- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

In a belated but commendable move, al Jazeera and some Muslim organizations and governments have denounced the kidnapping and killing of journalists, as the lives of two French journalists held captive in Iraq for the past 10 days hang in the balance.

“Al Jazeera Channel wishes to reemphasize the right of journalists and other members of the media corps to pursue their profession freely, safely and without undue restriction everywhere in the world, particularly in war and conflict zones,” the organization said yesterday. “Al Jazeera demands the immediate release of all journalists held hostage so they can carry out their noble duty and bring the truth to viewers, readers and listeners all over the world.”

Given al Jazeera’s broad influence in the Muslim world, the statement could have resonance and bolster the security of journalists working in Iraq, Afghanistan and other tense regions. An improvement of that security is critical because militants in Iraq and Afghanistan have increasingly ignored distinctions between non-combatants and security forces. Journalists and civilian aid workers have not only been killed, but they also have been targeted as agents of the occupation.

The al Jazeera statement also may save the lives of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were kidnapped in Baghdad. A group calling itself the Islamic Army said it is holding the journalists and has demanded that France revoke its ban on Islamic head scarves in public schools.

Other Muslim organizations have added to the chorus of condemnation. Gamal Eddin Mahmoud, a member of the Islamic Research Academy of Azhar — the world’s highest religious Sunni authority — said Islam prohibits the abduction or killing of civilians to lobby for any case. That position appears to suggest a condemnation of terrorist attacks on civilians in general.

The technically banned but still-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, also condemned the kidnappings. The group, which in the past has denounced the French ban on Islamic head coverings, said the kidnapping of “French journalists (who) had nothing to do with the passing of the French law” was not a legitimate way to try to counter it. That message needs to be heard in Iraq, where militants have repeatedly and gruesomely lashed out against civilians to retaliate against actions taken by their governments.

All these statements are a critical and potentially life-saving part of the discourse in the Muslim world that could elevate civic traditions. It’s a shame, though, that some of these condemnations weren’t made earlier. They could have made a difference for Enzo Baldoni, the Italian journalist killed earlier this month in Iraq.

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