The Washington Post’s “Muslims gather to get ‘Happy’ for the camera; Dance video aims to counter images of Islamist radicalism” was a feature article so light it nearly floated off the page (B-1, Metro section, April 23). It included such cutable prose as “Mona Malik had never been in a video before, but if she was ever going to do it, Tuesday afternoon was the time” and “a young man drummed on a bucket as a portable speaker played the uber-upbeat song ‘Happy,’ Pharrell Williams anthem to joy and to the pure communal value of boogying in the street .…”
Reporters Tara Bahrampour and Michelle Boorstein spotlighted approximately 50 people who “bounced and shimmied and twirled as curious passersby stopped to watch and the camera rolled.” Participants showed up at McPherson Square in downtown Washington, D.C. at the suggestion of two Muslim groups, one of them the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
According to The Post’s reporters, MPAC “advocates for U.S. Muslims, and … last week announced a plan to help steer susceptible members of their communities away from radical Islamist ideology ….”
Perhaps. But what The Post didn’t give readers was meaningful background on how MPAC “advocates for American Muslims.”
One of the group’s founders and current executive director is Salam Al-Marayati. In juxtaposition to MPAC’s newly-announced anti-extremism plan, he previously urged American Muslims not to cooperate with law enforcement authorities’ efforts to monitor radicals within local Muslim communities.
No context? Don’t worry, be happy
The council, as Boston College Prof. Peter Skerry has noted (“The Muslim-American Muddle,” National Affairs, Fall, 2011), is “one of several national organizations” that were “initiated and shaped by Islamists.”
If we’re going to look at suspects, we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.
MPAC has urged that Hamas, the Palestinian “Islamic Resistance Movement,” and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese “Party of God” responsible for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, be removed from the U.S. government’s list of terrorist organizations.
In 2010, when 11 students at the University of California (Irvine), including the president of the Muslim Student Union, were arrested for attempting to shout down a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, Al-Mayarati contradictorily defended their actions on the grounds of free speech.
The feature fluff ends by quoting a participant in the dance video: “‘If non-Muslims see it, I think it will be something to them to see that Muslims are not terrorists.’” Whatever the effect of the video—being shot in half-a-dozen places for later compilation and release—the effect of the article’s 22 paragraphs and two color photographs showing a total of four people dancing was to withhold from readers even a single sentence about the Janus-faced views of MPAC Executive Director Al-Marayati.
Can’t say Muslim
An article from The Post’s foreign desk managed an even more glaring omission. “In Britain, a vocal campaign against FGM; Survivors of female genital mutilation speak out to force an end to practice in immigrant communities” (April 2) told readers of the efforts of women like psychotherapist Leyla Hussein, featured in a documentary film “The Cruel Cut.”
Post correspondent Karla Adam, reporting from London, wrote that “of the 125 million girls and women worldwide estimated to have undergone the procedure, most are in Africa and the Middle East.” She said “the increased diversity that has come with immigration means that more European countries are becoming aware of the problem ….”
The newspaper explained that “most cases occur when immigrant families take their daughters to their country of origin for ‘the cutting season’ [summer vacation from school] and then return to Britain.” It also said “in Britain and most other countries, people consider the centuries-old cultural practice to be a form of violence against girls. But the issue has taken on new urgency as young women from high-risk communities demand change.”
In Britain, “new figures [on female genital mutilation] are expected to be much higher because of the influx of immigrants from regions where the practice is widespread, notably the Horn of Africa.”
The only specifics The Post gives about who the high-risk immigrant communities are or where the cultural practice of FGM is centuries old are geographic—references to “Africa and the Middle East” and “the Horn of Africa.” Why didn’t the paper identify “high-risk Arab-Islamic communities” from North Africa and the Middle East? Why avoid reference to the particular culture in which FGM apparently remains most often practiced? Was it fear of bogeyman accusations of “Islamophobia” that kept the paper from running up a necessary caution flag about MPAC’s national leadership?
Journalists do their jobs by being forthright. Part of being forthright is not withholding context.