Al-Manar, one of the most popular television networks in the Arabic-speaking world, has been removed from U.S. airwaves after the State Department designated it a supporter of terrorism.
State Department officials placed the satellite television network, run by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, on its Terrorist Exclusion List on Friday because of what they described as its incitement of terrorist activity. The designation means foreign nationals who work for the network or provide it any support can be barred from the United States, officials said.
"It's not a question of freedom of speech," State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said. "It's a question of incitement of violence. We don't see why, here or anywhere else, a terrorist organization should be allowed to spread its hatred and incitement through the television airwaves."
Al-Manar is protesting the designation, saying on its Web site that banning it was an attempt "to terrorize and silence thoughts that are not in line with U.S. and Israeli policies."
The U.S. action had the effect of banning al-Manar in the United States, where its programming had been beamed via GlobeCast, a company that sells access to foreign television programs by satellite. "As of Friday last week, that channel is no longer on the satellite," GlobeCast spokesman Robert Marking said.
Some Arabic-speaking Americans expressed frustration with the State Department's action. Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, a newspaper in Dearborn, Mich., said al-Manar is popular in this country in part because of its strong support for "resistance against Israeli occupation."
"I disagree with the State Department that it incites violence," he said. "By that standard, they should shut Fox News for inciting violence against Muslims."
Earlier this month, French officials prohibited the network from broadcasting in France, citing what it called al-Manar's anti-Semitic content and appeals to violence. French officials cited al-Manar programs reporting that Jews spread AIDS around the world and that they seek children's blood to bake into Passover matzoh.
A radical Lebanese political party that was formed in 1982 to represent Shiite Muslims, Hezbollah has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government for years. Its military wing, funded by Iran and dedicated to the destruction of Israel, is widely admired in the Arab world for forcing Israel from southern Lebanon in 2000. Hezbollah also funds schools and hospitals in Lebanon.
In the early 1980s, Hezbollah was involved in the kidnapping of Americans in Beirut and the bombings of U.S. Embassy buildings and a Marine barracks there. U.S. officials say Hezbollah trained al Qaeda members in the use of explosives before they bombed U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998.
Al-Manar airs a wide array of programming, including children's shows and soccer games. It heavily covers events involving the Palestinians, and it shows militants setting off explosives and shooting at Israelis and American troops, often to musical accompaniment.
"Al-Manar often juxtaposes sacred Islamic text with images of 'martyrdom' to incite its viewers to support and even carry out acts of terror," according to a recent report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank. "Potential bombers are implored to focus their attention on the afterlife and on Judgment Day 'instead of getting preoccupied with our lives on earth.' "