Lebanese TV female host hailed after halting interview with ‘disrespectful’ sheikh – with 5m views

TV host Rima Karaki has become an online sensation after abruptly ending interview with an Islamist sheikh who had told her to shut up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 10:21pm

When Lebanese TV host Rima Karaki cut off the microphone after her guest, Hani Sibai, an Islamist sheikh, ordered her to “be silent”, little did she expect the video would become a viral sensation around the world.

Supporters online have hailed her for standing up for women’s rights and against a patriarchal religious establishment that sought to subjugate them. But for Karaki herself, it was a simple question of self-respect.

“Had I not answered, I would have hated myself, and I don’t want to hate myself,” she said. “When he said ‘shut up’, it was no longer possible to shut up because I would be insulting myself and would lose everything.”

During the television interview, Karaki, donning a veil at Sibai’s request, asked her guest a question about how Islamic State managed to attract Christians to its ranks, after reports emerged that two had joined the militant group. Sibai then launched into a historical monologue that the anchor felt was not relevant to the question.

“I asked him to focus on the current era so we don’t lose time,” she said.

“This caused him to get angry and he thought I was cutting him off, and I tried to calm him down and tell him not to be angry, and that I want to get the most out of your presence in the programme. I told him it’s up to you.”

Sibai got angrier, telling his host that he could say whatever he wanted, and told her to be silent. When she asked him how a “respectable sheikh could tell an anchor to shut up” and said she was in charge of the show, he said he was respectable regardless of her view and that he considered it dishonourable to be interviewed on her programme.

Karaki stopped the interview after three minutes, saying: “Just one second. Either there is mutual respect or the conversation is over.” And she cut off his microphone.

“The studio is like a courtroom, someone has to moderate the conversation. The only difference is that it’s not in the core of my profession to judge people,” Karaki said.

She said she brought Sibai on the programme because she believed in dialogue regardless of the individual’s background.

“But it’s my job to moderate the conversation, and I felt it was my right to say that I was in charge and I decide what the subject is, and that it could not go on this way,” she said.

“He decided to speak in a disrespectful manner and I had to cut off the interview.”

A version of the segment with English subtitles, posted a few days before International Women’s Day, has had more than 5 million views on YouTube.

Sibai published a letter on his Twitter feed demanding an apology from al-Jadeed, Karaki’s TV station. He said the channel was biased because it attempted to portray him as a fundamentalist and a friend of the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri .

“As if the friendship of Dr Zawahiri is an insult!” he said in the letter. “But I am proud of it and every Muslim is proud of it! But they mentioned it as slander.”

The London-based sheikh said that when he told the anchor to be silent, it was as if “a demon took over her”. He said she spoke “deliriously”.

Karaki said she did not want to blame Sibai’s behaviour on sexism, saying she could not discern his intent – only that he was being disrespectful to her.

“I can’t go into a person’s inner intent, but what I do know is that the tone was very authoritarian, but maybe this is the way he talks, and his overreaction was inexplicable,” she said.

“I don’t know if perhaps if it was a man, he would not have told him to shut up, but I took it as being disrespectful, whether it was with a woman or if he was a sheikh or whatever his background is.”