Search Results for: Islamophobia

Islamophobia vs. bad journalism

Here in the nutty, right-wing, Bible Belt state of Oklahoma, we go to the polls Tuesday to cast our ballots and, hopefully, stop the incessant radio and TV commercials from those who are sneaking in our borders and accosting our way of life. I am talking, of course, about the politicians. Seriously, folks, I am willing to give my vote to the first candidate to shut up for a full five minutes.

I jest. I jest.

Most of the commercials I hear seem to relate to our Republican gubernatorial candidate who is going to stand up to Washington (by moving from Congress to the governor’s office in Oklahoma City) and the massive education spending measure that would pay for itself by cutting $2 billion in tax breaks for special interests (you don’t think there’s any teacher union involvement in that wholly believable campaign, do you?).

But I digress. This is GetReligion, so let me get to today’s topic: Sharia religious law. And today’s other topic: Bad journalism. And to play a starring role in both topics: the Los Angeles Times.

Besides voting on State Question 744 — the education spending measure referenced earlier — Oklahomans will decide 10 other state questions Tuesday. One of them, State Question 755, would ban Sharia law in the state. Here’s how The Oklahoman, one of the nation’s more conservative newspapers, described the measure in an editorial urging voters to reject it:

This is another feel-good measure that has no practical effect and needn’t be added to the Oklahoma Constitution. The question would prohibit the use of international or Sharia law when cases are decided in Oklahoma courts. As it is, judges exclusively use state and federal law to guide their judicial decision-making. Passing the question might make some politicians happy and make some Oklahomans feel better. That’s all it would do. Voters should reject it as unnecessary.

The L.A. Times, too, considers the measure downright unnecessary. Unfortunately, that newspaper chose to make its position clear not in an editorial but in a news story. Here’s the lede on the Times’ story:

As the country grapples with its worst economic downturn in decades and persistent unemployment, voters in Oklahoma next week will take up another issue — whether they should pass a constitutional amendment outlawing Sharia, or Islamic law.

Supporters of the initiative acknowledge that they do not know of a single case of Sharia being used in Oklahoma, which has only 15,000 Muslims.

The rest of the story follows much the same pattern of making clear exactly how crazy the ballot measure is, according to the Times.

Supporters “can point to only a handful of cases that merely allude to the centuries-old, complex tangle of Muslim religious law.” Backers “have cited only three cases that they contend show the threat of Sharia law.” Blanket statements are attributed to “some conservative activists.”

Another weakness of the story is that it fails to highlight the bigger picture of Oklahoma politics. The Sharia ballot question is not placed into the context of a larger conservative movement in the state. Typically, we GetReligionistas complain when reporters focus too much on the politics and not enough on the religion. In this case, the politics seem to be crucial to understanding what’s occurring. For example, consider this story from The Oklahoman:

Oklahoma voters will decide several ballot issues next week that critics say pander to extreme conservatives and would move the state further to the right.

State questions on Tuesday’s ballot would make English the state’s official language, prohibit Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases, and allow residents to opt out of the new federal health care reform law.

The three questions are the product of a Republican-controlled Legislature, which circumvented Gov. Brad Henry — a Democrat — to take them to the ballot. Critics say Republicans are trying to beef up voter turnout among certain conservative groups by appealing to biases on immigration, Islam and the reach of Washington in a state where President Barack Obama failed to win a single county in 2008.

For a much better national treatment of Oklahoma’s Sharia measure, take a look at CNN’s informative report by national security producer Laurie Ure:

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (CNN) – Oklahoma voters are considering an unusual question that will appear on their ballots this Tuesday: whether Islamic law can be used in considering cases in state court.

The question is the doing of State Rep. Rex Duncan. The Republican is the main author of State Question 755, also known as the “Save our State” constitutional amendment, one of 11 questions on the state ballot.

The question might seem a befuddling one for a ballot in the heartland, but it stems from a New Jersey legal case in which a Muslim woman went to a family court asking for a restraining order against her spouse claiming he had raped her repeatedly. The judge ruled against her, saying that her husband was abiding by his Muslim beliefs regarding spousal duties. The decision was later overruled by an appellate court, but the case sparked a firestorm.

