As a graduate student of the department of Orientalistics at the Higher Institute of Islamic Da’wa, Muhammad Ben Saud Islamic University-Riyadh, it is part of my academic interest to read how Islam is represented in the American and English Media.
Two months ago Professor T. B. Irving (Haj Ta’lim Ali” sent me a short newsletter containing an article written by Rev. R. Marston Speight titled “What will be the next bug-bear?” Though Rev. Speight is the director of the Office on Christian- Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary, he has taken the initiative to speak on behalf of Islam.
In his article Rev. Speight expressed his apprehension and fear about the new campaign against Islam in the American media. He said:” As a result of the tumultuous and astonishing events in Eastern Europe, the forces of the world communism no longer seem as threatening as they did before. So those Americans who constantly dwelt on the supposed danger of communism to our nation are suddenly left deprived of one of their favorite themes.”
Based on Rev. Speight’s knowledge of how Islam is represented in the American media, he drew the conclusion that “Islam will be set forth as the new bogey man.”
The example cited in the above newsletter is the syndicated column by Charles Krauthammer (Feb.19, 1990) in which he wrote under the banner “Islam lunches a new global crusade”. This crusade is also termed as “a global intifada” struggling for” political independence and political domination.”
The distortion is even more apparent when Krauthammer tries to show why the Islamic struggle is “threatening” by saying that “the force of Islam is autocratic and intolerant” and in the Islamic world self-determination is permitted only to Moslems (sic)”
To cite another example in this lengthy subject, Professor Bernard Lewis (Emeritus of Princeton University) and presently the director of Annenberg Institute for Judaic and Near Eastern Studies) was chosen to give the annual Thomas Jefferson lecture at the Library of Congress. The title of his lecture was purely academic, but the contents were quite polemical. The title “Western society s viewed from Islamic Perspective” could be justly put” Why Muslims hate America?” or “a new cold war with
Lewis said in his lecture:” But Islam like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers, a mood of hatred and violence.”
Lewis moves from speaking about Islam as a religion to his favorite topic of fundamentalists, radicals, etc. and their views of the west. He said:” the struggle of the fundamentalists is against two enemies; secularism and modernism.”
A third example of what type of representation Islam receives in America is the commencement address of the graduation and commissioning ceremony of the class of 1990 of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, by the United States Vice President on May 30th.1990.
In his speech the Vice President said:” We have been surprised this past century by the rise of Communism, the rise of Nazism, and the rising of radical Islamic Fundamentalism. I am sure we’ll be surprised in the future as well. Though we may be surprised, let us always be prepared.”
If the Vice President is surprised by the rise of “radical Islamic Fundamentalism “ it is also surprising that he terms the Islamic revival or resurgence as radical fundamentalism and even more surprising is to link Islam with Nazism and Communism.
I have talked about three examples on how Islam is featured in the American Media. I am certain that a great many more examples exist, but they are inaccessible to the writer due to their unavailability.
As for the article of Krauthammer we need not say much sine Rev. Speight’s comments in his newsletter are quite sufficient, and we can’t agree with him more. (As for his incentive to defend Islam may be taken in another article)
Speight said, “The information in that column is badly distorted. The worst thing in it is the statement that Islam is engaged in a concreted movement Worldwide. There is a central authority in Islam, so any political or ideological struggle on a global scale is out of question.”
Then Speight gave his recommendation on the matter by saying that readers must be “alert to counter such unreasonable attacks as Kruthammer’s with authentic information regarding Islam and the World where Muslim peoples are involved. Here we must thank and appreciate Rev. Speight’s words. Moreover we wish that his newsletter be widely distributed in the US. Where many writers like Kruthammer are spreading their poison.
The case of Professor Lewis is quite different. He is an acclaimed scholar of Islamic History an Islamic current affairs. What he voices out is taken for granted to be the truth. However, his lecture has drawn wide reaction among Muslims and non-Muslims in the USA. Though I believe that it is too little to counter an influential speaker such as Lewis.
These articles were as follows:
1- An article by Mike Feishllber in the Oak Tribune on May 5th. 1990.
2- Professor T. B. Irving’s article in the Impact International, 27 July –9th. August and reproduced in the Hong Kong Herald in August 1990.
3- Oppenion by Mowahid H. Shah in the Christian Science Monitor on July 30th.1990.
4- Editorial of “Muslim Media Watch Newsletter, May –June 1990.
However, before reviewing the above articles we must say that there are many who support Bernard Lewis. One of these is the article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on May 7th. 1990 by Rushworth Kidder in which he said:” His theme is (Lewis’s) the revulsion against western values and manners that is spitting from Fundamentalist segments of the Islamic World. He concluded that America as the “heir of European civilization “has become the focus on which (the Muslim World’s) pent-up hate and anger coverage” Kidder also said that Lewis’ lecture “could not have been more timely.”
To turn to Lewis’s critique, we find that T. B. Irving summing up in two sentences as follows:” on May 2, 1990 Lewis read a 26 page diatribe against Islam at the Library of Congress in which he viewed Islam as an enemy of the West, with the United States as its principal adversary.”
Another critique of Lewis and that is the editorial by the Muslim Media Watch Newsletter in which the editor wrote:” as if all the anti-Islamism shown by the Media was not enough, how a government agency has joined the effort. The National Endowment for the Humanities has paid 10,000 dollars to Bernard Lewis, a retired Professor of History who has been selling stereotypes, oversimplifications and distortions—all carefully packaged ant-Islamism—to gullible audience.
The Newsletter goes onto say about Lewis “starting with the loaded question “why Muslims hate America? Lewis has been telling his audience “resentment and anger of the Muslim masses toward America –is only the latest outbreak in a long struggle between Islam and Christendom.” What the newsletter did not say is why such an ardent Zionist take the case on behalf of Christens should? What is the real attitude of Islam toward the issues raised by Lewis, Kruthammer and the Vice President and many other writes?
Hope to tackle these issues in other articles.