The outsourcing of stupidity and worse, part two: Al-Ahram strikes again

The Egyptian state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, particularly its English-language weekly edition, seems to be on a determined campaign to corner the market on the most arrant nonsense printed in English in the Middle East. Most of its worst rubbish, significantly, is written by Westerners rather than Arabs or Muslims, and I have complained before that apparently in the minds of its editors this somehow makes these outrageous, pernicious articles more defensible and less objectionable. It does not. There is something very strange going on with that newspaper, as anyone who reads it on a regular basis will have readily recognized, and it’s extremely dangerous and disturbing.

The latest offering comes from someone called Stephen Lendman, whoever that is, who somehow convinced himself that it would be useful to claim that:

Post 9/11, America has declared war on Islam with the FBI in the lead at home. It notoriously targets the vulnerable, entraps them with paid informants, inflates bogus charges, spreads them maliciously through the media, then intimidates juries to convict and sentence innocent men and some women to long prison terms. Justice is nearly always denied. At times wilful killings are committed.

To bolster this preposterous allegation, Lendman cites the cases of Luqman Ameen Abdullah (aka Christopher Thomas) and Jamil Al-Amin (aka H. Rap Brown), both members of the so-called "Ummah," which the government describes as, "a group of mostly African-American converts to Islam, which seeks to establish a separate Sharia-law-governed state within the United States." This may or may not be an entirely accurate characterization of the rather strange religious sub-community in question, but it certainly indicates that we are not dealing here with anything remotely connected to the mainstream American Muslim community.

Abdullah was killed in a shootout with FBI agents on October 28, 2009 under circumstances that certainly need further investigation and clarification. Al-Amin was convicted of murdering a police officer, although he has many supporters who protest his innocence. There is no need whatsoever to go into the details of these cases or the merits of the claims on either side. The point is that these rather strident, alienated converts to Islam are anything but typical of the mainstream American Muslim community, and their relationship with the police does not in any way reflect the generalized attitude of the government or the FBI towards Muslim Americans. The article even approvingly quotes one of their supporters as stating, " The FBI is not only tricky and devious…. they are extremely dangerous thugs and murderers."

To take these two highly unusual and related cases and extrapolate from them that, as the Al-Ahram sub-headline emphasizes, "Post 9/11, America has declared war on Islam, as a disturbing recent case in Michigan shows," can only be described as an outrageous lie. The United States has NOT declared war on Islam post-9/11, least of all here at home in the United States. Of course there are significant challenges facing the American Muslim community, and I’ve written about them extensively in numerous reports, essays, speeches and book chapters. I doubt there’s any significant aspect of the problems facing the Arab and Muslim American communities of which I am not aware, which I have not commented on, and on which I have been inactive.

There are serious civil rights issues, however the government, particularly the civil rights division of the Justice Department and the FBI, have been quite conscientious about prosecuting hate crimes and discrimination against Muslim Americans by private parties. The deeper concern, of course, is questions of civil liberties. As I’ve written many times post-9/11 discrimination in immigration and immigration law enforcement has been a serious problem that we need to address. And, of course, Islamophobia in our popular culture and political discourse is a grievous ongoing challenge and I take a back seat to nobody in confronting it with as much energy as I can muster. However to establish and agree that there are very significant problems and challenges, as well as opportunities, facing Muslim Americans does not change the undeniable fact that the United States remains an excellent country for Muslims to live in. The problems are serious, but manageable and correctable. The opportunities, on the other hand, are unparalleled, and the privileges in many ways unmatched.

It is a common exaggeration — to which I always object — to describe the Arab and Muslim Americans as being "under siege." I have a good sense of what it would feel like to live in a community that is genuinely under siege, and if that ever happens, we’re all going to know it without a prompter. Hyperbole gets us nowhere and only makes the problem worse by confusing the issues, creating ill-advised tactics and ineffective strategies. But if it is an unhelpful exaggeration to describe Muslim Americans as being "under siege," saying that the United States has "declared war on Islam" can only be described as a damned, odious lie. Whatever the merits of the two cases in question, there is simply no argument to be made that the United States has "declared war on Islam" in any sense whatsoever.

I know nothing and care less about Mr. Lendman, but there is a real question to be asked about what the editors at Egypt’s state-run newspaper are hoping to achieve by printing this kind of outrageous rubbish. The two cases could easily have been critiqued without leaping to this sort of grand indictment of the United States as a country that is completely unjustified and utterly false. They must know that the only effect of this kind of rhetoric is to inflame readers in Egypt, the Arab world and internationally and to stoke the smoldering coals of alienation, anger and indeed hatred. What, after all, is the difference between citing incidents like this and claiming "America has declared war on Islam" versus citing violent incidents such as 9/11 or the Fort Hood tragedy and claiming, as so many hate-filled bigots do, "Islam has declared war on America?"

Obviously people who say things like "Islam has declared war in America" are malevolent deceivers attempting to spread fear and hatred and play on chauvinism and paranoia in order to promote conflict and exacerbate tensions. These are the believers in a "clash of civilizations," those who think they are either is or should be a generalized conflict between the Muslims of the world and the West led by the United States. But is it in any way possible to argue that Al-Ahram is not doing precisely the same thing in reverse by printing this kind of hate-speech against an entire country? What do they imagine the effect on their readers will be? And how could they possibly accept the notion that two incidents spread out over quite a long period of time involving a very small group of fringe and alienated converts somehow demonstrates that "America has declared war on Islam?"

This is shameful, and it’s also a pattern. It’s a pattern here in the United States in the right wing media (and sometimes on the left too), and all of us, myself included complain about it all the time, and we are right to do so. But it’s a pattern that’s growing in the Arab media as well, and as I said before the English language Arabic papers are hiding behind authors with Western names in order to try to get away with it. The editors of Al-Ahram must be asked: how dare you? How dare you print such nonsense? How dare you deliberately try to inflame fear, hatred and alienation? How dare you be so irresponsible?

And there is a further question for whoever it is in the Egyptian government who oversees the activities of this newspaper: what on earth do you think you’re trying to do? This systematic undermining of your own government policies through your own newspaper — and not only in this instance vis-à-vis relations with the United States, but with reportage from Palestine and Lebanon by "journalists" whose thinly-veiled perspectives not only contradict but condemn your own policies, and regular commentaries from former politicians and others who similarly and passionately make the case against everything you have decided is in your strategic interest — how can you possibly explain it?

Perhaps the thinking is that publishing a newspaper that stridently and often angrily contradicts your entire foreign policy on a regular basis can help offset any calls for a genuinely free press. If so, this is a poisonous policy. Perhaps the thinking is that it is useful to keep people riled up and angry, so that you can appear to be nobly and courageously persisting with your foreign and security policies in spite of the fact that they are unpopular (in large part because your own media in effect denounces them, and you never even try to explain them honestly to your public) and thereby get more credit with the international community, the West and the other Arab states. Perhaps the left hand simply doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, although I find that hard to believe even in the case of an Arab bureaucracy. Whatever the explanation, there is madness going on at Al-Ahram in almost every issue. Pure, unadulterated madness.