[Marxism] Only dictatorships jail poets: On Qatar, Al Jazeera and free speech

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 27 08:52:13 MST 2013

Only dictatorships jail poets: On Qatar, Al Jazeera and free speech | 

by Derrick O'Keefe


"You can't have Al Jazeera in this country and put me in jail for being 
a poet."

So said Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who has now been in jail in 
Qatar for over a year. His crime was that he posted a poem online that 
was deemed to offend the emir and contravene the Gulf state's penal code 
which explicitly bans calls for the overthrow of the government.

That's apparently the technical basis of the outrageous criminal charge; 
however many believe the real reason for his imprisonment is his 
'Jasmine Poem,' which includes these li nes:

     We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive elites.

     The Arab governments and who rules them are, without exception, 

You can read a translation of the poem here, watch video of a solidarity 
reading here, and sign a petition demanding the poet's immediate release 

This week, Al-Ajami's sentence was reduced from life in prison to 15 
years. How very generous.

Qatar has used its massive oil wealth to become a major international 
player, especially in recent years, adding hard power of direct military 
intervention in places like Libya to its extensive use of the 'soft' 
power of money and media.

Although Qatar pursues its own goals, for the most part these coincide 
with the West's in the region, which is why you'll often see and hear 
the regime referred to as "moderate" (a term that really just means a 
government the big western powers are not trying to overthrow.)

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh H amad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is almost never 
referred to by mainstream media as a dictator. This despite the absolute 
nature of his family's rule, and despite the brutal treatment of the 
majority of workers in the country -- migrants denied basic labour and 
human rights.

Al Jazeera is a key weapon in Qatar's soft power arsenal, bolstering its 
carefully crafted image as a benevolent monarchy. The global media 
outlet was called out by some for being slow to report on the jailing of 
al-Ajami. Its report today on the reduced sentencing elides some 
important details.

For instance, they don't quote the poet's response to his new sentence. 
The Associated Pressstory, in contrast, includes it:

     "Unjust," shouted poet Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami in the 
heavily guarded courtroom in Qatar's capital, Doha, after his appeal to 
drop the conviction was denied. The court cut the life sentence handed 
down in November and imposed a 15-year term instead.

Unjust indeed.

This outrageous attack on free speech must not be allowed to stand.

The only upside -- poetic justice, if you will -- of this sickening 
episode is that by jailing a poet Qatar's government has proven the 
point of all its critics.

Here's hoping that the global effort to free al-Ajami brings much needed 
attention to the plight of all who suffer deprivation of their most 
basic human rights in the apartheid petrostate of Qatar.

Locking up a poet may end up freeing up a lot of truth.

Only dictatorships jail poets.

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