It is difficult to say who comes out looking the worst in the fiasco over the Newsweek Quran episode. But it would be too easy to dismiss the whole affair as just the latest in a string of U.S. media scandals or, worse, as just a cultural misstep that too conveniently lays the affair at the door of Muslim oversensitivity.
Let’s start with the culprits. Who is worse?
Is it an administration that used the flimsiest of grounds to launch a war that has cost thousands of lives yet has the gall to decry the lives lost after Newsweek ran a story supposedly based on flimsy grounds?
What an irony that the backdrop to the Quran desecration scandal has been the trials of U.S. soldiers on charges of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, showing all too clearly that Quran abuse is the least of the outrages visited upon detention centers ran by the United States armed forces.
Or is it the journalists who report the faux indignation of the White House and the State Department, seemingly unwilling to point out the rampant hypocrisy.
To the U.S. officials worried that the Newsweek report has “damaged” the image of the United States in the Muslim world I say rest easy. The image has been far from sterling for a while now.
Or is it Newsweek itself which so cowardly retracted a story pinned down by one of its top investigative reporters? It’s not as if the story told us anything we did not know. Reports of Quran desecration at Guantanamo have been published before.
And to read its editors now saying they had no idea that the reaction to the story would be so volatile rather than stating the obvious – that they had no idea the reaction of the administration would be so opportunistic – is a measure of the true scandal at the heart of the U.S. media: its unwillingness to stand up the Bush administration.
Several American commentators have spoken out against the Bush administration’s hypocrisy on this issue but the speed with which Newsweek cowered in the face of administration criticism was dismaying. To their credit though, several American newspapers and magazines have openly reported on the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay abuse and torture. Just this Friday, the New York Times published a front-page story on the murder in US custody of two Afghan suspects at
Bagram air base in Afghanistan .
Or is it Muslims prepared to riot and demonstrate over the abuse of a holy book that is after all just a book. I am a Muslim. I revere the words that collectively make up the Quran but the book that contains those words is just that – paper and ink. We know much worse than Quran desecration has happened at both Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib to people, fellow Muslims.
Why is the abuse and torture of human beings less worthy of anger than the abuse of a book?
And what about the Muslim religious leaders and politicians who whipped up all this anger? Earlier reports of Quran desecration at Guantanamo seem to have fallen on uninterested if not deaf ears. So why the anger now?
Perhaps former Pakistan cricket captain turned budding politician Imran Khan can explain. Although I have no sympathy for Newsweek I must agree with them when they point out Khan’s role in this fiasco. He was the one who now infamously waved at a May 6 news conference the issue of the magazine containing the Quran desecration story, helping to ignite anger in Pakistan
and riots in Afghanistan that led to 17 deaths.
Who is Khan? Pakistani writer Razi Azmi best sums up his latest incarnation as defender of all things Islamic when he describes Khan’s arc as a “headlong decent from a Westernized socialite and cricket idol to a West-bashing Islamized nationalist”.
And what to say about the clerics who further fanned the indignant crowds in Afghanistan , promising no less than jihad unless the culprits behind the Quran desecration were handed over?
Perhaps I could take their anger slightly more seriously if they had a track record of caring about the interests of people as much as they claim to care for religious symbols. Not surprisingly, these clerics did not utter a word when a young Afghan woman was stoned to death for alleged adultery and three other women were raped, hanged and dumped on a roadside with a warning not to work for foreign relief organizations in Afghanistan recently.
These same clerics have said nothing about the abuse and torture of Afghans at Bagram air base. Does Muslim life have any value for them?
It goes without saying that the US interrogators should not desecrate the Quran. But this Muslim for one is much angrier at the abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo . And I refuse to leave the last word to some Muslims who are all too willing to live up stereotypes by providing television footage of the requisite angry Muslim mob.
Just as I refuse to be distracted by the dissembling of an administration’s pitiful attempts to brush its own missteps aside by sending a few memos to its embassies worldwide advising staff to tell Muslims that they really respect them.
And I refuse the capitulation of yet another U.S. media outlet in the face of administration hot air and excuses.
As I said, nobody comes out looking good.