United States Action
Islamism, and the American Free Press
March 10, 2008
Jihad, Islamism, and the American Free Press
By Jeffrey Imm
In the war with global Jihad, words and definitions matter, and in fighting anti-freedom ideologies, the free press and media should be America's greatest ally. Yet the confused and inconsistent reporting on Islamism and Islamist terrorism is another key fault line in America's struggles with global Jihad.
Without a precise definition of the enemy by American political leadership, major segments of the American free press have made their own foreign policy decisions as to who is and is not an enemy, made their own decisions on what terms like "Islamism" and "Jihad" mean (if they use such terms at all), and provided mostly "isolated incident"-style reporting on such subjects, with the exception of the largely anti-war colored reporting on Iraq.
So instead of much of the American free press being used to largely address and confront enemy anti-freedom ideologies and their adherents, such media has been manipulated by editorial managers, publishers, and Islamist groups to focus their investigative reporting on the American government's reaction to Islamist terrorism. As much of American government actions are based on a reaction without a defined enemy, there has been plenty of source material for press critiques and for press managers to gain political points against an unpopular administration.
But as made clear last week in speeches by leaders of the Washington Post and the Associated Press, the larger issue of "Islamism" itself, its role as the root of "Islamist terrorism" (as defined in the 9/11 Commission Report), and coherent news reporting on the continuing global links between political Islamism and such Islamist terrorism is not even an objective of much of the American free press. The reactive political sniping agenda by much of the American press' reporting not only misses the larger issue, but also fails to understand that anti-freedom ideologies like Islamism are a threat to a free press itself.
Therefore, even when the threat of Islamism to a free press is
unquestionable -- such as imprisoned Afghan journalist Sayed Pervez
death row for "blasphemy" per Islamists in the Afghanistan
government -- Islamism is not a concern to such media leaders as
Washington Post's Philip Bennett or AP's Tom Curley. These American free
press/media leaders' apparent obliviousness to Islamism is symptomatic
of the larger problem with much of the American free press when facing
Jihad -- as shown in such media shaping of terms, providing a platform
for Jihadists, confusing the public on the identity of the enemy,
providing opportunities for enemy infiltration, and allowing news
reporting tainted by gullibility about Islamism.
Islamism and Jihad - Not Acceptable Terms for American Media?
March 3, Philip Bennett, the Washington Post's managing editor, gave
a speech at the
University of California Irvine (UCI) on Journalism and Islam, where it
was reported that he believes the media is responsible for confusion
about Islam, which is due to the lack of Muslims in American newsrooms
(in his opinion). The
Daily Pilot, a local newspaper, also
reported that Washington Post's Philip Bennett stated that the term
"Islamist" is something that the Washington Post editors still have not
decided whether to add it to their style book. In Mr. Bennett's speech,
he didn't even consider to qualify the need to have greater numbers of
represented in American newsrooms, because he and his Washington Post
editors have not even decided whether to recognize political Islamism as
a term they can use, let alone an anti-freedom ideology to be
Apparently, the Washington Post editors have not yet read the 2004-released 9/11 Commission Report where "Islamist Terrorism" is defined as a component of "Islamism". In 2008, nearly four years later, the Washington Post is still considering whether the very term "Islamist" is acceptable. Even Al Jazeera uses the term "Islamism", but over six years after the 9/11 attacks, the Washington Post is still thinking about it. Rather than being embarrassed by such mental paralysis in news reporting, the Washington Post's managing editor is proud of this failure and discusses this failure in speeches to universities. Moreover, when real investigative groups such as The Investigative Project challenge Islamist individuals and groups, the Washington Post's response is exemplified by its reporting on Esam Omeish, reporting the accusations of known Stalinists accusing IPT reports on Omeish as those of "right-wing anti-Muslim bigots".
Such deliberate unwillingness among American media to address the ideology of Islamism and its links to Islamist terrorism or Jihad is not limited to the Washington Post. As early as October 2001, the Society of Professional Journalists provided guidelines to the American free press that jihad was to be defined as "to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself".
