Silencing dissent is no answer to Iraq danger

It sounds like it should be a scene from a subtitled eastern European movie from the middle of last century. A squad of policemen arrives at the door of a newsroom demanding that everybody leaves.

No explanation is given as they are herded out, but a subsequent statement reveals that it is because the journalists are “inciting hatred”, failing to show the “reality of political life” and becoming “the voice of terrorist groups”.

The renewable 30-day ban will allow the news organisation to “to readjust its policy agenda”, the officials say.

But, of course, the scene took place only last week, in the capital of the country that is supposed to be rebuilding itself as a model democracy for the Middle East.

The closure of Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad shows just how flimsy that veneer is.

Falah al-Naqib, the Interior Minister, declared that Al Jazeera was “strengthening” kidnappers and hostagetakers by showing their videos, encouraging “criminals and gangsters to do their activities in the country”, and transmitting “a bad picture of Iraq”.

It’s a familiar argument to the staff of Zimbabwe’s Daily News, closed down on similarly spurious grounds by Robert Mugabe last year.

For both, the real reason for the ban is obvious. Their popularity – Al Jazeera is the most watched channel in the region – threatens those who wish to give a false impression of the state of the nation.

Al Jazeera is certainly not a perfect broadcaster. It tells it straight to an Arab audience in about the same way as Fox News does for westerners. But it is still an essential part of the Iraqi people’s right to know what’s happening on their doorstep.

The way to silence the news of crime, executions and terrorism is to stop them happening. Not to shut down the people who are telling the world about it.

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