ISTANBUL — The timing was delicious. On the weekend of International Women’s Day, word spread of a forceful female Lebanese anchor putting down a grumpy British-based Islamist cleric who has praised al Qaeda for the 2005 London bombings.
The March 2 clash was between Rima Karaki, a well-known Mideast TV host for Lebanon’s Al Jadeed channel, and Hani al Seba’i, who once said “anyone who is not a Muslim is a criminal.” So far, since it was posted by Memri TV on March 4 with English subtitles, it has attracted more than 4.6 million hits on YouTube and a host of congratulatory Tweets for the TV presenter who put the Islamic scholar firmly in his place for showing her disrespect.
“It’s beneath me to be interviewed by you,” says the sheikh in the middle of their heated argument. “You are a woman who…” And that is the beginning of the end for the sexist cleric as Karaki, a university professor, cuts him off and leaves him in the dark in Al Jadeed’s London studios.
The interview on Karaki’s program, Bidoun Zaal, was meant to have been about Christians joining extremist Islamic groups like the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, but the scholar went off on a time-consuming digression about Western terror groups toward the end of the last century. A modern-day windbag version of Polonius, al Seba’i is urged by his interviewer to get back to the issue at hand when he says, “Back then, we saw leftist organizations like the Red Brigades in Italy, the Red Army in Germany, the Baader Meinhof Group …”
Requesting that he “focus on the present,” Karaki asks what slogans are used to attract Christians to these jihadist groups today. Riled by what he takes to be the impertinence of the interjection, al Seba’i raises his voice, saying: “Listen, don’t cut me off. I will answer as I please.” He adds: “I will not answer the way you like, because I’m here to serve the idea in which I believe.”
Karaki politely explains the show will run out of time. “Please don’t get all worked up. We respect you and know you want to give a complete answer.” The unappeased al Seba’i accuses Karaki of acting “high and mighty.” Karaki says she will give the scholar more time to respond to the question, adding, “Go on, but do not call me names. In this studio, I run the show.”
“Are you done?” he angrily replies. “Shut up so I can talk. It’s beneath me to be interviewed by you. You are a woman who…” The host at this point decides to persevere. “If you are going to elaborate so much, we won’t have time for other questions. Now, it is up to you. If we have time, you will answer all the questions,” she says.
Al Seba’i heading closer to his doom, replies: “You can decide as much as you like, but I will do whatever I want.” Lifting the palm of her left hand, Karaki ends the interview. “How can a respected Sheik like yourself tell a TV host to shut up?” she asks. “Either there is mutual respect or the conversation is over.”
Fans on her Twitter feed were ecstatic. One tweeted: “The awesome and beautiful Rima Karaki. A great role model for young women #respect.” Another, added: “Good job on putting disrespectful people in their place #WomensDay.”
Karaki has been a TV host for a decade-and-half, starting out on the highly popular morning show Alam al Sabah. For 10 years she hosted a show called Personal Matters that focused on intimate social and family issues and often courted controversy.
London-based Hani al Siba’i is director of London’s al Maqreze Center for Historical Studies, who has managed to fend off in the courts several British government efforts to deport him to his native Egypt, where he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment in a controversial case linked to the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
He is on a list of UN-sanctioned supporters of al Qaeda and in 2005 was added to a U.S. list of supporters of the terror group. The same year he told al Jazeera TV that the London bombings were a victory: “If al Qaeda indeed carried out this act, it is a great victory for it. It rubbed the noses of the world’s eight most powerful countries in the mud.” Fifty-two people were killed in the bombings and more than 700 injured.
Politely putting al Siba’i in his place as a chauvinist pig is, perhaps, the least that should be done.