This desire by "mainstream media" managers to "filter" and "shape" the news by deliberate ignorance of ideologies, language, and connections between events continues to be an ongoing threat to our free press - one that has largely necessitated the explosion of Internet blogs to simply provide a vehicle to report the news.
The logic of the American free press should be that it would investigate and reveal anti-freedom ideologies and their adherents. It would be logical that the American free press would certainly identify an anti-freedom ideological group like Hamas that uses antisemitic propaganda referenced in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf as part of their Hamas charter (Article 32). Unfortunately, in much of today's American media, this is not the case. So it is, as previously reported, that the Washington Post and the New York Times has provided an editorial platform for organizations such as the Hamas Islamist terror group to spread propaganda. Similarly, the Washington Post and Newsweek have done the same for the Hezbollah Islamist terrorist group.
Washington Post managing editor Philip Bennett's recent speech points out that Hamas and Hezbollah are not even considered "Islamist" by the Washington Post. Mr. Bennett is reported by the Daily Pilot as telling UCI students that"[s]ome argue the word is a useful distinction for movements like Hamas and Hezbollah, but others at the Post argue that it is too vague and should be omitted in favor of a more specific description."
Since "Islamist", "Jihadist", and "terrorist" are not the Washington Post's definition of the Hamas and Hezbollah groups, perhaps Mr. Bennett could explain an appropriate definition of such groups. Moreover, perhaps Mr. Bennett could explain why the Post editorial policy allows propaganda statements by terrorist groups as Hamas - the same Hamas terrorist group that lauds the "heroic" attack on innocent Israeli schoolchildren.
Ultimately the fundamental disconnect within the American free press comes back to the American political leadership's failure to clearly and unequivocally define the enemy in the September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), or in subsequent documents. The singular exception is buried in the 9/11 Commission Report (Notes, Part 12, Note 3, page 562) in the definition of "Islamist Terrorism", that states "Islamist terrorism is an immediate derivative of Islamism." Of course, when portions of the American news media refuse to acknowledge the very existence of "Islamism", they can hardly report on such an ideology, let alone report in a way that provides coherent context between Islamist terrorism and Islamism.
In a speech on March 6, Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley made it clear that he was focused on a different enemy: the actions of the American government (effective or not) in attempting to protect the American public. This is the enemy that AP's Tom Curley is truly concerned about: "[w]hat has become clear in the aftermath of 9/11 is how much expediency trumps safeguards. Congress steps back from its constitutional role of executive oversight. Civilian oversight of the military wanes. A Justice Department interprets laws in ways that extend police powers. More drastically, prisons are established in places where government or military operatives circumvent due process or control trials."
AP's Tom Curley seems to believe that the only important lesson in the aftermath of 9/11 is how much the American media needs to be a watchdog to monitor the actions of the American government in attempting to protect Americans from terrorists. But what about the actual enemy, Mr. Curley? How about the use of the free press to identify and coherently report on Islamist terrorism (as defined by the 9/11 Commission Report) and its links to Islamism? When will the AP and much of the rest of the American media address such Islamist terror group actions as more than merely a series of isolated incidents in the U.S. and around the world? When will AP coherently and consistently report on the larger anti-freedom ideology that Islamist terrorism represents?
Surely, as Mr. Curley states: "It's at moments like these when a free press matters most."
AP's Tom Curley could have used his recent speech to address a much more worrisome threat to the American free press - the infiltration of Jihadist sympathizers within their ranks. Such war-time infiltration is the singular gravest threat to American freedom of the press. This includes the reports by the U.S. military that AP photographer Bilal Hussein "had been named by 'sources' as having 'possessed foreknowledge of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack' on American and Iraqi forces, 'that he was standing next to the IED triggerman at the time of the attempted attack, and that he conspired with the IED triggerman to synchronize his photograph with the explosion.' " Surely Mr. Curley should be explaining how the AP prevents such infiltration of Jihadist sympathizers within their ranks of news media in Iraq and other battlefield combat areas, as a fundamental defense of the free press from being hijacked and manipulated.
