Unfortunately, Pintak’s remedy to this problem, the online guide "Islam for Journalists" edited by Pintak, betrays an absurdly benign understanding of an Islam whose apparent only fault is being slandered by others.
“Across the Muslim world today,” Pintak’s introduction notes, “extremists are wielding their swords with grisly effect, but the pen…can be just as lethal.”
The 2012 “lewd cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad” in the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, for example, receive Pintak’s censure while, like many journalists today, he uncritically applies the honorific “Prophet” to Islam’s founder. Charlie Hebdo’s editor had condemned the weapons used in violent reactions to the anti-Muhammad "Innocence of Muslims" internet movie trailer preceding his cartoons. Yet the “weapon he controlled can do far more damage,” Pintak warned in equating speech with the violent reactions of others, then “evident in the conflagration…erupting across the Muslim world.”
Screenshot of the "Innocence of Muslims" portrayal of Muhammad. (Image: YouTube screenshot)
“A commitment to press freedom is in my blood,” Pintak qualified against suspicions of censorship. Yet speaking of the 2005 Danish Muhammad cartoons and their violent response, Pintak showed sympathy for those who refused their publication.
“[M]any Muslim journalists,” Pintak related in denying these “Motoons” any news value, “simply couldn’t understand why Western news organizations would republish the offensive images just because” of a legal right. Yet “journalism is not supposed to be a weapon” but rather “to inform, not inflame; to understand, not distort,” in contrast to “propaganda.”
The Danish cartoons exhibited “in our increasingly interconnected world,” writer Jonathan Lyons similarly relativized, “a number of central issues.” These included the “proper extent of press freedoms; minority rights; the shifting landscape of blasphemy laws and prohibitions; and the history of Muslim grievance toward the West.”
Rather than criticize Muslim rioters, Lyons complained that “almost no one reported on…the Danish media and its supporters as cynical provocateurs motivated by domestic political concerns.”
Beyond free speech controversies, "Islam for Journalists" favored Islam with numerous biased and false statements.
After discussing how Islam “roughly translates as ‘surrender’ or ‘submission’…to the will of Allah,” Pintak noted that Muhammad in Islam, “although he is not divine, he is considered ‘the Perfect Man.’”
“By imitating him,” Pintak stated without any critical questioning of Muhammad’s example, “Muslims hope to acquire his interior attitude—perfect surrender to God.” Pintak also takes an uncritical approach towards Muhammad’s migration or hijara to Yathrib (Medina) in order to escape his pagan opponents in Mecca.
A Palestinian protester holds a Quran, the Muslim holy book. Credit: AP
“Muslims interpret Muhammad’s decision to embark on this exodus as a teaching that they should not live under tyranny,” Pintak proclaims, omitting any controversial discussion of the Islamic law Muhammad developed.
Western “notions of Islam,” meanwhile, Lyons dismisses without explanation. These include “irrational; spread by the sword and maintained by force; and sexually perverse and abusive toward women” as well as “unsuited to democratic institutions, science, and modernity.” Such views “had their origins as wartime propaganda, dating to beginning of the Crusades,” Lyons asserts, ignoring Western hostility towards Islam originating in centuries of pre-Crusades Islamic aggression.
"Innocence of Muslims" “drew on Crusades-era propaganda to slander the Prophet Muhammad,” Lyons further claims, even though canonical Islamic accounts underlie this poorly-made film.
In all, the “West had had no direct experience or knowledge of Muslim beliefs, practices, and lifestyles at the time that it established its comprehensive vision of Islam as a deadly, existential, and essentially immutable threat.”
Apparently for Lyons, ongoing Muslim invasion and subjugation of Christian societies dating from Islam’s beginning is not direct enough.
“These same perceptions remain more or less in force today, despite a millennium of direct experience and engagement — commercial, military, theological, political, and journalistic — with the world of Islam,” Lyons complains. Lyons thereby does not explain what interactions with the Islamic world in the interval should have given non-Muslims a favorable impression of Islam (The Ottoman Empire? Pakistan’s Islamic Republic? The Iranian Revolution? Iraq’s history? The Arab Spring?).
Lyons’ perception of Islam’s supposedly hidden truth is less than convincing.
In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo, Egyptian Christian villagers clean up the damaged ancient chapel inside the Virgin Mary and St. Abraam Monastery that was looted and burned by Islamists, in Dalga, Minya province, Egypt. A brutal crackdown on Islamists after a military coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president is posing a dilemma for the country's intellectual elite, which championed greater freedoms during a popular revolt two years ago but now seems largely acquiescent in the wave of arrests and raids targeting the Muslim Brotherhood. (AP Photo/El Shorouk Newspaper, Roger Anis, File)
“Historically, theologically, and culturally,” Lyons claims, for example, the worshipped “God is one and the same for all three” Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Critical analysis of Islamic divergence from Judeo-Christian faith, however, fully justifies that since “September 11, 2001, American evangelicals have openly stepped back from their earlier, general agreement that the God of the Christians and Muslims was one and the same.”