Keep reading the CNN report, and you get nuance, you get Newt Gingrich proposing a federal law along the same lines, you get actual ballot wording, you get details on the claims made in media ads, and you even get this kind of real reporting with input from a real person:

Quraishi insists that Islam does not allow for men to mistreat women, and that the New Jersey case involved a “crazy, loony man, unfortunately a Muslim.”

“That is not Islam,” he said.

“Oklahoma, you know, is a very Republican state,” Quraishi said. He accused some lawmakers with attempting to instill fear in the heads of constituents in order to drum up votes. “But Oklahomans are not like that. I know most of the Oklahomans. They’re very nice people.”

CNN’s report practices good old-fashioned journalism. Just for kicks, the Los Angeles Times might try it sometime. Even when writing about a nutty, right-wing, Bible Belt state such as Oklahoma.

Islamophobia means never saying you’re sorry

From my growing guilt file, one story keeps popping up. The Portland Press Herald in Maine ran a story on September 11 about a local observance of the end of Ramadan. The story ran on the top of the front page, I believe, and had a large photo with it.

So what’s the problem? Well, readers didn’t love the paper that day. They felt the paper should have given more prominence to the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks and less prominence to the Ramadan celebration. Apparently there was little or no coverage to the anniversary of the terrorist attack. The editor’s customers wrote him many letters. He responded:

Our coverage of the conclusion of the local Ramadan observance was excellent and we are proud of it. We did not adequately cover 9/11 on the 9/11 anniversary, which also should have been front-page news, in my opinion. Please see this week’s column for additional commentary on this topic.

Well, readers took the apology pretty well. But other media figures flipped out.

Time Magazine columnist James Poniewozik interpreted the apology to mean this:

Paper to Readers: Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human

That’s certainly not how I took the editor’s apology to his customers, but Poniewozik’s sentiment was widely shared in the media. Many felt that no apology was necessary. Which brings us to an NPR “On the Media” segment from this week. You can listen to the segment or read the transcript. It begins with host Bob Garfield explaining that readers were upset that a Muslim holiday pushed the 9/11 remembrances off the front page and that the editor thought things should have been handled better. He quotes Poniewozik and brings on the Press Herald editor Richard Connor.

It’s an extremely contentious interview, although it begins fairly calmly:

BOB GARFIELD: All right, so what was the matter with the story that you ran, the original story?

RICHARD CONNOR: Nothing. There was nothing wrong with our coverage of the local observance of the conclusion of Ramadan. We’re proud of the way we covered it. We’ll cover it again next year and next year and the next year.

We did not cover the 9/11 anniversary on the 9/11 date the way that we should have. We had a lot of coverage planned for 9/12, the day after. So if you read the apology closely, in my opinion, you’ll see that I supported the decision to cover Ramadan. What I questioned is how we could have essentially omitted coverage of 9/11 on the same day.

I think that without doubt some of the people who complained about the lack of 9/11 coverage were really couching anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes, but I think they were hiding behind that.

BOB GARFIELD: And you apologized to them. “Many saw Saturday’s front-page story and photo regarding the local observance of the end of Ramadan as offensive,” and the remainder of your 700-word mea culpa is an apology for, yes, the oversight of not covering the 9/11 anniversary but somehow treading on their sensibilities. And I’m having trouble with the idea of you apologizing for covering the end of Ramadan.

RICHARD CONNOR: I think you’re misreading it. We will cover Ramadan locally, and the observance of it from, you know, now to whenever. The apology is for not giving the play to 9/11 that many of our readers felt it should have. The two are disconnected.

BOB GARFIELD: I understand, but let me ask you this, please. What would you say was the preponderance of the attitudes expressed in these angry emails?

RICHARD CONNOR: The preponderance of emails that I received were from people who said, how could you have missed the 9/11 coverage on 9/11? What motivated them to write that, I don’t know.

BOB GARFIELD: You remarked about treading on the sensibilities of your readers. If their sensibilities were trod upon by your covering the observance of the end of Ramadan, isn’t that kind of their problem?

RICHARD CONNOR: They weren’t. If you want to stick to that, you can. The emails that I received were predominantly directed at the omission of more coverage of 9/11.

Garfield is convinced that Connor was apologizing for covering Ramadan and Connor says he was apologizing for failing to properly cover the 9/11 anniversary. After a few rounds of this, it ends with the editor simply getting off the phone.

