WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: The Post Looks at Islam, and Blinks

The Washington Post’s Sunday, July 22 “Outlook” section gave four of its eight pages to six opinion pieces under the banner “One Islam, Many Circles.” Their headlines – and continuation headlines for the first four articles – suggest how imbalanced the section was:

“Roots of Rage: ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’ – America Has Forgotten Its Meddling … but the Muslim World Has Not”;

“Muslims on Main St.: As American As You Are – We Feel Right at Home, Thanks”;

“What Went Wrong: Bush Still Doesn’t Get It – A Divided Faith, a Blinkered President”;

“A Cry for Change: Losing My Jihadism – Leaving Jihadism, Finding God”;

“Through My Eyes: Restraint? Sure. Oppression? Hardly.”; and

“Crash Course: Want to Understand Islam? Start Here.”

Nowhere, in this purported discussion of the many circles of Islam do Washington Post readers encounter basic concepts including:

• Islam’s theological division between dar al-Islam and dar al-harb – the world of Islam and the world of war (the non-Islamic areas in which it is permissible to wage jihad to spread Islam);

• The classification of Jews and Christians as dhimmi peoples, religious inferiors to be tolerated (“protected”) so long as they pay a special tax and accept the restrictions of their second-class status;

• That while radical or political Islam, often called Islamism – perhaps better, Islamic triumphalism or imperialism if not “Islamofascism” – may be a minority movement, as “Outlook” writers stress, that minority might be large. Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf estimated that no more than 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslims supported Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. That would be 120 million to nearly 200 million people. The Bolshevik revolution changed the world with far fewer;

• Key quotations from Islamist leaders. The day “One Islam, Many Circles” appeared in The Post, The Washington Times reviewed Jed Babbin’s In the Words of Our Enemies, under the headline “Why they hate us, in their own thinking.” From bin Laden: “Our youths believe in paradise after death …. They have no intention except to enter paradise by killing you … The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it …. I have to stress the necessity of focusing on the Americans and the Jews, for they represent the spearhead with which the members of our religion have been slaughtered.” From Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, “spiritual leader” of Hamas, assassinated by Israel in 2004: “Allah willing, this unjust state will be erased – Israel will be erased; this unjust state, the United States, will be erased, this unjust state, Britain, will be erased … Blessing to whoever put a belt of explosives on his body or on his sons and plunged into the midst of the Jews.” 

• The observations of the 2002 and 2003 editions of the U.N. Arab Human Development Report, prepared largely by Arab academics, which concluded that the Arab world suffers “deficits” of freedom, education, women and minority rights, religious tolerance, economic growth, research, knowledge, artistic output and so on, and that one reason is religious (Islamic) fundamentalism.

• That of the 57 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference, none are Western-style democracies; Turkey perhaps comes closest, and its military periodically intervenes to uphold secular democracy.

• And virtually no attention is paid to the numerous post-9/11 examples of domestic U.S. charities shut down as fronts for terrorist fund-raising, arrests of American Muslims or legal or illegal immigrants for terrorist ties, and examples of imams whose inter-faith outreach was exposed as a cover for anti-Jewish, anti-Western preaching.  

Apologies and non-sequiturs

Instead, The Post gives readers a former jihadist worth reading; two professors, one of whom is an apologist; and three novelists, American Muslims or Muslims who lived in America or had Western educations. Their overlapping, highly self-referential perspectives imply an American-Islamic encounter likely to resolve itself in hot dogs, apple pie and shish kabob.

One, Leila Aboulela, author of The Translator and Minaret, recalls her childhood education in Khartoum’s American School. She notes her love of reading Little House on the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Harriet the Spy and Little Women and finding “Muslim values in those novels”; discussions with her father about Shakespeare; improvement of women’s status in Islamic societies, and a recent return visit to Sudan. But Aboulela never mentions Sudan’s Islamist government’s complicity in genocide in Darfur and the resultant estimated 450,000 deaths and displacement of more than 2 million black Muslims.

Mahja Kahf, author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, contributes a string of non sequiturs. For example, she writes that reporters constantly ask her cousin, who was president of a national student group, if Muslim youth turn to religion to reject their American identity. “She grew up in the South, with friends who went to Bible camp in the summer. ‘Would you ask a Baptist that question?’ she says, smoothing her head veil.” Nice image, but insubstantial response. The roots of America’s civic culture are Anglo-Protestant; nearly all of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Protestants and four presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have been Baptists. On the other hand, this spring’s Pew Research Center poll indicated that 26 percent of American Muslims under 30 believe suicide bombings are justified in some cases. One suspects that among American Baptists, the percentage is a bit lower.

