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May 28, 2005

Muslim Lives are Desecrated, Not Just Their Book


by Ramzy Baroud

The reported desecration of the Quran by US guards at the infamous Guantánamo prison, as originally reported by Newsweek on May 9, 2005, was not – as it should've been – an opportunity for a thorough examination of US army practices, and thus human rights abuses, toward Muslim inmates in the numerous detention camps erected throughout the world.

Considering that such practices are quite consistent with the overriding policy adopted by the Bush administration throughout the Middle East, one hardly crosses the border of reason when one expects key newspapers to contextualize the reported flushing of the Quran down the toilet episode with analogous practices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But as experience has shown, that's just too much to expect. Instead, the focus of the vast news coverage and commentary throughout the media was fixed on the less urgent matter of journalistic responsibility on behalf of Newsweek and the seemingly inherent problem of Muslim backwardness and sadism.

The Times of London made a clever choice when it selected a Muslim, Irshad Manji, to address the fierce response to the scandal.

In an article entitled, "Why don't we Muslims grow up?" Manji, who seems demonstrably disengaged, found it most appropriate to prompt a discussion in semantics, questioning the wholesomeness and sanctity of the Quran itself. The Quran, according to the writer, "contains ambiguities, inconsistencies, outright contradictions and the possibility of human editing."

What does this have to do with anything?

The article, also published by the celebrated New York Review of Books, insisted on pinning the blame on the popular and sometimes violent Muslim response to the report, rather than the culminating feelings of anti-imperialist oppression experienced by the poorest of Muslim nations, most notably Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe, chose to push the limits of cultural insensitivity to downright insult in his piece entitled, "Why Islam is disrespected."

Opening his article with imaginary scenarios of Christians, Jews and Buddhists violently rioting in response to the desecration of their religious symbols, Jacoby aims to catch his unsuspecting audience off guard, weaving together a fantastic anecdote and then pronouncing that these stories "never occurred." They were simply convoluted analogies aimed at enlightening his innocent and naïve readers, to draw a comparison between the barbarism of Muslims and the nonviolent and civilized everyone else.

"Christians, Jews and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the street. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain," and so forth.

Other commentators who refrained from scrutinizing and "exposing" Islam's theological limitations or discrediting its cultural practices, rituals, beliefs and so on, confined their arguments to Newsweek's judgment, or lack thereof, regarding the running the May 9th article.

Some sided with the White House interpretation, as uttered by Press Secretary Scott McClellan, in his call on Newsweek and other media not to lose their "credibility." Others questioned McClellan's own credibility. The agreement however, regarding Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker's clearly forced apology and subsequent retraction of the article was across-the-board.

It's ironic that Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in fact the one speaking the unexamined words of truth. He said that Army Gen. Carl Eichenberry, the senior US commander in Afghanistan, reported that the violence "was not at all tied to the article in the magazine."

So to what could it possibly be tied?

Did it dawn on anyone in the mainstream media that the Afghani people might possibly be angry over years of American occupation? Perhaps this failed to cross anyone's mind.

Could it possibly be that hundreds of millions of Muslims might've had enough common sense to connect the dots and to establish that the desecration of the Quran is only the latest episode of a consistent US military policy that hasn't only dishonored religious symbols but the sanctity of human life, in fact hundreds of thousands of human lives?

Could the hypothesis be true that Muslims, despite their alleged backwardness, had access to TV news, print media and the Internet and might've accidentally run across hundreds of photos of physically humiliated and sexually abused Iraqi prisoners? Could it be possible that they learned of harrowing testimonies of former prisoners at Guantánamo detailing what numerous human rights groups unhesitatingly described as "war crimes"?

But why confine the argument to over-generalized, rhetorical questions? In its response to the scandal, Human Rights Watch issued a statement on May 19, 2005, confirming that sadly, the Guantánamo episode is the norm. "In detention centers around the world, the United States has been humiliating Muslim prisoners by offending their religious beliefs," according to Reed Brody, a HRW special counsel.

The defilement of religious symbols like the Quran, however, is part of the unfailing US foreign and military policy that has utilized every creative, albeit inhumane option to further its colonial designs throughout the Muslim world for an array of economic and strategic gains.

Thus, if Muslim fury is to be examined appropriately and truthfully, then the desecration of the Quran must be analyzed together with the violent death of "at least" 100,000 Iraqi civilians, the greater majority of them at the hands of the "coalition," according to "the first comprehensive investigation of civilian deaths in Iraq, published in the Lancet," and cited recently by respected Australian journalist John Pilger. Separating both issues is downright irresponsible.

But the interest in appropriateness and truthfulness in the media fades away before the seemingly much more compelling and urgent topic of the theological roots of Muslim violence, and the Muslim and Arab minds' innate deficiency and backwardness.

I am afraid that it will take more than a simple apology or a newspaper retraction to right this collective and perpetual wrong. Much more.


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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