Now, I think it’s certainly true that the editor did not compose the best apology. In fact, he clarified his own apology after getting hammered on it. I find it surprising that the media doesn’t understand reader concern with the failure to cover 9/11 on September 11 in an edition that prominently features a Ramadan celebration.

And yet this whole thing sort of reminds me of those fights you have with family members where you’re fighting about dinner but really you’re fighting about something much more difficult to deal with — hurt feelings or communication failures or resentment or something like that.

Readers are probably a bit sick of the mainstream media approach to covering Islam. I think they’re probably ready — many years after they first woke up to the threat of Muslim extremists — for some more substantive coverage of what in this religion inspires such a dramatically different understanding of rights, freedom, honor and virtue. And I think many journalists are really convinced that America has an Islamophobia problem and they think that this editor was a traitor to the cause. Where some readers probably would like more coverage of the underlying issues, sometimes the response of some journalists seems to be “If we write one more story accusing Americans of Islamophobia while asserting that Islam inspires nothing but peace, we’ll have world peace.”

So what do you think? Was the editor actually apologizing for presenting Muslims as humans? Were readers wrong to complain? Did the paper handle the 9/11 anniversary well? And what do you think about the media response to the kerfuffle?

We covered some of the many religion news stories about concerns Muslims had about the likely coincidence of the end of Ramadan with the 9/11 anniversary. It’s interesting that it ended up being a religion news story that led to conflict.

Islamophobia holiday

Talk about bad timing. Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration that concludes the month of Ramadan, ends on an unfortunate date this year: Sept. 11. And that is causing problems for some planned celebrations like the customary Eid festival that was canceled in Fresno.

It’s also going to give me a chance to discuss another Mitchell Landsberg story for the Los Angeles Times:

“We thought it might be misunderstood and create a wave of attacks on our faith and community,” said Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini, the center’s religious leader. “It’s really just a community celebration that happened to occur on 9/11. … The way some local media outlets are attacking our faith and community created a serious fear among members of this community.”

Muslims around the country are expressing similar concerns about the timing of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and is marked by celebration and gift-giving.

For those keeping score, Landsberg has had a difficult run since taking over the LAT’s neglected religion beat. The good is here; the bad is here, here, here, here and here.

Certainly, this story about Eid celebrations has its shortcoming too. At first I thought it was pretty solid, but each time I combed over it I was more troubled by missing voices, thin “trend” demonstration and dominance of the near-Ground Zero Mosque narrative in this story.

To start, the quote right after the this-is-a-national-trend paragraph is fairly rote comment from a CAIR spokesman blaming Islamophobia. To be sure, Islamophobia is real. But I don’t really see the connection here.

While Hooper’s is a voice readers have come to expect in a story like this — a cheap quote offering an unsurprising insight, a la going to Tony Perkins with a story about evangelicals and abortion — the other voices here are very limited. Dedicated not to the timing of Eid al-Fitr so much as the national sentiment toward Islam, Landsberg quotes only polar opposites: either anti-Islam extremists or those promoting tolerance and appreciation of Muslim traditions.

This story also might be overgeneralizing a bit. The Fresno festival is the only one known to have been canceled. And the Muslims around the country expressing similar concerns seem to just be Maher Hathout, “a physician who is a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles.” (No mention is made of his notoriety, though I don’t think any was needed.)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has compared the plans for the center to Japan erecting a building next to Pearl Harbor.

The controversy has contributed to what some Muslims and others say is a recent upsurge of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. There have been demonstrations against a number of plans to expand or build mosques, including one in Temecula; and a Florida church has declared Sept. 11 to be “International Burn a Koran Day.”

The debate has entered political contests around the country, and some Muslim leaders contend there has been an orchestrated campaign to motivate conservative voters through anti-Islamic fervor. “It has a lot to do with the ramp-up of the election cycle,” said Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs of the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Indeed, more is going on here than just the NYC mosque and the Fresno Eid festival. But it’s not really discussed.

In that vein, this feels not like a bird’s-eye-view trend story but like two smaller stories sandwiched together — a localizing of the NYC mosque story with a very interesting hook about some bad timing. Unfortunately the story of those stories that’s already gotten a lot of attention ends up overwhelming what intrigued me when I read the headline “Muslims fear backlash as festival falls near Sept. 11.”

PHOTO: Eid meal, via Wikipedia

Tweeting Mohammad

The Mohammad cartoon controversy has resurfaced over the past week with a flutter over a tweet.

