Congress must press Qatar for highlighting hate preacher
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As Secretary of Defense James Mattis traveled to Qatar on Friday, April 21, his hosts were violating two important pledges in the ideological fight against terrorism. By granting a known hate preacher airtime on state television, Doha was violating then-Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryKerry on Trump’s military transgender ban: ‘We’re better than this’ Senators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump MORE’s 2014 Jeddah Communiqué, in which America’s Arab allies pledged to “repudiate” the “hateful ideology” of the Islamic State and other violent extremists. More specifically, Mattis’s hosts were also violating a 2015 Qatari pledge to keep this specific preacher off of state television.

In light of such developments, Congress should review the record of Qatar and other signatories to the Jeddah Communiqué with regard to religious incitement. Legislators could also recommend prioritizing U.S. benefits to those Arab allies that are taking the ideological fight against terrorism more seriously.

In 2013, the preacher Saad bin Ateeq al-Ateeq called upon God to “destroy” the Christians and the Jews in a sermon at Qatar’s massive state-controlled Grand Mosque, which can accommodate over 10,000 worshippers indoors alone. Qatar then invited him back to the same mosque for a February 2015 sermon beseeching the almighty to “destroy” not just the Christians and Jews but the Alawites and Shi’ites as well.

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Later that year, an interviewer on Qatar’s own Al Jazeera English channel who happened to be Shi’ite brought up Ateeq’s offensive sermon in an interview with Doha’s then-foreign minister. After repeated questioning, the foreign minister declared that Ateeq was “not allowed” on state TV anymore.

 

Yet on the first day of Mattis’s visit to Qatar, state TV hosted that same hate preacher for an hour to discuss religious matters, even granting him the honorific of “His Eminence the Sheikh.” Mattis, meanwhile, called for “deepening the U.S.-Qatari strategic partnership,” both with the country’s ruler and with the same government official who announced Ateeq’s ban and who is now Minister of State for Defense Affairs.

To be fair, Qatar is not the only Gulf government to host Ateeq or other hate preachers.

Saudi Arabia’s state television network hosted Ateeq for five one-hour segments in June 2016 alone, and a branch of its Ministry of Islamic Affairs has promoted several of his sermons so far this year. Ateeq also delivered a lecture at a festival in Dubai last summer, speaking at a table stamped with the Government of Dubai’s emblem to an audience that included an Emirati minister of state. Senior Kuwaiti officials just hosted a visiting Saudi preacher in mid-April who encouraged “jihad” against the occupation of Iraq during the George W. Bush administration.

But Qatar’s recent action is particularly offensive in that it violates a specific commitment to keep Ateeq off the air, as well as a general pledge against religious incitement – and on the very day of Mattis’s visit. Worse still, Qatar allegedly paid a large ransom for violent extremist groups in Syria and Iraq around the time of the secretary’s arrival.

The New York Times last week cited a senior Iraqi official who alleged that Qatar sent millions of dollars for the Iranian-backed and U.S.-designated Shi’ite terrorist group Kata’ib Hezbollah as part of a deal to free some two dozen Qatari hostages from the group. The Associated Press reported that a person involved in the deal said Qatar had paid “tens of millions of dollars” for Shi’ite factions as well as two Sunni groups: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (an al-Qaeda joint venture in Syria) and Ahrar al-Sham (a Sunni Syrian group known as the Syrian Taliban). Since then, the prime minister of Iraq announced that he actually seized Qatari bulk cash in relation to the hostage deal estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars intended for violent extremists.

Additionally, Qatar’s misconduct on ideological incitement goes far beyond Ateeq. Its government-owned television network Al Jazeera Arabic routinely dubs Palestinians who die while trying to kill Israeli civilians “martyrs,” including just two days before Mattis’s visit. Last year, Qatar’s religious affairs ministry promoted a Kuwaiti preacher just three months after he had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department on charges of being a financier for al-Qaeda.

The quasi-governmental Qatar Foundation hosts campuses for six prestigious American universities, but also promotes sermons by known hate preachers at a mosque meant to serve those campuses. One preacher urged God in his sermon there to count and kill all infidels wherever they may be. All six American universities with Qatar Foundation campuses – Georgetown, Cornell, Northwestern, Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth, and Carnegie Mellon – failed to condemn that incitement when contacted for comment by Voice of America.

It is time for Congress to evaluate which Mideast countries are fulfilling their counterterrorism pledges under the Jeddah Communiqué and which ones, such as Qatar, have broken their word. American defense cooperation, advanced weapons sales, and access to sensitive sectors of the U.S. economy are privileges, not rights, and should be granted to those allies that are pulling their weight on combating terrorist ideology.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a professional staff member at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAWeinberg.


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