Monthly Archives: June 2016

Been up so long looks like down to me: own goal punching

 

I had to cut the following from an article I’m writing. It concerns the reactions of the media to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and what it reveals about the impact of intimidation on journalists and news agencies and our resultant moral and empirical disorientation.

Been Down So Long: Cheering the Intifada and Punching Up

Few incidents illustrate the topsy-turvy world of cognitive disorientation than last year’s controversy about PEN giving Charlie Hebdo an award for “freedom of speech.” A significant number of authors, including Joyce Carol Oates objected. Charlie Hebdo certainly had the right to do what it did, they argued, but that hardly means that we need to reward them for their actions, especially given the bad taste involved. Picking on the Muslim minority in Europe is “punching down,” and as any comedian can tell you, “punching down is not funny.” When one “speaks truth to power,” wittily or not, one punches up. Gary Trudeau, author of the Doonsbury cartoons explained:

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

Unpacked, Trudeau’s remarks amount to the following:

  • Muslims cannot be expected to control themselves: if we offend them they’ll get violent.[1]
  • We should be deferential to Muslims because of their tendency to violence.
  • We should view Muslims as a powerless, disenfranchised minority, whom we need to protect.
  • We should protect their right to support violence against those who offend them – i.e. those who “foolishly used their freedom of speech…”
  • We should protect their rights even as we disapprove of those who upset them.

Nor was he alone. Many a European newspaper, refusing to publish even the post-massacre cover depicting Muhammad shedding a tear – a newsworthy item if there ever were one – explained how they did so not because of intimidation, but just out of respect for Muslim feelings and contempt for the arrogance of those who would offend them.[2] The NYT, the only US paper not to publish the cover, insisted it was out of consideration for the feelings of Muslims, not fear of Jihadi retaliation.[3] Dean Baquet, the Executive Editor of the NYT wrote with a certain bravado to Politico:

I don’t give a damn about the head of ISIS but I do care about that [Muslim family in Brooklyn who read us and is offended by any depiction of what he sees as his prophet], and it is arrogant to ignore them.[4]

Only when stung by criticism that the NYT alone among US papers did not publish the “offending” image, did Bill Keller, the previous Executive Director, let the cat out of the bag:

An editor running a large, high profile, global news organization has to consider the potential consequences for reporters, photographers, translators and other staff. It’s easy for an editor in New York or Washington to take a stand (or strike a pose) [i.e. publish a picture of the Prophet (PBUH) but the dangers fall on journalists in the field. If you’ve had a few of your people murdered, as The Times has, this is not a concern you take lightly.[5]

Indeed. Unpacked, this means that the larger (and more exposed) a news agency – NYT, BBC, Reuters, AP, AFP – the more subject to intimidation.

Such concerns, masked as principled acts, can lead to oxymoronic statements like that of Reuters’ Global Managing Editor who, even as he admitted that his organization will not use the word “terrorism” to describe Jihadi acts of terror because it might “endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations,” nonetheless insists:

My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity.”

In the final analysis, all this posturing disguises the fact that these news outlets and their journalists regularly appease Muslim sensibilities because far from being a “powerless, disenfranchised minority,” they’re the global bullies. How many times has everyone heard the comment: “I refuse to believe that we are at war with 1.6 billion Muslims,” almost always invoked to insist on not insulting them.[6] As one French academic confided to me as early as 2003, “the Arabs act as if they have a knife to our throat and we act as if they have a knife to our throat.”[7]

In describing how French journalists and diplomats were “brave” in attacking the US over Iraq, one noted: “courage is attacking the strongest, and America is the strongest.” On the contrary, it’s attacking not those who have the most power, but those who abuse power. Suicide terror is a horrendous abuse of the power that almost any determined person can exercise: sacrificing your own life in order to kill civilians.  Secretary of State John Kerry may consider the attack on Charlie Hebdo “senseless violence.” But the Jihadis who carried it out, and the targets of that violence got the message, no matter how much they insisted it was all about consideration for Muslims’ feelings.

