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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Newsweek, Islam and Courage


The cartoon controversy has understandably received an enormous amount of attention throughout the world. I just learned something extraordinary, however, through reading Spengler of the Asia Times (hat tip to Ross Douthat): Newsweek ran a story in 2003 about the Koran and higher criticism. Here's Spengler:

Newsweek's "Challenging the Koran" story of July 28, 2003, has vanished from the magazine's website. The government of Pakistan had banned that issue, which among other things reported a German philologist's contention that the Koran was written in Syriac rather than classical Arabic, translating the "virgins" of Paradise as "raisins". As I observed before, the topic of Koranic criticism has disappeared from the mainstream media. Since the suppression of the Newsweek story the Western media have steered clear of the subject.

Incredulous, I went to the Newsweek website and searched for the article. Indeed, it is nowhere to be found. Now, it would be one thing if Newsweek had found serious factual errors which undermined the story to such an extent that it merited retraction. But that does not seem to be the case. Newsweek was intimidated and bowed to international pressure.

I find this telling and pertinent to the current controversy. One gets the sense from perusing mainstream media sources that they are tapdancing gingerly around the cartoon story. Setting aside issues of propriety and content for a moment, no major American media outlet has dared publish the cartoons or offered a passionate, unqualified defense of the Danish press to do so, despite the principle of freedom of the press being their very raison d'ĂȘtre. Some may suggest that this is because the left-leaning press has formed a sort of unholy alliance with radical Islam, united by a disdain for American foreign policy and Christian fundamentalism. Others may applaud their sensitivity. I'd like to suggest a simpler explanation: maybe they're just chicken.

Newsweek and other MSM sources not only don't want to lose international business, they don't want to lose their heads. So while they revel in self-assurance about their own bravery and integrity in questioning illegal wiretapping, lobbyist scandals and so forth, they do so with the knowledge that they will not be physically harmed or shut down (Note: I'm not questioning the legitimacy of criticism over wiretapping et al. Just adjusting the courage barometer.). But radical Islamicists will hurt you and MSM urban elites know this.

PS: Read here to see how differently the Boston Globe responded to the cartoon controversy than they did to federally funded art exhibits that offended Christians. Selective religious sensitivity is easy when you truly don't fear one group...

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