Western Media Coverage of Islam a Failure: U.S. Expert
The Jakarta Post/IslamOnline
A U.S. [author] criticized the western media for failing to meet the challenge of reporting on Islam after the 9/11 attacks on America, according to a press report Wednesday, August 31.
"It was as if two civilizations were completely unknown to one another," Stephen Schwartz said, referring to the Christian and Islamic civilizations, reported The Jakarta Post.
Schwartz, executive director of the US-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, said this was still the case despite 14 centuries of contact between the two religions.
The contacts were sometimes violent, sometimes peaceful, but always fruitful, he said during a media gathering in Jakarta Tuesday.
As a case in point, Schwartz highlighted the current debate on the Iraqi constitution, saying that it had repeatedly been stated disapprovingly in the West that the new national charter embodied the principle that Islam is a source of law, and that legislation shall not contradict the principles of Islam.
"This has been taken by US and foreign commentators, both those who oppose the Iraq intervention and some alleged supporters of President Bush, as evidence that a Shia (Shiite) theocracy is being implanted in Iraq," he said.
Few seem to have understood that the political alliance of the Kurds, who are Sunnis, Sufis and in many cases ultra-secular, with the Shiites, would not support a theocracy, he said.
"In reality, the concepts that lawmaking should not conflict with Islam in a Muslim country is an entirely uncontroversial principle established in many moderate Muslim states," he said.
"Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the only countries that consistently deviate from it significantly," Schwarz, a former journalist, added.
Schwartz is the author of the best-selling book "The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism" (Doubleday Anchor) as well as eight other volumes in the field of modern history and politics.
A prominent Swiss expert had said recently that the West misjudged Islam and did it injustice, largely because of shallow knowledge of the Muslim faith driven from the distorted writings of early Orientalists.
"Rising Islamophobia is the result of the West's shallow dealing with and misunderstanding of Islam," Arnold Hottinger, who spent 50 years in the Middle East reporting for the leading Neue Zurcher Zeitung newspaper, had said.
On the Iraqi constitution again, Schwartz that many Western media commentaries were seeking to associate tribal customs in the treatment of women, which have no basis in Islamic tradition, with the future Iraqi legal system.
He also pointed to the significance of the ban on takfir, which means excommunication of one's opponents, the Post said.
"I have found no Western media commentaries on the issue of takfir as treated in the Iraqi constitution," he said.
The prohibition on takfir, Schwartz said, was something that urgently needed to be highlighted in the Western media.
He said other aspects 'unknown' to the Western media included the definition of a fatwa and the fact that Shari'ah laws exist in every country in the world where Muslims live.
The gathering was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in cooperation with The Jakarta Post.
Muslim minorities in both Britain and the United States have been facing difficult times since the 9/11 attacks for many reasons, including the misunderstanding of Islam in the west, fueled by distorted media coverage, according to many observers.
Amnesty International said in a report on the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that racial profiling by US law enforcement agencies has grown over the past three years to cover one in nine Americans, mostly targeting Muslims.
A new nation-wide poll, conducted by the Cornell University and posted on its Web site, showed that at least 44 percent of the American society back curbing Muslims' civil rights and monitoring their places of worship.
A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research concluded that the Arab Americans and the Muslim community in the United States have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
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