A New Low: New York Times Running Interference for Yusuf Qaradawi

For the past several weeks, The New York Times has been running interference for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization set to play a significant role in Egyptian politics after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In addition to publishing commentaries by two apologists for the Muslim Brotherhood, Tariq Ramadan and Essam El-Errian, on its op-ed page, the Times has published a news story that depicts the group’s spiritual leader, Yusuf Qaradawi, as “committed to pluralism and democracy.”

In fact, Qaradawi is a virulent anti-Semite who has called on Allah to wipe out the Jewish people. Moreover, he has worked to undermine the democratic principle of free speech by defending the Iranian fatwa calling for the death of writer Salman Rushdie and by promoting a “day of rage” against cartoons of Muhammed printed in Sweden and Denmark.

The man has also defended the practice of female genital mutilation and affirmed Muslim teachings calling for the death penalty to be applied to those who leave Islam and encourage others to do the same.

The New York Times is not the only news outlet to give Qaradawi a pass on his anti-democratic impulses. CifWatch, a group of activists dedicated to documenting the journalist abuses of The Guardian, particularly on its blog, “Comment is Free,” has published blog entries on how that paper has whitewashed Qaradawi’s background.

The article

The Times worked its whitewash magic in “After Long Exile, Sunni Cleric Takes Role in Egypt,” by David D. Kirkpatrick. The article, first published on Feb. 18, 2011, details Yusef Qaradawi’s return to Egypt after a long exile and a Friday sermon he gave in Tahrir Square, the scene of protests that led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Kirkpatrick reports:
On Friday, [Qaradawi] struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching. He began his sermon by saying that he was discarding the customary opening “Oh Muslims,” in favor of “Oh Muslims and Copts,” referring to Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. He praised Muslim and Christians for standing together in Egypt’s revolution and even lauded the Coptic Christian “martyrs” who once fought the Romans and the Byzantines. “I invite you to bow down in prayer together,” he said.

Later in the piece, Kirkpatrick reports that “Scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty civil democracy,” but that he has however, “made exceptions for violence against Israel or the American forces in Iraq.”

The notion that Qaradawi is a supporter of democracy, civil society and pluralism is tenable only if one thinks that a commitment to these principles can coincide with support for death threats against people who offend Muslim religious sensibilities, female genital mutilation, virulent anti-Semitism, suicide bombing and separate systems of law for different classes of citizens.

Supports Fatwa Against Rushdie

Qaradawi had worked to deny people the right to free speech. In a 2005 interview with Der Spiegel, Qaradawi affirmed Ayatollah Khoemeni’s 1998 call for Salman Rushdie to be murdered stating “Rushdie disgraced the honor of the Prophet and his family and defiled the values of Islam.”

This is an outrageous violation of the democratic principle of free speech. Because of this 1998 fatwa, Rushdie’s translator was murdered. Another was stabbed. A bookstore was bombed and a British Hotel was the target of a suicide bombing.

Sadly, in the years since the Rushdie affair, a number of other intellectuals, such as Theo Van Gogh, have been murdered by Muslim extremists intent on depriving people of their right to free speech. This has had an undeniably chilling impact. Writing in The Flight of the Intellectuals (Melville House, 2010), author Paul Berman writes that

… Salman Rushdie has metastasized into an entire social class. It is a subset of the European intelligentsia—its Muslim free-thinking and liberal wing, especially, but including other people too, who survive only because of bodyguards and police investigations and because of their own precautions. This is unprecedented in Western Europe since the fall of the Axis. Fear—mortal fear, the fear of getting murdered by fanatics in the grip of a bizarre ideology—has become, for a significant number of intellectuals and artists, a simple fact of modern life. (Kindle location 3712.)

Cartoon Riots

In addition to affirming a fatwa that resulted in a number of deaths, Qaradawi was also a major player in promoting riots over the cartoons of Mohammed published in Denmark in 2005. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) report on the cartoon crisis, Qaradawi called for an international “day of rage” in a Friday sermon given on Feb. 3, 2006. When a number of Muslim clerics held a conference and attempted to calm the crisis, Qaradawi condemned them and organized a conference of his own where he fomented further outrage over the cartoons. This conference also prepared draft UN resolutions to ban blasphemous speech. One commentator described Qaradawi as “the chief of staff in the War of the Cartoons.” Riots, fomented by Qaradawi’s propaganda, caused numerous deaths. (For example, 127 people died in Nigeria during cartoon riots in that country.)

Contempt for Religious Freedom

Such actions should come as no surprise given Qaradawi’s attitude toward religious freedom, particularly the right to change one’s religion. While Qaradawi affirms in the abstract, the right of people to leave Islam, he also affirms the notion that former Muslims who attack their religion should be subjected to the death penalty. Islamopedia, an online clearinghouse of information about Islam, summarizes Qaradawi’ attitude toward aposta sy. According to this summary, some apostates, such as Salman Rushdie, should in fact, be killed:

Al-Qardawi … gave the example of author Salman Rushdie, who Al-Qardwi (sic) said had not only betrayed Islam but also committed apostasy with his tongue and his pen. In this case of major apostasy, the generally accepted punishment of death should be implemented in order to eliminate the apostate’s evil and to shut the door of tumult (fitinah).

For more information about Qaradawi’s support for the execution of apostates, please go here.

Contempt for Women’s Rights

Qaradawi is an adversary to women’s rights, pure and simple. He has affirmed the so-called right of Muslim men to beat their wives. Moreover, he has defended the practice of female genital mutilation, writing that while it is “not obligatory,” a father who finds it “serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world.”

Qaradawi’s fatwas on these subjects reduce women to chattel.


In January 2009 Qaradawi stated that Hitler was a “divine tool” sent to punish the Jewish people for their sins. According to MEMRI, he expressed hope for yet another punishing Holocaust to be imposed on the Jewish people, perpetrated by Muslim believers:
Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers. (Al-Jazeera TV, January 30, 2009)
Qaradawi has also called on Allah to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

In most instances, the utterance of genocidal rhetoric such as this would cast doubts on one’s attitude toward democracy and pluralism.

Not in The New York Times.

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