The Human Cost

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 The Human Cost

Bergen Record

Also published in the Herald News and Daily Record


THE HUMAN COST of deliberate bad media coverage has a value only when people who matter do the counting.
Could this assessment fairly describe the bloody and volatile international flap over the story in Newsweek about desecrating the Quran, the holy book for more than 1 billion Muslims?

Newsweek published a sensational charge that turned out to be false. It may be unfair to blame the subsequent violence and diplomatic controversy entirely on Newsweek. It’s reasonable, however, to argue that credulous reporting like this contributed to a climate in which many innocent Muslims died. It is also a further reminder of the pivotal role our media play not only in reporting world events but also in shaping them.It is far from clear that Newsweek’s source was inaccurate in saying that U.S. investigators had uncovered desecration of a copy of the Quran during a recent investigation. Former Guantanamo prisoners have repeatedly made similar allegations.

Denials by the U.S. military that such incidents have occurred mean little.

Eric Saar, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served as a translator at Guantanamo, has accused the Pentagon of engaging in organized efforts to deceive visitors to the detention centers. Citing Saar’s new book, The Washington Post reported April 29 that “the U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence.”

Arguably, the strong Muslim reaction to the Newsweek story and its reluctance to credit the magazine’s retraction should not have been a surprise in the West. Western shock can only be explained by its stubborn and widespread belief that Muslims have no legitimate complaints about Western actions.
A Christian friend of mine could not believe the fury over “the simple act” of flushing a copy of the Quran down the toilet and why Muslims were so angry. He related to me that many Christians find it acceptable to take the Holy Bible into the bathroom, burn it, even write on it, and read it after having gone to the bathroom or engaged in sexual intercourse. All these scenarios would prohibit any practicing Muslim from even touching the Quran, let alone read it.

For Muslims, the Quran is the word of God and not simply a narration of certain events and good advice. As the word of God, the Quran is an eternal manifestation of God. Clearly defined protocols are provided for its handling, reciting from it and respect thereof. To use the Quran as a torture tool and in the purported fashion is thus seen as an affront to Islam and its believers.

Popular reaction to the Newsweek story shows the extent to which the everyday lives of Muslims are dominated by their faith. Demonstrations occurred spontaneously around the world, showing the immediate and powerful impact a perceived slight to Islamic sanctity has among ordinary people. It would be incorrect to assume that only those who support extremist leaders like Osama bin Laden viewed the episode as an attack on the Islamic faith.

While I am deeply troubled as a Muslim by the Muslims world’s readiness to take at face value without reflection accusations of intentional U.S. and Western offenses against Islam, I am equally troubled by the journalism void of its ethical and societal responsibilities.

Aref Assaf, a Denville resident, is president of the American Arab Forum of New Jersey.

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