by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
Why is Our News Media Handling Al-Qaeda’s Publicity?
I’d really like to know when we in the United States are going to lose our schizophrenic attitude toward terrorists. We claim we do not negotiate with terrorists. We claim we are conducting a war on terror. And yet, at least since 9/11, we too often legitimize terrorists.
Take yesterday’s headlines: “Al-Qaeda No. 2 Insults Obama.” Well, why do we even care what al-Qaeda No. 2 thinks of Obama? Why are we even granting al-Qaeda the honor of an audience? In helping al-Qaeda to the front pages of our newspapers and news sites, we hand them a media platform on a silver platter. They’re just as dependent upon the media as the rest of us are, in terms of disseminating their views. Why give them what they want?
Other terrorists are not given the same status as al-Qaeda by our news media. I don’t ever see the Ku Klux Klan given front-page exposure. I don’t see videos of the Klan’s leaders, and I don’t see their every philosophy and opinions broadcast on the front pages of national media. And that’s just the way it should be.
So why do I need to see al-Qaeda extremists on the front page?
The analogy of al-Qaeda to the KKK is actually surprisingly accurate. In fact, the ratio of al-Qaeda-type Muslims in the world to the rest of the Muslim population is about the same as the ratio of KKK to the rest of the Christians in the world. Both have extreme philosophies, and both legitimize their actions by using religion. We Americans recognize that the KKK is extreme, has nothing to do with mainstream Christianity, and should be dismissed. We don’t advertise for them and we don’t spread their views.
As seen in yesterday’s headlines, though, we do spread the views of al-Qaeda. Moreover, we legitimize al-Qaeda’s violent actions when we call them “jihad,” because “jihad” is not what al-Qaeda does – jihad actually refers to the struggle to overthrow an oppressor in self-defense. We play into al-Qaeda’s hands when we characterize them as “Islamic terrorists,” because that implies that they’re acting from an “Islamic” position, which gives them religious legitimacy and strengthens prejudice against Muslims worldwide. We give al-Qaeda a stature they do not deserve when we broadcast their videos and show their turbaned, bearded, rifle-decorated leaders as alien enemies worthy of our own status.
By continually showing terrorists and extremists as representative of Muslims and the “Muslim world,” we give them power.
Instead, we ought to be publicizing the people in the Muslim world who do represent mainstream leaders. Most Americans would not recognize the president of Indonesia, which happens to be the largest Muslim country in the world and a flourishing democracy – or know that Indonesia has already had a woman president, one whom Forbes Magazine described as the 8th most powerful woman in the world.
Mainstream religious leaders aren’t publicized either. In a 2005 conference in Amman, 200 major Muslim religious scholars, both Sunni and Shia’, from 50 different countries, condemned terrorism and issued other positive joint statements (fatwas, if you will – that just means a reasoned opinion by a recognized religious authority). Not only was this conference nominally publicized, I am asked to this day why Islamic religious authorities haven’t condemned the attacks of 9/11.
Why, in other words, do we give as much media legitimacy – perhaps more – to al-Qaeda’s stooges than to Muslim political and religious leaders of Muslim-majority countries?
Can we please stop lending credence to terrorist extremists and start attributing authority to whom it belongs? If we don’t, we will ourselves contribute to that oft-touted clash of civilizations. We will allow bin Laden and people like him to erroneously represent the 1.5 billion everyday mainstream Muslims worldwide who are judges, governors, Nobel Laureates, professionals, farmers, peasants, factory workers, and people of all types and professions going about their daily business. We will allow al-Qaeda to drive the conflict.
Let them find their own publicists.