Late last week, the State Department added al-Manar, the official television station of Hezbollah, to the Terrorism Exclusion List (TEL), effectively prohibiting it from broadcasting in the United States. While this action is welcome, it must be the beginning, not the end, of the effort to combat propaganda of a new and much more ominous sort.
Al-Manar is viewed by an estimated 10-15 million people a day across the world. Its mission was explained to me with chilling clarity by one al-Manar official: It is meant to “help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission. [Its videos] are meant to be the first step in the process of a freedom fighter operation.”
The State Department officially categorized Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 1997. One wonders why it took so long. In Beirut in 1983, Hezbollah suicide bombers killed more than 250 American Marines and diplomats. Until 9/11, no terrorist organization had murdered so many U.S. citizens. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has called Hezbollah “the A Team” of terrorism.
Hezbollah launched al-Manar in 1991. Much of its programming is intended to spread hatred of America and Israel, and to induce viewers to express that hatred in meaningful ways. Appearing on al-Manar, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah frequently calls for “Death to America.”
Among al-Manar’s specialties are videos, inspired by MTV but with a difference. For example, one shows the Statue of Liberty as a ghoul, her gown dripping blood, a knife instead of a torch in her raised hand. In Arabic the video enumerates America’s involvements around the world — e.g. Vietnam, Chile, Iraq — and concludes with the words: “America owes blood to all of humanity.”
Another video, set to martial music, calls for suicide bombers to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. It ends with the image of an exploding suicide belt.
In other al-Manar videos, Koranic verses are sung, the words scrolled across the screen while footage in the background shows American and Israeli flags being burned, demonstrators waving a “Down with U.S.A.” sign, a suicide bomber recording his valediction.
Many of the videos unabashedly aim to recruit terrorists. Viewers are told that “the path to becoming a priest in Islam is through jihad” and implored to focus on the rewards of martyrdom — in the afterlife and on judgment day. Mothers are encouraged to give up their sons, to prepare them “for battle knowing that their blood will mix with the soil.”
Also of concern is the possibility that al-Manar broadcasts may contain coded communications — a way for Hezbollah’s terrorist “generals” to command their “troops” in the field, for example sleeper cells in the United States and elsewhere.
Until last weekend, al-Manar was broadcast to America through Intelsat, a Barbados-owned company with offices in Washington, D.C., and GlobeCast, a French-owned satellite provider. Both reportedly removed al-Manar immediately following the State Department’s designation.
These quick results show that government action — even one as simple as calling a terrorist organization a terrorist organization — can be effective. As a next step, the U.S. Department of the Treasury should designate the station a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity. This would enable the government to freeze financial assets tied to the station or to individuals or organizations that associate with it. It also would permit the sanctioning of foreign banks that provide services to the station, which would significantly limit its operations.
Further steps include investigating those employed by al-Manar’s Washington bureau for violating executive orders and taking money from a terrorist organization. Public pressure should be brought to bear against companies that advertise on al-Manar or do other business with al-Manar. For example, the BBC continues to buy al-Manar footage from Iraq.
Consider the irony: Al-Manar recruits for Hezbollah; Hezbollah recruits carry out attacks against Americans; al-Manar photographers film the attacks and then sell the footage to Western media for broadcast on the evening news. With the profits earned, al-Manar can begin the cycle all over again.
Finally, diplomatic pressure should be put on the Saudis and the French, who own Arabsat and GlobeCast respectively, to end their relationships with al-Manar.
Stopping al-Manar from broadcasting in the United States is a crucial first step, but al-Manar’s audiences in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America are still being fed a caustic diet of radicalism, hatred, and incitement to terrorist violence. Al-Manar is recruiting soldiers — and those soldiers may one day receive their orders to attack from the same source.
Film at 11.