as the last great monument to the pre- Spring season for eternity. Arab Spring, however, never meant for Qatar the freedom from whatever the agitating millions found unbearable to tolerate anymore, but a neat electoral route for theocratic tyranny to capture power in several Arab countries and Islamise the existing means of coercion.
Al Jazeera TV that Khanfar lorded over epitomised the glaring contradictions that Qatar’s patronage for Arab Spring demonstrated, with its avid cameras always turned outwards and never inwards. “The view and the counterview” seemed kosher, even mandatory, for debates on all the countries in the Middle East and beyond except Qatar.
Khanfar begins his screed with a grandiloquent statement: “Qatar was simultaneously accused of hosting Hamas; supporting the Muslim Brotherhood; backing Hezbollah; having close ties with Iran; sowing the seeds of sedition inside Saudi Arabia, and all the while maintaining intimate relations with Israel. If you can do all those things at the same time, you are indeed a magician.” That precisely is the point. Magic disguised as genuine act can bamboozle the spectators only for a while, however dazzling it may be.
All the six accusations against Qatar Khanfar mentioned are undeniable facts that a simple google search can confirm. He must actually have been living in Doha while Shimon Peres visited the country first in 1996 to inaugurate the Israel Trade Office there. He was definitely there when Peres visited again in 2007.
This last visit also included a reception at Al Jazeera headquarters! Tzipi Livni also visited Qatar as Israeli foreign minister in April 2008 and met with the then Emir. As for the other five accusations, we had better not waste space at all, except to point out that Khanfar was once arrested in Jordan for his links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The rest is all in Google, as they say!

Democracy for all but me!

A laughable claim that Khanfar makes in his article is that Al Jazeera has been an independent channel that championed democracy. Had that been the case, Qatar would long have embraced democracy. Why on earth should you fund and operate a news channel to disseminate certain values and political practices that you want nowhere near your own home? Khanfar is undoubtedly most influential in Qatar. Why has he not promoted and introduced democracy to Qatar first so other Arabs will be captivated enough by its charms to embrace it, lock stock and barrel? Given his clout and acceptability in Qatar, it could definitely have been achieved without any resistance.
Khanfar’s passionate espousal of Arab Spring conveniently masks the fact that the massive demonstrations that rocked several Arab countries six years ago demanded freedom and democracy, not a stale Islamist winter that former president of Egypt, Mohammad Mursi — Al Jazeera’s revolutionary hero — had willed into being in Egypt.
He also makes the counterintuitive argument that the current stalemate is the “resumption of an old fight: Drying all the fountains of independent conscience in preparation for a restoration of the old order in the Middle East”. The renowned journalist seems to genuinely believe that Qatar is ruled by a government elected to power in free and fair elections and that it is freedom and not suppression that reigns supreme in his dreamland!
I do agree with Khanfar’s closing argument that terror cannot be fought with more persecution. As he rightly said, we need to learn lessons from history. But one futilely wishes that he had also said blanket sheltering and funding of all sorts of extremist outfits and ideologies that sustain fervent dreams of a theocratical utopia was not the ideal way to fight terrorism. He could have also thoughtfully distinguished between persecution — which no right thinking person can condone — and rule of law, without which no society could survive intact.
The whole issue at stake here is very simple: Qatar is well within its rights to shelter extremists and radicals within its borders and allow them to shape the tiny country into the land of their theocratic dreams. But that is not what is happening.
Qatar’s honoured guests and the recipients of its largesse are hellbent (yes, hell-bent literally) on turning other peoples’ lands into the laboratories for their bizarre experiments. That is, simply, not a matter of difference of opinion, but a serious breach of ethical norms and international law. “Rein in your guests lest they should ruin my home” is not too impolite a request to make to a neighbour.