The uproar about Newsweek and its relationship to the more fundamental issues
The uproar about Newsweek and its most unfortunate publication of a story about a Koran being flushed down a toilet without adequate supporting testimony has presented the American public with yet another opportunity to take the easy road to vilification of favorite targets while ignoring larger issues. Here is Thomas Friedman’s column of May 20, continuing a theme that he has been pursuing for several weeks:
“The Best P.R.: Straight Talk”—Thomas Friedman’s column, May 20, 2005
The fact that the White House spokesman Scott McClellan spent part of his briefing on Tuesday excoriating Newsweek – and telling its editors that they had a responsibility to “help repair the damage” to America’s standing in the Arab-Muslim world – while not offering a single word of condemnation for those who went out and killed 16 people in Afghanistan in riots linked to a Newsweek report, pretty much explains why we’re struggling to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world today. We are spending way too much time debating with ourselves, or playing defense, and way too little time actually looking Arab Muslims in the eye and telling them the truth as we see it. In part this is because we are so dependent on their oil – and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. In part this is because the administration got so carried away by the vote in the Iraqi elections that it lost focus…
Instead of sending Mr. McClellan out to flog Newsweek, President Bush should have said: “Let me say first to all Muslims that desecrating anyone’s holy book is utterly wrong. These allegations will be investigated, and any such behavior will be punished. That is how we Americans intend to look in the mirror. But we think the Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving toward an even worse crime than the desecration of God’s words, and that is the desecration of God’s creations. In reaction to an unsubstantiated Newsweek story, Muslims killed 16 other Muslims in Afghanistan in rioting, and no one has raised a peep – as if it were a totally logical reaction. That is wrong.
“In Iraq, where Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Muslims are struggling to build a pluralistic new order, other Muslims, claiming to act in the name of Allah, are indiscriminately butchering people, without a word of condemnation coming from Muslim spiritual or political leaders. I don’t understand a concept of the sacred that says a book is more sacred than a human life. A holy book, whether the Bible or the Koran, is only holy to the extent that it shapes human life and behavior.
“Look, Newsweek may have violated journalistic rules, but what jihadist terrorists are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan – blowing up innocent Muslims struggling to build an alternative society to dictatorship – surely destroys the Koran. They are the real enemies of Islam because they are depriving Muslims of a better future. From what I know of Islam, it teaches that you show reverence to God by showing reverence for his creations, not just his words. Why don’t your spiritual leaders say that?…”
Fortunately, a few courageous Arab intellectuals, such as Abderrahman al-Rashed, have asked such things. Writing in Wednesday’s Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat, he said: “When thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about a report in a magazine that does not reach them, written in a language they do not speak, leading them to protest in a manner unprecedented among other Islamic nations that do speak English, the matter is worth pursuing further: it tells us more about the dangers of propaganda and its exploitation by opposition groups than it does about spontaneous popular sentiments.”