As in the case of the Photoshop manipulated images by Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj, there is a known problem with Jihadist sympathizer infiltration within the media. Surely, while railing at the U.S. government actions to protect Americans, the free press could find some time for introspection at the dangerous threats of infiltration of enemies within its ranks, and how to protect the integrity of American journalism.
Such media integrity, as shown by the Washington Post, New York Times, and other media publication of terrorist editorials, is hardly above reproach - and is a key issue that the American free press and media must come to terms with as the war against Islamist terrorism continues.
Last August, the New York Times demonstrated such lack of integrity in publishing an article "If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?" by Dr. Steven Levitt soliciting suggestions for Jihadists on how to attack the United States. Can anyone imagine the American free press during any wartime era, actively soliciting ideas on how the enemy could attack the United States? Surely the issues on media integrity and infiltration must be addressed by the free press as part of effective reporting on Islamist terrorism.
Then there is the issue of the American media gullibility in reporting on Islamic figures. An example of this is the March 6, 2008 report by U.S. News and World Report "Egypt's Grand Mufti Counters the Tide of Islamic Extremism" written by U.S. News' religion writer Jay Tolson. As the topic of "Islamism" is untouchable by some journalists, we are left with meaningless phrases such as "Islamic extremism" to debate in Mr. Tolson's article.
In U.S. News's article about alleged "moderate" Egyptian Grand Mufti Sheik Ali Gomaa (also spelled "Ali Gum'a"), Mr. Tolson does not challenge Sheik Ali Gum'a on any of his previous comments (translated by MEMRI) in articles such as: "The New Egyptian Mufti - Dr. Sheikh 'Ali Gum'a: Opinions About Jihad, Supporting Suicide Bombings, and Forbidding Muslims in the U.S. Military From Fighting Other Muslims", "In Interview, Egyptian Mufti Ali Gum'a Questioned On Treatment of Women in Islam, Blames ‘Secularists' For Terrorism Worldwide", or "The Mufti of Egypt: The True Face of the Blood-Sucking Hebrew Entity has Been Exposed". This is hardly due to lack of information. U.S. News' reporter Jay Tolson (like anyone) could have found this information easily with a quick web browser search. But there is no challenge to Sheikh Ali Gum'a on such views, no challenge to the Sheikh Ali Gum'a's beliefs that his version of Sharia can somehow fight "Islamic extremism", simply a nodding gullibility that is found too often in American journalism today when it comes to interviewing any so-called "Islamic leader".
Mr. Tolson reports without challenge that Sheikh Ali Gum'a states how misunderstood his views on Islam are and quotes Sheikh Ali Gum'a as stating that "Maybe we just need to buy CNN" - an idea that is not even questioned as troubling. Mr. Tolson also reports "[a]fter taking more than an hour to explain to yet another western journalist why a traditional conception of sharia law—along with knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence—is the best antidote to Islamic extremism'." The role of Sharia within political Islamism is not even addressed once.
But as long as the American free press and media is not challenged to address the ideology of Islamism itself, and its use of Sharia, there is the ongoing media gullibility to accept whomever sounds "reasonable" at that moment as representing something other than "Islamic extremism" (whatever "extremism" means).
The root of this gullibility remains the failure of the American political leadership to define the enemy, to define the role of Islamism within Islamist terrorism, and develop a coherent global strategy for these. That failure remains the fundamental fault line that keeps our ability to fight Jihad from succeeding in the long term.
However, in the short term, surely it is not too much to ask the American free press and media - in the course of their news reporting - to ask the hard questions as to who the enemy is, what the role of Islamism is within Islamist terrorism, and how Islamism is reflected throughout the world.
After all, "It's at moments like these when a free press matters most."
Sources and Related Documents:
Authorization for Use of Military Force (Enrolled Bill), September 18,