Bump up the Homeland Security alert: The Arab world’s controversial Aljazeera Television Network is attempting to win Western hearts and minds by launching an English-language network with a major hub in Washington early next year. But Aljazeera International is already facing a threat far more serious than anything the Bush administration could cook up: website confusion.
If you want to bookmark a URL to help you stay on top of anti-American news 24-7, you might start by trying aljazeerah.com—in which case you’ll be connected to the online home of al-Jazeerah Shopping Center, Riyadh’s answer to Macy’s. Great if you’re looking for a designer burka or some smoked lamb, but weak on streaming beheadings. The site navigates you through the mall’s products, as well as its rides-and-games Mecca, “al-Jazeerah Super Fun,”? a 15,000-square-meter “fun center for ladies and children”? to unwind after a long day of shopping. (Gents are not mentioned, so clearly the Arab metrosexual revolution has yet to begin.)
Once you’ve tired of spying on the leisuretime options of the Saudi bourgeoisie, you might try dropping the h and going to aljazeera.com, and for a long while you might think you’d gone to the right place. It’s an Arab news site with respectable production values, after all. But the bottom of the homepage daintily hints that the site is the online edition of Aljazeera magazine, published in Dubai, and if you go to the “About Us”? page you get the following touchy message: “Important note: Aljazeera Publishing and aljazeera.com are not associated with the controversial Arabic Satellite Channel known as Jazeera Space Channel TV station, whose website is aljazeera.net.”?
Well, everyone knows that a dot-com trumps a dot-net, so earlier this year Aljazeera TV filed a legal complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Arbitration and Mediation Center against Aljazeera Publishing over the latter’s domain name. Then Aljazeera Publishing fired back with a charge of “reverse domain name hijacking.”? According to Aljazeera Publishing, Aljazeera TV had been deliberately directing e-mails meant for its editors to aljazeera.com—Aljazeera Publishing’s domain—to further confound internet users and make a case for brand name confusion. Clearly Aljazeera TV was banking on name-recognition carrying the day: According to a Forbes Arabia article last year, Aljazeera is the fifth-most recognizable brand in Europe and Africa. But timing is everything: The publisher’s site was launched months before the TV channel hit the scene, and ultimately Aljazeera TV, which refused to comment on the issue, was denied the complaint.
The confusion reached a hilarious crescendo recently when Los Angeles activist Gary Wexler submitted an article to what he thought was Aljazeera TV’s site, aljazeerah.info. The piece was accepted by the site’s editor, Dr. Hassan El-Najjar, and only later did Wexler discover that this was not the site of the notorious Arab TV network but an independent publication based in Dalton, Georgia.
When Radar Online contacted Dr. El-Najjar for comment, at the number he posted as his web administration contact, the woman who took the call seemed unsettled. She set down the phone, and a male and a female voice argued in Arabic. After several minutes a gruff El-Najjar picked up—disgruntled at having been disturbed at his home. He claimed he had made it “very clear at the bottom half of my website that it’s not related to Aljazeera TV.”? Apparently we were not the first to make the mistake: “Some other people contacted me and were not nice.”? He doesn’t seem concerned, though, that TV network might try to force him to make the nonconnection even clearer, offering a one-hand-clapping-worthy aphorism: “Aljazeera is like time. It’s not the property of anyone. Anyone can have time.”?