How the World Health Organization Makes Terrorism Respectable

While many associate the World Health Organization (WHO) with projects to improve healthcare in developing countries, the millions who watch Arabic television can now link the WHO to terrorism.In a development that went almost unreported in the English-language media, a WHO-organized panel in Lebanon awarded prizes in December 2004 to television and radio stations controlled by the Hezbollah terrorist group, which has killed hundreds of Americans, including more than 250 U.S. soldiers and diplomats in the 1983 bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon. The awards came just days after France took Hezbollah’s al-Manar off the air for a brazenly anti-Semitic broadcast and the U.S. State Department designated the station as a terrorist organization.

The WHO is mandated to achieve “the highest possible level of health” for all people. To achieve this goal, it has an $880 million annual budget, of which up to a fifth comes from the United States.The WHO uses local media outlets to educate people in developing countries about the dangers of tobacco and to encourage healthier diets.To back these goals, the WHO hands out accolades to local media with the best health education programs.

In Lebanon, these health education Oscars went to terrorist media that encourage suicide bombing.A Lebanese media panel supervised by the WHO decided that the best anti-smoking educational program was “Shadows and Visions,” which is aimed at juveniles but which was broadcast by Hezbollah’s television channel, al-Manar (The Beacon). Also feted by the WHO-supervised panel was the Hezbollah radio station, Al-Nur (The Light) for its nutritional show “Your food is your medicine.” The prizes may appear trivial, but that’s the point. By giving health promotion awards to terrorist media, the WHO trivializes their evil output.The WHO, and its local Lebanese partners, a committee of local media representatives, have sent the message that terrorist media are respectable.

Anyone who has watched al-Manar knows that respectable is the last word that can be applied to a channel that promotes terrorism with the same vigor that American television promotes the Superbowl. Set up in 1991 by Hezbollah using Iranian funds, al-Manar soon established a reputation as a mouthpiece for murder. Potential recruits are told that “the path to becoming a priest in Islam is through jihad” and mothers are encouraged to give up their sons, to prepare them “for battle knowing that their blood will mix with the soil.”

In many ways, Hezbollah is a media innovator, but not the kind that WHO should be awarding. By founding al-Manar, Hezbollah was the first terrorist group to go into the television business, the first terrorists to realize that the media could be used as an effective operational weapon. Indeed, Hezbollah now has its own media empire, including Al-Nur, a newspaper, a radio station, and various websites, all of which promote its radical, hate-filled Islamist ideology and incite violence. So while al-Manar makes the odd health information commercial that please the WHO, its output is mostly Hezbollah incitement to violence. The channel, which is under Hezbollah editorial control, mixes staple broadcasting to attract viewers — including news, dramas, sports programs, children’s programming and soap operas — with a clear call to terrorism. Speaking on al-Manar the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah declared recently, “those who love death defeated those who fear death . . .The weapon of loving martyrdom, sacrifices, and readiness for death is one that nobody can take away.” On al-Manar, the message is homicide, not health.

Those who dismiss al-Manar, and its parent Hezbollah, as Lebanese patriots who only oppose Israel will find little support from al-Manar’s output. Al-Manar viewers are instructed that “the main source of terrorism in this world is the United States of America. America is a beast in all meanings of the word. A beast that is hungry for power and hungry for blood.” One of the most potent weapons in the battle of ideas against terrorism is the fact that in most societies terrorism is spurned and despised. If we want to defeat terrorism, then we have to delegitimize terrorists and their apologists. The mouthpiece of Hezbollah, al-Manar, is into death, not health. Neither deserves the respectability and legitimacy that they so clearly crave. Yet thanks to WHO, and by extension its UN superiors, terrorist media have been given an international seal of approval. The message: smoking may be bad for your health, but suicide bombing is good for your soul.