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