Another “Outlook” contributor is John Esposito (“Want to Understand Islam? Start Here”) professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University. Esposito figures prominently, though not favorably, in Martin Kramer’s invaluable work, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America.

Esposito has soft-pedaled the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and found allegedly democratic tendencies in Arab-Islamic countries hostile to the concept. He once determined that the Islamic violence that had marred the 1980s would recede, and “the nineties will prove to be a decade of new alliances and alignments in which the Islamic movements will challenge rather than threaten their societies and the West.” Esposito on Islamic extremism resembles Cold War-era Sovietologists who chronically, and mistakenly, gave the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt. 

Authors whose work he recommends, in addition to his own, include Fawaz Gerges, who – like Esposito – fails scrutiny in Ivory Towers on Sand, and Tariq Ramadan, a media favorite who has justified Muslims killing civilians in “Palestine,” Iraq, and Chechnya, called car bombings of U.S. troops in Iraq justified “resistance” and who favors the death of the “Zionist entity” Israel. Esposito does not mention autho rs with much more accurate records, including Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes and Fouad Ajami.

Only “A Cry for Change: Losing My Jihadism,” by Mansour al-Nogaidan, deals in a straight-forward manner with what Commentary magazine editor emeritus Norman Podhoretz, among others, insists is “World War IV” (the Cold War being WW III) – the clash between political Islam, or Islamism, and the West, led by the United States. A writer for the Bahraini newspaper Al-Waqt, al-Nogaidan declares from Saudi Arabia that “Islam needs a Reformation. It needs someone with the courage of Martin Luther.”

Al-Nogaidan acknowledges that “I didn’t always think this way. Once, I was one of the extremists who clung to literal interpretations of Islam and tried to force them on others. I was a jihadist.” But he now believes Muslims “are too rigid in our adherence to old, literal interpretations of the Koran. It’s time for many verses – especially those having to do with relations between Islam and other religions – to be reinterpreted in favor of a more modern Islam. It’s time to accept that God loves the faithful of all religions.” Such statements have cost him jobs, friends and yielded a fatwa (religious ruling) from the mufti of Saudi Arabia declaring him an infidel.

Except for “Losing My Jihad,” The Post’s “One Islam, Many Circles,” amounts to an unwarranted deprecation of the Islamist threat to the United States and the rest of Western civilization. “Outlook” could have done with one fewer novelist and one more film-maker, or former film maker. One would have been easy to find, working a few blocks from The Post. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Somalia-born, Dutch refugee-turned-parliamentarian who was forced from The Netherlands by Islamic fundamentalists like the one who murdered her co-producer, Theo Van Gogh. Now at the American Enterprise Institute, Hirsi Ali gave a talk at the National Press Club, also a few blocks from The Post, on June 18. It was entitled “What is the role of journalism in reporting on Islam?” Among other things, she said:

 “The 21st century began with a battle of ideas, and this battle is about the values of the West versus those of Islam. ….[Y]ou should stop self-censoring. Islam and liberal democracy are incompatible; cultures and religions are not equal. And perhaps most important of all, Muslims are not half-wits who can respond only in violence ….

“From this perspective journalists like all the rest of us face the unpleasant reality of taking sides or getting lost in the incoherence of the so-called middle ground. The role of journalists serving the West, who understand what this particular battle is about, will be to inform their audiences accordingly ….

“Let’s make a moral distinction between Islam and Muslims. Muslims are diverse. Some, like Irshad Manji and Tawfiq Hamid, want to reform their faith. Others want to spread their beliefs through persuasion, violence or both. Others are apathetic and do not care much for politics. Others want to leave it and convert to Christianity, like Nonie Darwish, or become atheist, like me.

“Islam unreformed, as a set of beliefs, is hostile to everything Western.

“In a free society, if Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have their own schools, then Muslims should have theirs, too. But how long should we ignore that in Muslim schools in the West, kids are taught to believe that Jews are pigs and dogs? Or that they should distance themselves from unbelievers and jihad is a virtue? Isn’t it odd that everywhere in Europe with large Muslim organizations, demands are made not to teach kids about the Holocaust, while in mosques and Muslim bookshops The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is distributed? ….

“If Christians, Jews, and Atheists take to the streets in large numbers to protest against their own elected governments in objection to the war in Iraq, to the war against terror, why don’t Muslims march in equally large number against the beheadings of Western aid workers? Why don’t Muslims stand up for their own? Why are Jews and Christians and Atheists in the West the ones fighting genocide in Darfur? Why does it pass unnoticed in Muslim lands when Shias kill Sunnis and Sunnis, Shias by the thousands? It doesn’t add up, does it? If you ask me, ‘What is the role of journalism today?’ I would urge you to look into these questions.”

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