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Comment Is Curtailed

This is a guest post by DaveM

At the end of the day it’s my own fault and I’ve only got myself to blame.

You know how it is, when you have those days where you have something really important that you need to attend to? But you know it’s going to be really difficult so you reach for something, anything, to take up your time and delay it for a while?

Last Wednesday I had one of those days, so to distract myself, and I’m not proud of this, I went on CiF to have a look.

I know. I know. You don’t need to tell me.

Though in my defence what I was trying to put off doing was following and translating a recording of this very complex opening introduction to Lebanese Television Station LBCi’s evening news bulletin.

Now bearing in mind the shifting sands of Lebanon’s intricate and continually changing political landscape – trying to keep up with LBCi News’ opening introduction is akin to trying to follow this. Only in Arabic

Just with lot less Billy Crystal and a lot more Walid Junblatt. Though it’s still no excuse really is it?

Anyhow, reading the CiF piece, I was struck by the words with which Moazzam Begg opened his article:

“”From Allah we come and to Him shall we return.” Thus begin hundreds of comments on leading Arabic language news sites today, in response to the death of Ali al-Fakhiri – better known to the world as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi.”

Yet I couldn’t find anything like that on the Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya, websites that day. They are acknowledged as the leading news sites of the Arab world. So I asked Begg if he would provide some references, as I was very interested in reading them.

He kindly provided me with these 3 links

Asharq Alawsat, BBC Arabic and Al Jazeera

Asharq Alawsat and BBC Arabic had no comments facility, and Al Jazeera far from containing hundreds, actually only had 29.

The first was from Abd AlMun’aam Abo Dahis Sa’iid, from Shabwah in Yemen, who wrote:

Meaning “Allah curse the Jew” (which also can be translated as “God damn the Jew”).* It’s also worth noting that the Jazeera piece is dated 10th May whereas Begg’s piece is dated 13th

So Begg opens his article, based on the evidence provided, with 4 major factual discrepancies:

1. The comments appeared in only one leading Arabic language news site.

2. They began 3 days prior to his article not “today” (13th May)

3. There were 29 comments not hundreds of them.

4. Most importantly they did not commence with “”From Allah we come and to Him shall we return.” But with “Allah curse the Jew”. Though he got the bit about the comments being in response to the death of al-Fakhiri correct, I’ll give him that.

Now it appears that either Begg has been sloppy with his research or he’s being somewhat economical with the truth. So I figured that left-leaning liberal newspaper, whose on-line debate section carries the headline “Comment is Free but Facts are Sacred” would appreciate me drawing attention to facts or lack of and maybe provide me with some clarification.

Guess what then happened?

That’s right. Shortly after I drew attention to the fact that the comments actually began with “Allah Curse the Jew” my post started  getting deleted.

So I kept re-posting.

This went on for about 6 attempts to re-post when I saw they had been taken down with no explanation whatsoever until I reached the point where CiF prevented me from even posting. I emailed the moderators to ask exactly which guidelines I had breached as I had made no personal attacks, merely pointed out factual inaccuracies based on the evidence provided. The initial response was that CiF did not permit non English content. Yet when I removed the words “” (“God Damn the Jew”)  CiF still would not permit my posts to appear.

Further enquiry led to them informing me that my posts were off-topic and that it appeared to them that I had some sort of agenda.

My final e-mail to them asked. (pardon the typos)

“What agenda exactly? I was just pointing out factual errors in Beggs piece. 4 in the two opening sentences of his article.

The headline of the website is (as you know) is “comment is free but facts are sacred”

I was merely pointing to the facts which are at odds with what Begg wrote.

All i did was highlight this discrepancy. Nothing more.

Would it not be best for the readers of the website to decide if there appears to be agenda or lack of and let them consider whether or not a post is on or of[f] topic?

Would they not be best qualified to decide what my post “looks like” or otherwise?

The whole point of CiF is debate is it not?”

Since then I’ve received no reply.

Surely facts are central to any debate? Isn’t the correction of facts far from being irrelevant or off topic actually legitimate and in fact an essential element in all debate. In the absence of facts what else is left?

Now I’m no journalist so I’ll leave the last word to the BBC’s Richard Sambrook who said

“…if there isn’t a factual foundation to your opinions then they are worth nothing.”


Postscript.

On the 15th May Begg posted another link, this time to “Libya Today” which isn’t a “leading Arabic Language news site”, at least not outside Libya. Yet even if it was it only contains 25 or so comments. We’re still seriously short of the “hundreds of comments on leading Arabic language news sites “ which Begg was referring to.

Footnote:

*the literal translation is “Allah is cursing the Jew” but I think it’s written as an appeal as opposed to an observation. I just had to clarify this, as we all know how sensitive some people can get over translating Arabic into English. Especially when the phrase concerned contains the word “Jew”..