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On Terrorism, Islam, and the Media

Christopher Dickey's and Carla Power's article, "A Spreading Islamic Fire" appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of Newsweek magazine. The article starts with the catch phrase, "Islamic extremists hate America and have designs for world conquest. But the threat is more diffuse than it might seem. The many sides of a movement".

In a couple of short sentences, the authors managed to regurgitate the three main themes that are forever churned by proponents of the terrorist conspiracy ordeal.

Let's examine the first portion of the sentence, "Islamic extremists hate America...", theme one.

First of all what defines an Islamic extremist? Islam is acknowledged by the great majority of the world's intelligentsia to be a message of peace, justice, and spirituality. It then logically follows that an Islamic extremist is someone who is extreme in peace, justice, and spirituality. The authors of the article, along with most US media sources, constantly misuse the term to refer to the very opposite. As intelligent, educated professionals who supposedly know what they are talking about, and who bother to take the time to research the terms and concepts that are integral to the topic on which they report, news columnists and other media personnel should not be partaking in such primitive oversights. If anything, the Muslims that are the subject of such articles should be termed "alleged Muslims" or "anti-Islamic extremists" as their behavior is in clear rebellion to the teaching of Islam itself.

Notice the use of the word "Islamic" and not "Muslim", to describe the extremists. This demonstrates a very common and reoccuring media ignorance of the difference between the two terms. "Muslim" is an adjective and a noun that is supposed to be used when describing people. "Islamic" is an adjective used only in reference to dogmatic concepts, and non-human objects, as in "Islamic law", "Islamic house of worship", etc. To refer to someone as Islamic is to indicate that the person is an integral part of Islam, and not someone who is a carrier and an interpreter of Islam, which humans can only be. The rich Arabic language provides for this distinction to uncompromisingly assert the inherent difference between the ideology and those who practice it.

Beyond that, the phrase, "Islamic extremists hate America" indicates that all "Islamic extremists" hate America. Ignore the fact that "Islamic extremists" is a misnomer, and that the concept is ill-defined (I will therefore use it in quotes). Playing the devil's advocate and overlooking that fact, the phrase still does not hold true. Many "Islamic extremists" do not hate America. Many do not think much about America, and do not see beyond their national, sometimes even local governments. Some "Islamic extremists" are not even political in their outlook. The phrase is a gross overgeneralization.

Theme two, "...designs for world conquest". Such rhetoric I thought would only originate from satirical cartoon characters such as "Pinky and the Brain". I am amazed that the authors are serious about this allegation. The sort of "Islamic extremists" the article references are barely capable of conquering a village or a town. They are ill-equipped, ill-trained, and have too many enemies. Even in an extreme country like Afghanistan, "terrorist" groups are not able to function with comfort and ease. The reality of "Islamic extremists" is very different than that of the calm, calculating entity to which the lofty objective of world conquest can be attributed. Islamic extremist groups are mostly comprised of dispersed individuals who could not make it in mainstream life, and looked to the life of "Islamic extremism" as an escape from their failures in the real world. They unconsciously convince themselves that they did not do well in the real world on purpose, because it so disenchanted them, and that they would do much better if only the world was different. The underlying mentality can be described as bitter, self-righteous, avengeful, and not very bright. This is the same mentality most terrorists have (think of McVeigh), there is nothing "Islamic" about it.

Theme three, "[Islamic extremism] is more diffuse than it might seem". Since there is not enough overt extremist action to satisfy the proponents of the theory that Islamic extremism is a world danger, enough to make us panic, it is necessary to traverse to what we don't see (since what we do see isn't spicy enough). Who can contest what is not seen? It is like the character in St.Exupery's "little Prince" who could not draw a sheep, so ended up drawing a box and claimed confidently that the perfect sheep was inside. Likewise, since no sufficient examples exist that will satisfy the media's cravings for Hollywood style terrorist action, they are forced to claim that it really is "more diffuse than it might seem". Of course, it takes obscure, pseudo-experts that emerge from the world of the unknown like Steven Emerson and Daniel pipes to see what us normal people cannot see. It's like the kid from the "Sixth Sense" who could see dead people. Only Emerson and Pipes and other self-declared "terrorist experts" can see terrorist danger where we laymen can't. It is beyond me why they were given the kryptonite. Truth is they have absolutely no qualification other than an anal, persistent style.

