The Muslim World's Take on Terrorism

Article excerpt

"Truth and history are whatever we choose to make them; facts are unimportant," said a terrorist sympathizer who has written for Muslim news publications and who was recently interviewed by The World & I. The statement overtly expresses the view taken by those of the world's Muslim journalists who embrace radical Islam, of whom there are many.

Immediately after the September 11 World Trade Center attack, publications in Muslim countries filled their pages with articles that blamed Israel for the assaults on New York and Washington and suggested that the strikes were the fruit of a plot to sully Islam and justify a Western blitz against the Muslim world. The U.S. government was accused of complicity in the attacks and of fabricating evidence, and journalists bent over backward to exculpate terrorist ringleader Osama bin Laden. These articles appeared in news reports, which in turn fed editorials, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor alike.

Such news reporting encouraged violence against Christians in Muslim countries, anti-American demonstrations, and the burning of American flags and effigies of President Bush.

Behind all this is the fact that journalism in the developing world generally operates far differently than in the United States. An ethical code stressing objectivity and fairness, strict journalistic standards of double sourcing, presenting both sides of an issue, and providing explanatory background material--the norm in America--is not as important in the journalistic community of the Third World.

Verifiable information often has little place in the radical Islamic press--and increasingly even in the mainstream Muslim media. Editors and reporters routinely employ selective editing and ignore evidence, statistics, and facts that contradict predetermined, anti-Western conclusions.

Television in the Islamic world mirrors the print media. News coverage lacks balance and credibility. For example, visual images of wounded Afghan children and damaged homes make a powerful emotional impression, but reporters fail to mention that the Taliban place troops and antiaircraft batteries atop public housing.

Television stations in Muslim countries have limited programming, and most homes do not have TV sets. In the United States, there are 847 television sets for every 1,000 people. This compares to 252 in Saudi Arabia, 148 in Iran, 134 in Indonesia, 127 in Egypt, 62 in Pakistan, 61 in Nigeria, 48 in Iraq, and 10 in Afghanistan. Many people in the Third World live in rural villages beyond television coverage and without electricity.

Bin Laden apparently understands the power of the media. A branch of his al Qaeda terrorism network is dedicated to propaganda and media relations. It submits "freelance" stories to publications with sympathetic editors and reporters, some of whom may be on the Saudi multimillionaire's payroll.

In the war for people's hearts and minds, anti-Western journalists who empathize with bin Laden and the Taliban pen columns of disinformation. Their objective is to disunite the United States and its Muslim allies. They have been successful in that Islamic governments have curtailed their overt support of Washington in an effort to appease the volatile minority threat to their sovereignty. The al Qaeda media outreach partly explains why Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim allies have been reluctant to allow their countries to be used as staging areas for American forces.

The worst offenders

The Frontier Post, published in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, and the Arab News of Saudi Arabia are the worst offenders at the core of the anti-American, pro-bin Laden assault. They are both well-known, mainstream newspapers, though the Pakistan paper edges somewhat toward the extremist fringe, and are representative of scores of other Muslim media organizations across the Islamic world. Their editorials and news articles, based on gossip, distortion, outright fabrications, and selective omission, have been reported as fact in other Muslim publications from South Africa to Indonesia. …