It’s rare that a story so fully exemplifies the worst tendencies of the news media as the coverage of the protest in Muslim countries over a U.S.-made video ridiculing the founder of Islam.
The coverage is knit together by primordial bigotry and vile stereotypes. In Muslim countries, the media inflame ancestral hates and rekindle what Fouad Ajami calls “a deep and enduring sense of humiliation.” News reports goad the masses, pointing to the video as yet another insult by a decadent, predatory West intent on cruelly defiling the most cherished elements of Islam.
U.S. media, for their part, fill their screens with images of bestial fury by throngs of wild-eyed lunatics, incapable of restraint and impervious to reason, fanatics whose forebears once screamed “the Koran or the sword” and held the U.S. embassy in Teheran hostage.
Here we go again. Islamist leaders accuse Western governments of furtively promoting anti-Muslim slander; their media scoff at official denunciations of the video here and the use of anti-blasphemy laws in Europe to protect Muslims there from vilification. U.S. leaders issue bland pleas for civility, while insisting the protests are “spontaneous”—as U.S. UN ambassador Susan Rice put it— a claim that defies common sense.
That spontaneity claim also defies recent history, and it’s shocking that our media seem to know so little about that. They might start with “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” the book by Brandeis professor Jytte Klausen about the 2005-2006 uproar over the 12 satirical drawings of the prophet Muhammad that ran in a Danish newspaper. Klausen’s book itself made news because of the decision of its publisher, the Yale University Press, to strip it of the cartoons themselves. (Some 200 people had died in’06 rioting over their original publication.)
Too bad Klausen’s findings didn’t make news, since they remain highly newsworthy. She found that the rioting, far from being a mindless spasm of outrage, arose from a deeply political process consisting of months of backstage maneuvering involving Muslim leaders in Denmark, Islamic groups in the Middle East, and officials of various Continue reading