The British press appears to have come down on the side of Maajid Nawaz. Newspaper articles, opinion pieces and television chat shows have defended his right to share a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammad. But they have also ceded the moral high ground to his opponents — Islamist extremists — by declining to publish a copy of the cartoon that has led to death threats and calls for Nawaz to be blacklisted by the Liberal Democratic Party for Islamophobia.

What we are seeing in the British media — newspapers and television (this has not been a problem for radio) — in the Jesus and Mo controversy is a replay of past disputes over Danish and French cartoons. Freedom of speech and courage in the face of religious intolerance is championed by the press — up to a point.

The point appears to be whether being courageous could get you killed or even worse, earn the displeasure of the bien pensant chattering classes.

The Telegraph gives a good overview of the affair.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has received death threats after posting a cartoon image of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.

However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden. More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.

The Guardian summarized Nawaz’s motives in this subtitle to their story:

Lib Dem candidate says he aimed to defend his religion ‘against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest’

It explained:

The row blew up after Nawaz took part in a BBC debate where two students were wearing t-shirts depicting a stick figures of stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?”

The politician, who is founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank, tweeted what he believes is a “bland” image and stated that “as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that”.

Both stories are sympathetic and are topped by striking photos of Nawaz, who is  running to be an MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. But neither article reproduces the cartoon that has led to the threats against his life. In their defence, it could be argued that a photo of Nawaz, rather than the offending cartoon was more appropriate as the article focused on the politician’s travails over the cartoon, not on the cartoon itself. A weak argument but an argument none the less.

[Read more...]

Muhammad marketing mishaps in Sydney

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I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, All over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between, My brothers and my sisters, All over this land.

So begins the first stanza of “The Hammer Song”. Written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, the progressive anthem had its first public performance by Seeger in 1949 at a rally in New York on behalf of the leaders of the Communist Party-USA, who were on trial for sedition. It was recorded by The Weavers in 1950 but attracted little popular interest. In 1962 Peter, Paul and Mary recorded their version, which reached the top of the charts in August of that year.  The song has continued to move away from its Communist roots and has been recorded by artists ranging from Luther Vandross to the Von Trapp Family Singers — (never knew they too were secret Communists).

My introduction to the song — and the Peter, Paul & Mary oeuvre — came in summer camp and church youth groups. In the space of 25 years “The Hammer Song”  had been sanitized — homogenized if you will.  Stalinist agitprop rendered into wholesome children’s camp fire music.

As I write this post it is Friday evening. Time for some free association and thoughts of change (and decay all around I see). What I once believed the “The Hammer Song” meant and what it’s authors meant bore no relationship to one another.  For that matter, what did “Puff the Magic Dragon” mean?

The Australian the largest daily newspaper in Australia and a part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire– this week published an expose challenging the cherished beliefs of one religious group. It took a hammer to Mypeace exposing their claims as exaggerations at best or deliberate falsehoods. The Australian press — the Fairfax newspapers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in particular — are strongly anti-clerical, but I nevertheless was surprised to read this story entitled: “Ads for Islam ‘misquote Shaw from bogus book’”.

The article began:

Anti-”Islamophobia” advertisements due to screen on major free-to-air channels from today rely on a fabricated quote from Irish playwright and avowed atheist George Bernard Shaw, from a book that does not exist, according to the International Shaw Society.

The 30-second ads have been funded by the Sydney-based Mypeace organisation, which says it hopes to “build bridges” between Muslims and other Australians. Animated with voiceovers and with quotations displayed on the screen, they feature major historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Shaw praising the prophet Mohammed.

Hows that for a strong opening! And notice the small “p” in prophet in the last sentence. The BBC, to cite one outlet, in deference to Muslim sensibilities always uses a capital “P”. The story reports:

The advertisements quote Shaw proclaiming the prophet Mohammed was “the saviour of humanity” in a book he is supposed to have written entitled ‘The Genuine Islam’. But International Shaw Society treasurer Richard F Dietrich said he had compiled a complete list of Shaw’s works. which did not include the book. “I think ‘The Genuine Islam’ is bogus”, he said.

The Australian does not stop there, but goes for the kill. [Read more...]

Hey Washington Post: There’s only one (gay) Islam? Really?

