May 17, 2005,
We're in the grips of a pathology. And it's not media bias.
Here's the late-breaking news (you'll want to be sitting down for this): The mainstream media is ideologically liberal and instinctually hostile to George W. Bush, U.S. foreign policy, and the American military.
No kidding. Really. If you want to throw the off-switch for the cognitive part of your brain as many conservatives seem only to happy to do this week then, by all means, that is the story you want to run with in this latest media scandal.
Newsweek, in reckless pursuit of a scoop that might score the daily double of embarrassing the Bush administration while heaping more disrepute on the Left's favorite punching bag, Guantanamo Bay, falsely reported a martial toilet-flushing of the Koran. Oops, I'm sorry, I mean the Holy Koran after all, I don't want to be left out of the new, vast right-wing "we can be just as nauseatingly pious as they can" conspiracy.
The false report, according to the New York Times, instigated "the most virulent, widespread anti-American protests" in the Muslim world since...well, since the last virulent, widespread anti-American protests in the Muslim world particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where at least 17 people have been killed.
That's right. The reason for the carnage is said again and again, by media critics and government officials to be a false report of Koran desecration. The prime culprit here is irresponsible journalism.
Is that what we really think?
Here's an actual newsflash and one, yet again, that should be news to no one: The reason for the carnage here was, and is, militant Islam. Nothing more.
Newsweek merely gave the crazies their excuse du jour. But they didn't need a report of Koran desecration to fly jumbo jets into skyscrapers, to blow up embassies, or to behead hostages taken for the great sin of being Americans or Jews. They didn't need a report of Koran desecration to take to the streets and blame the United States while enthusiastically taking innocent lives. This is what they do.
The outpouring of righteous indignation against Newsweek glides past a far more important point. Yes, we're all sick of media bias. But "Newsweek lied and people died" is about as worthy a slogan as the scurrilous "Bush lied and people died" that it parrots. And when we engage in this kind of mindless demagoguery, we become just another opportunistic plaintiff no better than the people all too ready to blame the CIA because Mohammed Atta steered a hijacked civilian airliner into a big building, and to sue the Port Authority because the building had the audacity to collapse from the blow.
What are we saying here? That the problem lies in the falsity of Newsweek's reporting? What if the report had been true? And, if you're being honest with yourself, you cannot say based on common sense and even ignoring what we know happened at Abu Ghraib that you didn't think it was conceivably possible the report could have been true. Flushing the Koran down a toilet (assuming for argument's sake that our environmentally correct, 3.6-liters-per-flush toilets are capable of such a feat) is a bad thing. But rioting? Seventeen people killed? That's a rational response?
Sorry, but I couldn't care less about Newsweek. I'm more worried about the response and our willful avoidance of its examination. Afghanistan has been an American reconstruction project for nearly four years. Pakistan has been a close American "war on terror" ally for just as long. This is what we're getting from the billions spent, the lives lost, and the grand project of exporting nonjudgmental, sharia-friendly democracy? A killing spree? Over this?
In the affirmative-action context, conservatives have written trenchantly about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" the promotion of a vile dependency-ethos that says "you don't need to strive for better," as a result of which many people who might, don't. Our cognate sense of the Islamic world has become the smug delusion of base expectations.
Someone alleges a Koran flushing and what do we do? We expect, accept, and silently tolerate militant Muslim savagery lots of it. We become the hangin' judge for the imbeciles whose negligence "triggered" the violence, but offer no judgment about the societal dysfunction that allows this grade of offense to trigger so cataclysmic a reaction. We hop on our high horses having culled from the Left's playbook the most politically correct palaver about the inviolable sanctity of Holy Islamic scripture (and never you mind those verses about annihilating the infidels the ones being chanted by the killers). And we suspend disbelief, insisting that things would be just fine in a place like Gaza if we could only set up a democracy a development which, there, appears poised to empower Hamas, terrorists of the same ilk as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan who see comparatively minor indignities as license to commit murder.
"Minor indignities? How can you say something so callous about a desecration of the Holy Koran?" I say it as a member of the real world, not the world of prissy affectation. I don't know about you, but I inhabit a place where crucifixes immersed in urine and Madonna replicas composed of feces are occasions for government funding, not murderous uprisings. If someone was moved to kill on their account, we'd be targeting the killer, not the exhibiting museum, not the "artists," and surely not Newsweek.
I inhabit a world in which my government seeks accommodation with Saudi Arabia and China and Egypt, places where the practice of Christianity results in imprisonment...or worse; in which Jews have been driven from almost every country in the Middle East, and in which the goal of destroying their country, Israel, is viewed by much of the globe as legitimate foreign policy; and in which being a Christian, an animist, or the wrong kind of Muslim in Sudan is grounds for genocide something the vaunted United Nations seems to regard as more of a spectator sport than a cause of action.
In my world, militant Muslims, capitalizing on the respectful deference of others, have been known tactically to desecrate the Koran themselves: by rigging it with explosives, by using it to secrete and convey terrorist messages, and, yes, even by toilet-flushing parts of it for the nuisance value of flooding the bathrooms at Guantanamo Bay. Just as they have used mosques as sanctuaries, as weapons depots, and as snipers' nests.
There's a problem here. But it's not insensitivity, and it's not media bias. Those things are condemnable, but manageable. The real problem here is a culture that either cannot or will not rein in a hate ideology that fuels killing. When we go after Newsweek, we're giving it a pass. Again.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.