Exporting Extremism: The broadcasts behind the headlines

24 Sep 2014

In his much debated speech in April of this year, Tony Blair highlighted what he called the ‘absurdity’ of Western countries defending themselves against Islamic extremism while concurrently having close security ties with the biggest exporters of extremist ideology. Though he did not name them outright, no listener could be in any doubt as to the target of his ire: Saudi Arabia.


Following up in The New York Times, Ed Hussain, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an important figure at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, went further and traced directly the connection between Saudi-funded extremism and the religiously inspired violence now consuming Iraq and Syria, among other places.


This charge is nothing new. Many reports discussing either the perceived radicalization of Muslim communities in the West, or more often attitudes towards the West in the Muslim world, make mention of the fact that these views are promulgated by Gulf kingdoms who have a disproportionate voice thanks to their oil wealth. All too rarely, however, is a real analysis offered of some of the extremist, dangerous and often absurd propaganda that emanates from the Gulf. To fully understand the world view being advanced it is essential that interested parties look beyond the headline at the day to day message being beamed out from Doha, Riyadh and Kuwait City.


Iqraa TV is an Islamic educational channel founded in 1998. It is part of the Saudi Arab Radio and Television Network (ART), and was founded by Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel (a Saudi), although it operates from Kuwait. The purpose of the program is primarily to provide religious instruction and explanation to Muslims living outside of Saudi Arabia, and it is available through various satellite TV services including in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. More recently, Iqraa TV launched a service specifically for European audiences, which broadcasts predominantly in French. While religious programming in of itself is not objectionable, even a cursory viewing of the views being expressed on Iqraa TV demonstrates exactly what Blair, Hussain and others are referring to when they speak about the exporting of extremism.


Some of what is being promulgated by Iqraa TV is more absurd than offensive, such as the following program which discusses the state of Arab cinema and television.


The guest, a Saudi religious cleric, condemns Sesame Street as spreading immoral values and even takes aim at the Cookie Monster. Starting with the ridiculous, the conversation soon takes a turn for the sinister. Repeating a grotesque anti-Semitic canard of Jewish control of Hollywood, he claims that ‘There is a plan to destroy all of human thought and all of humanity’ by Jews using film and television as a weapon to attack moral values. The cleric repeatedly accuses Jews and Zionists of ‘the destruction of human morality’. Not satisfied with blaming Mickey Mouse for the undermining of Muslim youth, he goes on to say that the Apostle Paul, who had an enormous influence on the development of Christianity in the 1st Century AD was part of a Jewish plot and ‘destroyed Christianity’, and that unspecified Jewish tribes apparently converted to Islam with the express goal of destroying it.


Next the cleric turns on some of the great thinkers of Western civilization, charging them all (other than Nietzsche who he nonetheless dismisses as a Zionist) with being Jews. The fact that Charles Darwin was Anglican/Agnostic/Atheist, or that Jean-Paul Sartres was at various times an anti-Semite and benefited from anti-Jewish laws in Vichy France during World War II, seems to have escaped him. The specifics are of course not important. What is so clear is the message that is being repeated over and over again: Western society is decadent, controlled by Jews, and aiming to destroy Muslim morality.


In another clip (featured adjacent), this time in English for the European branch of Iqraa TV, an Egyptian ‘Anti-Porn Activist’ claims that Muslims watching pornography is responsible for suffering in Gaza and terror attacks in Egypt as Allah delivers divine retribution for their immorality.

Although there are many different examples of the abhorrent ideology being promoted by Iqraa TV, few are as chilling as the explanation of when domestic violence is acceptable given in response to an e-mailed in question from a Muslim woman in Norway.

As the short clip demonstrates (featured below), the religious teacher hosting the program explains that women who are ‘disobedient’ to their husbands should be punished first by denying them sexual intercourse and then if necessary physical beating as long as it does not strike the face or leave a broken bone.


Iqraa TV is not an exceptional channel by the standards of Gulf television. Indeed as Yotam Feldner – Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) – explains:


Iqraa tv was the first of its kind, thus gained popularity, but many Islamic channels were established since, so there is much more “competition” [for extremism] now.


Where previously Western leaders would pay lip service to the dangers of Gulf-exported extremism and get away with it, thanks to the internet and the channels in question appearing on Western satellite deals, concerned observers can see for themselves the views being spread.


With recent reports of a foiled terror attack in Australia, and the continued warnings of Western Muslims travelling to the Middle East to take part in jihad, the spread of extremist views through Gulf-based and funded satellite television is an increasingly serious national security risk.


Taking decisive action to end the spread of hate disguised as legitimate educational programming must be a top priority for Western policy makers.


By Philip Gardner


The research for this article was aided by Yotam Feldner of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization. MEMRI's main office is located in Washington, DC, with branch offices in various world capitals. MEMRI research is translated into English, French, Polish, Japanese, and Hebrew. www.MEMRI.org

All videos included within article are subject to the copyright of MEMRI.

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