Anyone who has been paying attention to debates about the future of the Boy Scouts of America knows that, when it comes to issues linked to homosexuality, there is no one “religious” perspective that journalists need to cover. Even within individual religious traditions — such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Roman Catholic Church — there are people who read the same texts and come to slightly different, or glaringly different, conclusions.

On the Christian left, for example, there is no one pro-gay theology.

On the Christian right, there is no one monolithic camp that opposes homosexuality to the same degree or for the same reasons.

It helps to see some of this written out in clear English. Thus, for a decade-plus I have recommended a helpful, and rigorously balanced, book by a gay evangelical writer, the Rev. Larry Holben, who is now an Episcopal priest. It’s called “What Christians Think about Homosexuality: Six Representative Viewpoints.” For a quick summary, in the form of two Scripps Howard News Service columns from 2000, click here and then over here.

But I raise this subject for the following reason. The other day, the oh-so-edgy Style folks at The Washington Post served up several thousand words worth of public-relations-grade material about a recent “LGBTQ Muslim and Partners Retreat.” This is one of those giant, unavoidable features that is supposed to slap humble readers in the face, starting with the photography and, of course, the symbolic details at the very start:

There was speed dating, a talent show and a baby naming.

But there was also a locked Facebook page. And a strict rule: Attendees should not disclose the retreat’s exact location.

That’s because the 85 people who gathered in the Pennsylvania woods over Memorial Day weekend had come from 19 states and three countries for a somewhat surprising event: a three-day LGBTQ Muslim and Partners Retreat.

Some wore T-shirts that read, “Muslim + Gay = Fabulous.” They prayed. They attended workshops about pioneering progressive Muslims. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, a.k.a. Mahmoud Saadi, a convert to Islam who challenged gender norms at the turn of the 20th century? And they held discussions on struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and their sexuality with their faith. (Many folks said that they face Islamophobia from inside the mainstream LGBTQ community.)

Having covered a few off-the-record events myself over the years, I think it would have been best if the Post team members had done what my editors always asked me to do under those conditions — which is to clearly state the precise conditions under which a reporter was allowed into this secret gathering. In this case, all readers were told is this:

This was the third such retreat, and it was sponsored this year by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, founded in January to address the needs of LGBTQ Muslims. Another sponsor was Muslims for Progressive Values, a Los Angeles-based group formed in 2007 that parallels, to some extent, Unitarian Universalism and Judaism’s reform movement, and which has nine chapters across the country and abroad.

The Washington Post was invited to attend — the first media organization to be given access.

So were some sessions off limits? Were certain participants pre-selected by the organizers to talk to the Post? Did some representatives of the newspaper take part in the conference, as well as cover it? Was the Post, in effect, (I’m thinking about the degree to which The Baltimore Sun has all but cooperated in Womenpriests rites) a participating organization in the event?

The article also makes it very clear that the version of Islam featured in this event is quite different than traditional forms of the faith.

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Whistling in the dark about Islam and reform



Has anyone seen a story in the U.S. press about the opening of France’s first gay-friendly mosque? I’ve not come across anything in the U.S. mainstream media so far, but the story has received a great deal of play from the European press.

Now the cynic in me would want to feign shock at the New York Times not having picked up this story as it deals with an issue dear to its heart. However, it is the foreign policy ramifications of this story that I thought would attract the attention of the U.S. media elite — for the underlying theme of this story has been the philosophical principle behind U.S. Middle East policy. All right-thinking people — government leaders, columnists, the professoriate — believe Islam can be reformed and its tenets brought in line with the Western liberal mind. I am surprised not to have seen America’s public intellectuals jump all over this story.

On Friday Le Monde published a tight, nicely written story entitled « Une “mosquée” ouverte aux homosexuels près de Paris ». Drawing from a Reuters wire service story and its own reporting, Le Monde reported that a gay French Muslim had opened a mosque in a borrowed room on the grounds of a Buddhist dojo outside Paris.

Reuters reported:

Europe’s first gay and lesbian-friendly mosque opens on Friday in an eastern Paris suburb, in a challenge to mainstream Islam’s long tradition of condemning same-sex relationships. The mosque, set up in a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk, will welcome transgender and transsexual Muslims and seat men and women together, breaking with another custom where the sexes are normally segregated during prayer. Its founder, French-Algerian gay activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, will also encourage women to lead Friday prayers, smashing yet another taboo.

