“Someone at Newsweek needs to get fired,” says a good friend. I immediately search for the latest Newsweek cover and after about 30 seconds of my jaw hanging ajar, I tell her I concur. If American journalism today prides itself on objectivism and integrity, then that cover is a disgrace to both.
The cover story by Somali-Dutch Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali refers to the violent protests that have emerged across the Middle East over the past week. Those who have demonstrated before the American embassies in Benghazi, Cairo, and beyond are outraged with a YouTube trailer for the low-budget, anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims. In Benghazi, the attack on the U.S. consulate led to the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans. That violence is inexcusable and abhorrent. But fueling more hate through one-sided journalism will only result in more death and destruction.
Hirsi Ali argues in her article that Islamic rage will destroy all in its path unless the West does something about it. And while I, as a practicing American Muslim find her argument stereotypical and flawed in its assumptions and generalizations, I understand she is entitled to her opinions. What is not acceptable to me is how Newsweek presented her work on the cover. Firstly, that photo of Muslims is an overworked stereotype. Let’s set the record straight once and for all that most Muslims do not look like that. They don’t have beards or wear turbans. Secondly, the bold face type “Muslim Rage” is ridiculous. So now that a few hundred people decided to protest something they feel offended by, the entire 1.6 billion “Muslim” population is outraged and ready to kill and destroy. All prejudice and bias aside, that is simply a silly conclusion.
And let us use the nuance that we learn about in journalism school to look deeper into the news. Clearly the film sparked these protests, but since when are these political situations so simple and transparent? The Middle East is currently transitioning into a new period thanks to the Arab Spring. But many of the hopes and dreams for a brighter future have wilted under newly formed autocratic dictatorships, failing economies, and a crumbling infrastructure. The acute frustrations of sky-rocketing unemployment and the broken promises of revolutions for dignity have made crowds ever more willing to take to the streets.
But why do Muslim Americans who have absolutely no connection to these events apologize and reinforce the stereotype that has faced us each and every single day since 9/11? Khaled Beydoun, a Critical Race Studies Teaching Fellow at the UCLA School of Law, puts it best in an article for Al Jazeera English.
“The fall of apologies following the sweep of U.S. embassy and consulate attacks in the region highlight a return of an accustomed season of vilification and guilt; and foreshadows a winter of stereotypical conformity and co-option, from a rising number of Muslim and Arab Americans. Guilt has already been cast on Arab and Muslim Americans — for the recent string of attacks, and those that preceded and will follow them. No apologies needed.”
Free speech is free speech everywhere. If we uphold those ideals here then we have to be ready to promote them in all places, the Middle East and beyond. I can understand why Muslims feel disgust with such a racist movie. But I also understand the need for self-control and peaceful protest. It would have been more useful for outraged Muslims to put in motion a civil and social movement that espoused ideals of mutual respect and understanding between all faiths and peoples. Just as we would like those in the Middle East to assume not that this movie is supported by all Americans, we have to be just as willing to put aside stereotypes and not label an entire faith as bloodthirsty and violent. The “Muslims rage” exists only in the minds of those who want to label an entire people.
Newsweek, shame on you.