That jihad’s “meaning within the context of Islam is not fixed but rather varies markedly” is another of Lyons’ unsubstantiated assertions despite extensive Islamic theological discussion of this term in a military sense. Also excessively optimistic is Lyons’ “Arab Spring” description of “grassroots demands for democratic institutions and the rejection of autocracy.”
“Contrary to popular myth,” University of North Carolina academic Carl Ernst presents past Muslim caliphates as seeking “not to spread Islam by the sword” but as “just another empire seeking wealth.” Because “Muslims paid less tax, converts to Islam meant lost tax revenue,” Ernst explains. Taken in “context,” a “few late verses in the Qur’an that command unrestricted warfare against non-Muslims” concern only the “polytheistic pagans of Mecca.”
This additional tax or jizya, entailed a “somewhat second-class status,” yet non-Muslim dhimmis “had a legally protected status under Islamic law, safeguarding their life, property, and religion.” As the guide’s glossary explains, the dhimmis “are believers of other faiths, who should be protected and allowed to practice their religion under Islam.”
“ISLAM does not compel people…to convert,” a quotation from the Saudi Gazette states, but “has given them complete freedom to retain their own faith.”
Saudi Arabian religious freedom notwithstanding, all such analysis ignores that annual jizya payments involved being “humbled” per Qur’an 9:29. As sharia scholar Mark Durie has explained, a ritual simulating execution during annual jizya payments signified that a non-Muslim lived by Muslim sufferance under far-reaching sharia discrimination. Modern Syrian Christians have confirmed Durie’s understanding of the jizya being not just a revenue stream as in other empires but part of non-Muslim subjugation to Islam’s mission universally proclaimed in Qur’an 34:28.
Despite “small, albeit dangerous, cadres of international terrorists,” Ernst’s University of North Carolina colleague Charles Kurzman analyzes in the present, “the banner of jihad has failed to mobilize Muslims outside of a few territories, primarily Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Palestine.”
Objective observers, though, might ask just what majority-Muslim area does not have some jihad threat.
“Almost all Muslims,” Kurzman explains after all, “consider armed struggle in defense of Islam” as “religious requirement, just as most Christians believe in…‘just war.'” Kurzman, though, does not define the “defense of Islam,” a term that has expansive meaning in the minds of Muslim “Motoon” rioters, for example. Terrorism practiced by Arab and other jihadist groups today, meanwhile, does not have its precursors merely in the not necessarily “overtly secular” Palestine Liberation Organization of Kurzman’s imagination. The fedeyeen (“one who sacrifices himself”) first organized by Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser as “sons of Islam” also waged jihad terrorism against Israel beginning the 1950s.
“The mainstream of Political Islam,” Kurzman assures, “is non-violent.”
“After massive repression by secular military regimes,” groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB or Jama‘at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) and Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami “gradually scaled back their militancy and…revolutionary ambitions” for a “culturally conservative vision of democracy.” This “challenges Western-oriented political agendas” but “rarely poses a security threat to the West.” Indeed, Political Islam leaders “denounce violence” despite “frequent threats” unspecified by Kurzman “by al-Qaeda [AQ] and other revolutionary organizations.”.
Short-lived, repressive Egyptian MB rule, though, showed President Mohammad Morsi seeking ties with al Qaeda supporters, demonstrating that divisions between these groups are a question of means, not ends that are indeed a “threat to the West” and its interests. Although ignored by Kurzman, the all-too violent MB affiliate Hamas seeking Israel’s destruction from its sharia regime in the Gaza Strip also indicates MB’s varied tactics.
In this Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 photo, Saad el-Katatni, right, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, gestures with others from the defendant's cage during their trial along with ousted President Mohammed Morsi, on charges related to the prison breaks at the height of the 18-day 2011 uprising against Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak.(AP Photo)
“Most Muslims in the world live under secular authorities” excepting a “handful of countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Kurzman also claims, overlooking how Muslim mores repress in even “moderate” Muslim nations like Malaysia.
In the West, meanwhile, the real threat is apparently an often “lucrative…anti-Islam movement” whose “goal is to prohibit the free exercise of Islam,” journalist Bob Smietana warns.
Accordingly, the Hamas-derived, unindicted terrorism co-conspirator Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) “acts to protect Muslims’ civil rights,” Professor Karam Dana and journalist Stephen Franklin declare. CAIR’s work presumably benefits accused embezzler and sharia defender Feisal Abdul Rauf, the central promoter behind the Ground Zero Mosque described by Franklin as a peaceful Sufi.
Although he “certainly didn’t represent all Christians or the Christian faith,” meanwhile, the “Christian fanatic” Anders Brevik worries Pintak, who offers no connection between this incoherent Norwegian mass-murderer inclined towards Nazism and Christianity. In all, journalists are well-advised to do their own fact-checking on Islam for Journalists before relying on this biased presentation of all things Muslim for accurate reporting.
Andrew E. Harrod may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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