“It’s a radically inclusive mosque. A mosque where people can come as they are,” said Zahed, 35, whose prayer space will be the first in Europe to formally brand itself as a gay-friendly mosque, according to Muslim experts.

M. Zahed sounds like he has latent Episcopalian-syndrome and uses all the right sort of Christian left buzz words. The story offers a few more words of explanation from M. Zahed, negative reactions from French Muslim leaders and closes with comments from a French academic.

“The goal of these Muslims is to promote a form of Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” said Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, an associate researcher at France’s Research and Studies Institute on the Arab and Muslim World. The push by gay Muslims for acceptance comes as a younger generation of Muslims is questioning some of the existing interpretations of the Koran as over-conservative. “Even though they are still a extreme minority, their views have a solid theological basis. So their message is not having an insignificant impact,” Bergeaud-Blackler said.

The Le Monde story goes a bit deeper. The comments from French Muslim leaders are much harsher than those reported by Reuters.

« Il y a des musulmans homosexuels, ça existe, mais ouvrir une mosquée, c’est une aberration, parce que la religion, c’est pas ça », estime Abdallah Zekri, président de l’Observatoire des actes islamophobes, sous l’autorité du Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM).

Which I roughly translate as:

“There are Muslim homosexuals. They exist. But to open a mosque, that is an aberration because homosexuality is contrary to our religion,” said Abdallah Zekri, president of the Islamophobia (sorry AP but that’s what Le Monde calls it) Observer for the CFCM.

 Le Monde also has some choice quotes from M. Zahed as well.

« Les musulmans ne doivent pas se sentir honteux. L’homosexualité n’est condamnée nulle part, ni dans le Coran ni dans la sunna. Si le prophète Mahomet était vivant, il marierait des couples d’homosexuels. » Il rêve d’un islam « apaisé, réformé, inclusif », qui accepterait le blasphème car « la pensée critique est essentielle pour le développement spirituel ».

Which I understand to mean:

Muslims should not feel ashamed. Homosexuality is not condemned either in the Koran or in the Sunna. If the Prophet Muhammad were alive, he would marry of homosexual couples.” [Zahed] dreams of  “peaceful, reformed, inclusive” Islam which which accepts blasphemy as “critical thinking essential to its spiritual development.”

Le Monde frames the story in a sympathetic light to M. Zahed. He is the underdog seeking to reform an ossified, dyed in the wool religious establishment. The article offers both sides of the debate — M. Zahed’s beliefs and the institutional response. However, I am surprised this item has not received the New Yorker 10,000 word treatment. A Muslim who speaks like an Episcopalian I imagine would be catnip to the mainstream American media.

The Islam of M. Zahed is that of Presidents Bush and Obama. Government policy since 9/11 has been predicated on the belief that Islam is like Christianity or Judaism. Given enough time, money and jawboning, Islam can reform and accommodate itself within a secularist pluralist society.

Le Monde‘s article about M. Zahed and Islam is written from a Westernized Christian worldview. Change the location to Texas and Islam for Southern Baptists and you would have the exact same story — even down to the buzz words and phrases proffered by M. Zahed. How often is it repeated that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality?

However, Islam is fundamentally different from Judaism and Christianity and this difference is what makes it nearly impossible for Islam to reform. And, it is the consensus of Islamic scholars that Islam is in no need of reform. Writing in the Asia Times under the pen name Spengler, David P. Goldman’, stated:

Hebrew and Christian scripture claim to be the report of human encounters with God. After the Torah is read each Saturday in synagogues, the congregation intones that the text stems from “the mouth of God by the hand of Moses”, a leader whose flaws kept him from entering the Promised Land. The Jewish rabbis, moreover, postulated the existence of an unwritten Revelation whose interpretation permits considerable flexibility with the text. Christianity’s Gospels, by the same token, are the reports of human evangelists.

The Archangel Gabriel, by contrast, dictated the Koran to Mohammed, according to Islamic doctrine. That sets a dauntingly high threshold for textual critics. How does one criticize the word of God without rejecting its divine character? In that respect the Koran resembles the “Golden Tablets” of the Angel Moroni purported found by the Mormon leader Joseph Smith more than it does the Jewish or Christian bibles.