"Islamic extremism", and "Islamic terrorism" are highly overrated. Within Muslim culture, and life, they do not nearly represent the colossal problem, the Western media would have the world believe they do. I am a Muslim, and despite my frequent and up close interactions with Muslim communities on a multinational level, I have never come across such problems - not remotely. This simply is not a real problem in our community. Sure such people exist, but they are by no means more in number or power than their peers in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Buddhism. And we, the mainstream Muslims, are certainly not preoccupied with the issue. When such individuals surface, they usually interact amongst themselves only, and seldom have anything to do with the mainstream majority; to begin with, they are few and far between. As such, it never was a real problem in our community. The truth is Muslims talk and think about terrorism no more than do Christians in a church.

An obvious indication is that media sources really repeat the same names over and over again, mostly Bin Laden. Muslims number over a billion worldwide, the violent extremists are a minute fraction. Yet the great majority of the time, mention of Islam and Muslims in the media is coupled with mention of extremism and terrorism. You want to talk about extremism? This is a case of extreme misrepresentation, so extreme, one dare wonder if it is by chance.

The article adds fuel to the fiery legend of Bin Laden. The authors, as is typical with most American media sources, went so far as to quote him in the tradition of quoting an authoritative figure, a spiritual leader, or even the prophet Muhammad (Pbuh): "Osama bin Laden has claimed that it is an individual duty for Muslims to kill Americans, civilian and military, wherever they are found" (Newsweek). This authoritative phrase, implies strongly that all the Muslims of the world crouch around the radio every night and tune into the great advice of "master" Bin Laden. Reality check: most Muslims don't have a clue as to what Bin Laden is about. So why is Bin Laden's claims always selected for publishing, and in such a shrewd way as to indicate he has authority over Muslims? Why Bin Laden, why not me for example? I am a Muslim too. Oh wait, I don't hate America, and I don't preach violence. Nevermind that I am a much more accurate representation of the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world, and Bin Laden by no means comes close.

Islamic terrorism and extremism as known to the average news consumer today are largely an engineered product, courtesy of Israeli apologetics in the media and the political world. How does this help Israel? The main reason it serves the interests of Israel to launch and market the concept of the potential yet lethal "Islamic threat" is understood when noted that its sternest enemies, and its most fearless and menacing critics, usually have an inherent affiliation with Islam, and draw their motivation from its laws and history. It makes sense then to directly strike at the cause of the problem, Islam. That is accomplished through the systematic crebility-smearing campaign sponsored by the pro-Israeli news and entertainment media against both Islam and Muslims.

Accordingly, the intention behind many of the reports on these topics, such as the ones crafted by the likes of Emerson or Pipes, is not simply to uncover true terrorist activity and villify its proponents where villification is due. Had it been so honest, I would have written many an article praising such a noble civil service to our world, be the subjects Muslim or not. But, that sadly just isn't the case. These are "journalists" with a clear political agenda. Their true intention is to tarnish the image of Islam, and create a culture of intolerance and paranoia towards the mainstream Muslim. They realize that it is really the mainstream, moderate, educated activists that represent the more potent danger to Israel. They realize that an eye-opening article for example (such as those posted on this website, by both Muslim and non-Muslim mainstream, moderate activists) are more effective in challenging and uncovering Israeli injustices and pro-Israeli bias than suicide bombs could ever be.

Therefore do not be surprised by the systematic surfacing of skewed, amatuer journalism, like that portrayed by the Newsweek report in question. It is one meal, part of a planned media diet that deliberately aims to casually and innocently intertwine mention of Islamic terms and beliefs with completely unrelated and exaggerated mention of terrorist world domination plans. It can be confusing for most readers - and that is exactly the point. I think the title of Power's and Dickey's Newsweek article, "A spreading Islamic fire", is itself enough to demonstrate my point.

- A. M. Rehab