Punching Down with Jihad: Mistaking the Intidfada

As similar inversion and resulting disorientation occurs in the journalists’ reading of the conflict between Israel and her neighbors. Palestinians call their two most recent violent protests (1987-1992, 2000-2005), “intifadas.” Journalists systematically translate it as “uprising” and present it as the Palestinian David freedom fighters resisting the Israeli Goliath occupation.[8]

And yet, the word means “shaking off” as when a great beast like a horse or camel, shakes its hide to shoo away a fly. In the minds of the Palestinians, they are the shuddering skin of the great beast (the Islamic Umma), shaking off the tiny fly of Israeli Jews: 1.6 billion vs. 6 million. Journalists, instead give us a radically disorienting account of events, in which a “national resistance movement of Palestinian underdogs rose up against Israeli “Occupation” of their land in 2000. Retrospectively, it’s clear that the most apocalyptic Muslim prophet was right: The Intifada of Rajab was the opening stage of a global Jihad.

The result of this intimidation-driven disorientation? Astoundingly stupid statements from journalists like “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter,” or from prominent European figures to the effect that if we were denied our freedom, we might also, like the desperate Palestinians, blow ourselves up. And all the while, these radically misinformed Westerners did not realize that those who sought to shake off Israel from Dar al Islam, were part of a larger movement that wished to impose Dar al Islam on the remaining parts of Dar al Harb, in particular, the West. Instead, the “global progressive left,” embraced Hamas and Hizbullah as part of a vast “anti-imperialist” alliance.

If you told a signer of the Hamas charter in 1988/1409 that within two decades, kufar in European capitals would be waving their flag and shouting “We are Hamas!” he would probably have responded, “Only Allah can make people that stupid.”

_____

Footnotes

[1] A similar attitude was expressed by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer when he suggested that burning a Qur’an might be compared to shouting fire in a crowded theatre, thus comparing Muslim violence at being offended to the natural panic that would seize a crowd at the thought of being burned alive. George Stephanopoulos, “Justice Stephen Breyer: Is Burning Koran ‘Shouting Fire In A Crowded Theater?’,” ABC, September 14, 2010; http://blogs.abcnews.com/george/2010/09/justice-stephen-breyer-is-burning-koran-shouting-fire-in-a-crowded-theater.html#tp. For the most ludicrous example of this kind of thinking, see the pressure on Pope Benedict to apologize for remarks about Islam being a violent religion, which set of waves of violent Muslim protest: Landes, “The Pope’s Remarks about Islam: The Joke too few Get,” September 29, 2006; http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2006/09/29/the-popes-remarks-about-islam-the-joke-too-few-get/.

[2] Aidan White, Director oof the “Ethical Journalism Network,” assured the audience at a Jerusalem Press Club Conference, The Freedom of the Press (2015) that British newspapers like the Guardian had not published the cartoon out of deference, not out of fear. http://jerusalempressclub.com/fotpcon2015/5881-2.

[3] See Margeret Sullivan, “A Close Call on Publication of Charlie Hebdo Cartoons,” NYT January 8, 2015; http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-cartoon-publication-debate/?_r=0.

[4] Dylan Byers, “Does free media have an obligation to Islam?” Politico, January 14, 2015; http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2015/01/dean-baquet-addresses-nyts-republication-of-anti-semitic-cartoons-200788#ixzz48RZ29xOd Note that Baquet dismissed the contradictions between this sensitivity to Muslim feelings and the NYT’s renown readiness to publish artwork and cartoons offensive to Jews and Christians: “I would really do some reporting – I did – to make sure these parallels are similar for the two religions. You may find they are not. In fact they really are not.”

[5] Michael Calderone, “New York Times Only Top U.S. Newspaper Not To Publish Charlie Hebdo Cover,” Huffington Post, January 15, 2015; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/14/new-york-times-charlie-hebdo_n_6470338.html.

[6] President Obama and members of his administration are prominent proponents of this thesis: Cody Fenwick, “We Are Not At War With Radical Islam,” Care2, November 18, 2015; http://www.care2.com/causes/we-are-not-at-war-with-radical-islam.html.

[7] Landes, “Paris Notes, Summer 2004,” The Augean Stables; http://www.theaugeanstables.com/essays-on-france/paris-notes-summer-2004/.

[8] Intifada coverage.