Now almost 10 years old, Spengler’s “You say you want a reformation?” remains fresh and his observations stand as a challenge to U.S. government policies that believe Islam can be transformed into another variety of American Protestantism.

Speaking at the U.N. in September, President Obama said of the Arab Spring:

“True democracy—real freedom—is hard work,” Mr. Obama said. “Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted— may be tempted—to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”

Can Islam, which allows for no distinction between church and state, reform? The academic cited in the Le Monde piece believes it can. France’s first gay mosque will be a symbol of the younger generation’s desire for an “Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” she stated. A contrary voice speaking to Islam’s response to minority voices (past and present) would have been a welcome counterweight. And give pause to those expecting peace to break out all over the Muslim world.

The murder of Shaima Alawadi and media credulousness

I mentioned the story of Shaima Al Awadhi the other day. (Previous coverage here, here and here.) I became mildly obsessed with her after news of her unbelievably brutal killing broke in March. Al Awadhi was only 32 years old when she died and was a mother of five. She was attacked in her home, succumbing to her injuries a few days later.

Within days there were thousands of stories about her death, focused on the family’s claim that she was the victim of a hate crime. A minor movement sprung up, seeing parallels between the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Al Awadhi. Activists began to encourage people to wear hijabs in honor of Al Awadhi and as a statement against racist hate crimes.

A local CBS affiliate has the latest:

An Iraqi man whose wife was fatally beaten in their East County home last spring in what initially appeared to be a hate crime pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Tuesday afternoon.

The passive voice in the lede isn’t helpful. Appeared to whom to be a hate crime? The police always claimed they were pursuing a complicated case, even if the media ran with the “hate crime” angle.

Where the previous story resulted in national and international headlines within moments, this story has received more sparing coverage. Comparing the local coverage of Al Awadhi’s death when it was being billed as a hate crime to now is even fascinating.

Media outlets can be so good at holding other industries accountable but we tend to struggle with introspection of our own industry.

While we have no idea how Kassim Al-Himidi’s trial will turn out, it’s clear that the media botched this story. If the police had botched the investigation, I’m sure we’d have stories about that. Typically when institutions perform their duties poorly, the media are at the forefront of finding out what went wrong and issuing demands for improvement.

Shouldn’t we see those same demands for improvement when it’s the media that performed its role poorly?

Instead the AP ran a story quoting Nina Burleigh, which at first I found odd on account of her 1990s comments about sexual favors, President Bill Clinton, and abortion. But the AP was actually one of the only outlets to try to find some larger meaning in the murder of Al Awadhi. The story ended:

Author Nina Burleigh, who has written extensively about the mix of Islam and Western societies, said the case highlights the sometimes dangerous clashes that can occur when female immigrants, particularly from Islamic countries, rebel against cultural restrictions and exercise choices made available in their adopted homelands.

“These things are happening all over the place,” Burleigh said. “It’s much more openly discussed in Europe where there is more integration from these societies, where in the U.S. it’s not discussed so much partly because we have a bias toward discussing the way these cultures treat women.”…

The arrest of Alhimidi came only days after the sentencing of an Iraqi mother in Phoenix who was charged with beating her daughter because she refused to go along with an arranged marriage.

The 20-year-old woman was burned on her face and chest with a hot spoon then tied to a bed. The victim’s father and sister were also sentenced to two years of probation for their involvement.

Tablet published a piece worth reading headlined “Behind the Veil of Islamophobia: The murder of Shaima Alawadi isn’t a sign of increasing prejudice, but of writers’ credulousness.” A portion:

If the above is indeed true, the killing of Shaima Alawadi isn’t a warning sign of increasing religious intolerance, but of a shocking degree of credulousness from writers and activists. Why withhold judgment when the initial assessment conformed so neatly to an existing political narrative about the rising tide of American Islamophobia? …

The Facebook group “One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi,” which was a hive of activity in the weeks following her murder, has since been taken offline. Despite some posts about women’s rights and feminism, the Islamophobia angle was what the organizers were interested in pushing. She was, it now seems, killed because she was a woman who attempted to throw off the shackles of an oppressive husband. Which makes this case doubly tragic. Just because Shaima Alawadi wasn’t killed by an American racist doesn’t mean that there isn’t cause for activist outrage.

Do any of us expect that the next time a story such as this comes out that the media will handle it differently?