By Diana West
March 10, 2006
Way back when I was a cub reporter at this newspaper, I got hold of a book about the "art" of interviewing. It was a thin book. There was no use spending thousands of words to tell a reporter, cub or old Grizzly, to bone up on a subject and let natural curiosity take its course.
That thin book came to mind on reading a three-part series in the New York Times about an imam named Reda Shata who presides over the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, N.Y. As far as the art of interviewing goes, the reporter got it exactly backward: Thousands of words; negligible expertise; and no curiosity.
Both the New York Post and the New York Sun have already pounced on the most egregious flaw of omission: not a mention, in 11,000-plus words, of the day in March 1994 when a man walked out of that same Bay Ridge mosque and, inspired by the anti-Jewish sermon of the day (delivered by a different, unidentified imam), armed himself and opened fire on a van carrying Hasidic Jewish children. Ari Halberstam, 16, was killed. The Times series, as it happened, concluded on the 12th anniversary of his death.
Such journalistic jaw-droppers abound: gaping holes, like the one above, but also dead ends that leave countless questions that the female reporter, it seems, never thought to ask. For example, she notes, over six months of interviews, the Egyptian-born imam refused to shake her hand. "He offers women only a nod," she writes. Why is shaking hands with a woman "improper"? What does the imam think about sexual equality? She doesn't tell us. In Belgium last year, she doesn't mention, the female president of the parliament made headlines for canceling a meeting with an Iranian delegation over this same refusal to shake a woman's hand (the parliamentarian's own), while in Holland, the English-language blog Zacht Ei reported, a Muslim man lost a month's worth of welfare benefits for not only refusing to shake hands with female municipal employees, but also refusing to acknowledge their presence. This is supposed to be "the story of Mr. Shata's journey west," but the story bypasses such landmark issues.
Instead, we get a load of happy talk: "Married life in Islam is an act of worship," Mr. Shata says. So impressed were the editors of the New York Times by this load that they ran the quotation, not just above the fold, but across the very top of the front page over a gold-bathed family photo four columns wide. Does Miss Reporter ask the imam to reconcile this ecstatic notion with the Islamic custom of arranged and forced marriages, the spate of spousal abuse and "honor killings" within European Muslim communities -- as recounted in clarifying detail in Bruce Bawer's important new book, "While Europe Slept" -- or the tradition of polygamy which exists to this day in portions of Islamic society?
No, no and no. She writes: "One Brooklyn imam reportedly urged his wealthier male congregants during a Ramadan sermon last year to take two wives. When a woman complained about the sermon to Mr. Shata, he laughed. 'You know that preacher who said Hugo Chavez should be shot?' he asked," referring to a comment by Pat Robertson about the Venezuelan leader. " 'We have our idiots, too.' " One clumsy feint and presto -- the New York Times loses all interest in polygamy, from Mohammed's Mecca to Bloomberg's New York.....
New York? Wow.
As they used to say, "That's not writing, it's typing." In this case, taking dictation for a long press release.
Sounds exactly right to me.
Mark Steyn sounds a similar theme. UK to Mark Steyn "Don't let the door hit you in the ass..."
Dhimmification is not painless nor does it lead to less punishment. Buck up little leaders.
.....And yet the M-word appears nowhere in the Times report. Whether intentionally or not, they seem to be channeling the great Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali, who died a millennium ago but whose first rule on the conduct of dhimmis -- non-Muslims in Muslim society -- seem to have been taken on board by the Western media:
The dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle. . . .
Are they teaching that at Columbia Journalism School yet?
A fellow called Mohammed mows down a bunch of students? Just one of those things -- like a gran'ma in my neck of the woods a couple of years back who hit the wrong pedal in the parking lot and ploughed through a McDonald's, leaving the place a hideous tangle of crumbled drywall, splattered patties and incendiary hot apple-pie filling. Yet, according to his own statements, Taheri-azar committed an act of ideological domestic terrorism, which he'd planned for two months. He told police he was more disappointed more students in his path weren't struck and that he'd rented the biggest vehicle the agency had in order to do as much damage to as many people as possible. The Persian car pet may have been flooring it, but the media are idling in neutral, if not actively reversing away from the story as fast as they can. Taheri-azar informed the judge he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah," and it was apparently the will of Allah that he get behind the wheel of Allah.
Meanwhile, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds that, in the words of the Post, "nearly half of Americans -- 46 percent -- have a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the tense months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Muslims were often targeted for violence."
"Often" targeted? Want to put some hard numbers on that? Like to compare the "violence" Americans perpetrated on Muslims after the slaughter of thousands of their fellow citizens in the name of Allah with, say, the death toll perpetrated by Muslims annoyed over some itsy-bitsy cartoons in an obscure Danish newspaper? In September 2001, 99.99999 percent of Americans behaved with remarkable forbearance. If they're less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt these days, perhaps it's because of casual slurs like the Post's or the no-jihad-to-see-here-folks tone of the Times.
Ronald Stockton of the University of Michigan doesn't see it that way: "You're getting a constant drumbeat of negative information about Islam," he told the Post. By "negative information," Professor Stockton presumably means the London bombings, and the Bali bombings, and the Madrid bombings and the Istanbul bombings. But surely it's worth asking why in 2006 the Washington Post needs a man with a name like "Ronald Stockton" to explain Islam to us? The diversity bores in the media go out of their way to hire writers of color, writers of gender, writers of orientation. Yet, five years after 9/11, where's the New York Times' Muslim columnist? Where's the ''Today Show's'' Islamic weather girl? Why, indeed, are all the Muslim voices in the press broadly on the right -- Amir Taheri in the New York Post, Stephen Schwartz in the Weekly Standard, Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal?
If Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar is not a free-lance terrorist, then what is he? Who is he? What's he thinking? In the absence of any explanatory voices from the Muslim community, all we have are the bare bones of his resume: He's a 22-year old UNC psychology major who graduated in December. And what's revealing is the link between Taheri-azar's grievance and his action.
Take him at his word: He's upset about "the treatment of Muslims around the world" -- presumably at the hands of Israelis on the West Bank, of the Russians in Chechnya, the Indians in Kashmir, the Americans in the Sunni Triangle and the Danes in the funny pages. So what does he do to avenge Islam? He goes to the rental agency, takes out the biggest car on the lot, drives it to UNC and rams it into the men and women he's spent the last few years studying with and socializing with -- the one group of infidels he knows really well.
How many Muslims feel similarly? Not many in America, perhaps -- if only when compared to Europe: For all the multiculti blather, the United States still does a better job assimilating immigrants than France or Germany. A recent poll found that 40 percent of British Muslims want sharia introduced in the United Kingdom and 20 percent sympathized with the "feelings and motives" of the July 7 London Tube bombers. Or, more accurately, 20 percent were prepared to admit to a pollster they felt sympathy, which suggests the real figure might be somewhat higher. Huge numbers of Muslims -- many of them British subjects born and bred -- see their fellow Britons blown apart on trains and buses and are willing to rationalize the actions of mass murderers.
©Mark Steyn, 2006
Copyright © Mark Steyn, 2006
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