Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Monday, May 23, 2005

Newsweek Only Highlighted the Deeper Problem

I was unable to closely follow the Newsweek debacle as it developed, so what follows is a wrap-up of some of the relevant thoughts I've seen over the past week:

Kathleen Parker:
First, we all can agree that flushing a Koran down a toilet, if physically possible, would be both insensitive and rude, though Westerners generally have a higher tolerance threshold for such offenses. Put it this way: You could flush a Bible down the toilet in front of Goober in Kabul, and it's unlikely that Mayberry suddenly would be awash in blood.

Without disrespecting true believers of Islam, one also could debate the relative miseries of seeing our favorite scripture disappear into the plumbing versus, say, watching airplanes fly into buildings, killing thousands of innocents. Remember, these are terrorist suspects captured after 9/11, not kidnapped members of an Afghan boys choir.

The apparent Newsweek mistake was regrettable, but we should beware allowing ourselves to mirror the emotional reactions of people who were by no measure justified in their response — even if the story had been proven true. The same people foaming over a reported act of blasphemy didn't flinch while executing women for stepping outside sans burqa. I'm afraid my moral outrage in favor of the morally outrageous is all tapped out.

Austin Bay:
Thanks for the many superb comments- including the one from dadahead which has stirred some useful discussion. The discussion flows from to the comment I pinched off Instapundit. Who are the guilty parties? In terms of taking 15 (or is it 17) lives, the rioters are guilty parties, there’s no question about that. But professional diligence, responsible use of information, and analysis of consequences also play central roles- let me re-write that- the lack of professional diligence and analysis of consequences play central roles. Anti-American propagandists -and that includes Al Qaeda- have used Gitmo and Abu Ghraib as emotional/political weapons. Responsible reporting must take that into account- in fact, credible reporting has to take that into account. A news organization will ultimately lose credibility if it doesn't factor the Al Qaeda propaganda angle into its reporting on Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. I know, this makes for a more complicated story, but this is an intricate, complex war on an intricate, complex planet. I argue that the “Vietnam/Watergate” template directed Newsweek to “get Bush"- and that’s a narrow vision for a quality journalistic enterprise in a world where information technology puts us all within earshot of one another. That’s why I said the answer to the Instapundit commenter is “yes and no.” I will bet that Al Qaeda has sympathizers in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are cued to re-act to Western news reports that “insult Islam” - particularly reports involving US troops. The “fifth-columnist” throws the first stone. If he can get a couple of bored teenage boys to throw a second and third stone he’s done his job. It doesn’t always result in a riot but if a reporter’s on the scene, Al Qaeda gets another “the Muslim street is angry” story. I offer this as a scenario, not a proven fact, but it is a common ploy. Again, thanks for the quality comments.

He's right, it is complicated, and news organizations need to at least be aware that Al-Qaeda training manuals instruct members to make false accusations of mistreatments and torture. If I know this, Newsweek should too.

Glenn Reynolds:
Two points: (1) If they had wrongly reported the race of a criminal and produced a lynching, they'd feel much worse -- which is why they generally don't report such things, a degree of sensitivity they don't extend to reporting on, you know, minor topics like wars; and (2) If a blogger had made a similar mistake, with similar consequences, we'd be hearing about Big Media's superior fact-checking and layers of editors.

People died, and U.S. military and diplomatic efforts were damaged, because -- let's be clear here -- Newsweek was too anxious to get out a story that would make the Bush Administration and the military look bad.

And more from Glenn in a later post:
I want to add that I don't think there's anything immoral about flushing a Koran (or a Bible) down the toilet, assuming you've got a toilet that's up to that rather daunting task, and I think it's amusing to hear people who usually worry about excessive concern for religious beliefs suddenly taking a different position. Nor do I think that doing so counts as torture, and I think that it debases the meaning of "torture" to claim otherwise. If this had happened, it might have been -- indeed, would have been -- impolitic or unwise. But not evil.

And anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be willing to apply the same kind of criticism to things like Piss Christ, or to explain why offending the sensibilities of one kind of religious believer is "art" while doing the same in another context is "torture." If, that is, they want to be taken at all seriously.

But the more I have pondered this over the last few days, the more I think that this comment from an Instapundit reader is the most apt observation.
Newsweek isn't the problem. The problem is that people will kill over a book being desecrated. Actually, over a anonymous report buried within a third rate weekly magazine. There is something wrong when people value a book, of which there are millions, over human lives. This is the real problem, and Newsweek isn't the source of it. The problem is an ignorant and violent subculture within the islamic world, and the general lack of tolerance about religion therein.

Those comments are also reflected in this recent Cox and Forkum cartoon.

This is the culture we are trying to break. A culture that values the treatment of a book above the treatment of a fellow human being, even when that human being is a supposed beloved Muslim brother. I don't recall any riots or even protests in the Middle East over Saddam or the Taliban's murderous rule, yet they can work up this kind of fury over a book? I have to say, for the first time since the early days of this war, my faith in freedom taking hold is shaken. Perhaps the left was correct, maybe the Middle East is culturally incapable of self-governance. Where is the tolerance?!? Where are the voices of moderate Muslims? Why isn't there a cleric standing up and saying, "Our religion is important, but we should not be killing over the treatment of a book." Instead we get renewed calls of jihad and demands for a collective American apology. Please. Did we ask for an apology from the whole of Muslims after a few of them slammed planes into buildings killing thousands?!? No, on the contrary, we made a point to emphasize that this is not a war on Islam. Yet they want an apology because a book may or may not have been put in a toilet!?!? How about a show of tolerance for once, that is what freedom is all about, you have to respect other lifestyles and other religions if you want yours respected.

Here in America when a guy desecrates religion we call it art. Over there, it's reason to kill. Yeah, I'm hopping mad, and I'm starting to think that I was incredibly naive to place my hope in the Muslim world embracing tolerance and freedom. You don't want it? Fine! I am getting damn sick and tired of seeing Americans die so we can try and win the 'hearts and minds.' I know, I know, it is not all Muslims and its probably not even close to most. That has always been my assumption, but if my assumption is true, I would have expected to hear at least some voices of moderation coming out of the Middle East. If none of these moderates can speak up, leave them to the wolves. You want to be governed by the Taliban? You want to be ruled by those that car bomb school children? Go ahead, enjoy. It won't last long though, I promise you that. One of these days, not too far into the future, one of the nut jobs will get their hands on either a biological or nuclear weapon and will manage to detonate it in an American city. And when that happens, you will reap the frickin whirlwind. You think Americans got upset over 9/11? Only about half of us did actually, so go ahead, wake the other half and see what happens. With each demonstration of violence, you don't make us more scared, instead you whittle away at our ability to show restraint in the face of increasing ruthlessness. Howard Stern suggested last week that perhaps Newsweek has taught us how to best fight terrorism. All we need to do is continue to publish unsubstantiated stories of Koran desecration and the crazies will riot and kill each other for us. He may have been more right than not.

I have no doubt about who will win this war, the only question is how many human beings will be incinerated and which parts of the earth will be scorched in the process. If a civilized tolerance can't take hold over there, that number is going to get awfully awfully high. I saw a T-shirt recently that showed an outline of Iraq, above that it said, "Nuke it, pave it, turn it into a beer garden, and bring our boys home." Currently, that is not the prevailing attitude of Americans, but if you keep on keeping on like this, it could be. And yeah, I'm angry, no I haven't given up. But I'm as pessimistic as I have ever been about avoiding the type of carnage that marked World War II.


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