Just a very few years ago, if you knew the name Al Jazeera at all, it was because that was the Arabic-language TV network which aired tapes provided by fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden.
It’s doubtful you’d have known where this bandit network was located, or if it had any purpose other than to provide a platform for various Muslim agitators to rail against America — “The Great Satan.”
So would you be surprised to know that Al Jazeera is now one of the most powerful media outlets in the world, not just in the Arab world but right here in America?
Yes, we’re serious.
Al Jazeera America, headquartered in New York with 12 bureaus in major U.S. cities and three broadcasting centers inside the country, went on the air Aug. 18 of this year.
The network already has signed deals with enough satellite and cable companies that it is reaching 55 million Americans.
How did that all happen, and so fast?
Perhaps you need to understand the parent company. The original Al Jazeera was the creation of the Emir of Qatar, who envisioned it as the only truly free broadcast network in the Muslim world.
Suddenly, people throughout the Middle East who had been receiving almost entirely all censored news got to see what actually was going in the region.
The result was the Arab Spring, in which many regimes were toppled in popular uprisings.
There is a joke they tell in the souks of Doha, capital of Qatar, suggesting that one day, a group of former Muslim strongmen will meet in heaven and begin to chat.
Someone asks: How did they get you out?
“Gunshot,” says former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
“Knives and clubs,” sighs onetime Libyan boss Muammar Gaddafi.
“Al Jazeera,” shouts Hosni Mubarak, overthrown ruler of Egypt.
The notion of giving his powerful, multi-lingual network a worldwide grip is no laughing matter to Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamim ben Hamad Al-Thani.
First Al Jazeera shot away from the Gulf region with an English language TV and web operation based in London and intended for a global audience.
As Al Jazeera English — the title of the London-based group — began to take off, they noticed something back home in Qatar.
Their English web site was gaining a surprisingly large audience in the United States.
And one thing we can say for the Emir al-Thani and his family is that when they decide to do something, there will be no half measures.
Money is no object, since Qatar sits atop oil and natural gas deposits that make the tiny emirate one of the world’s richest nations.
Already Al Jazeera’s U.S. operation is both slick and informed, production includes live video streaming, and nobody else has such connections around the world.
In fact, we have a discomforting feeling that, in national and global matters, the Qataris may understand America better than our homegrown networks.