The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

CNN on Libya's Islamists

[Note: if you can't see the above video, go here.]

CNN's Nic Robertson has really outdone himself in sycophancy and breathlessness - and he has quite a track record. In this special facilitated by Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, who gave CNN access to prisons as well as himself, Robertson does PR for Seif's efforts to reconcile his father's regime with one of the main opposition groups in Libya. This story is interesting, as is the recantations of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), but what CNN presents here is a simplistic "Seif has converted Islamists away from jihadi violence" story along with Dan Browneseque "Jihadi code" nonsense, complete with pained, serious look at Robertson reads the Arabic manuscript of these ideological revisions (I don't know for sure, but my guess he probably does not read Arabic at all.) It is pure self-inflating propaganda, and CNN fails in two major ways here.

Firstly, it does not really question the history of the LIFG and its relationship with the regime, or the regime's policies towards the opposition. The attempts to portray Libya as vibrant and dynamic (shots of the city at dusk, emphasis on the modern, etc.) are risible and the Seif-Benotman buddy narrative slightly sick.

Secondly, everyone knows that in one of the rare findings about al-Qaeda in Iraq it was found that Libya and the LIFG was a major source of foreign fighters. There have been allegations that the regime has facilitated jihad abroad to get rid of the domestic threat. None of this is covered, as it would not make Seif look very good.

The LIFG story is interesting - see Hugh Miles' recent LRB blog post - but it deserves a lot better than Nic Robertson's antics and CNN kowtowing to the Qadhafis.