Monday, October 5, 2009

Sympathy for the Devil

By Barry Rubin

Visiting Washington, I saw the small memorial to George Mason, one of America’s revolutionary founders and author of the Virginia Declaration of Human Rights. It is mainly a beautiful purple-flowered garden near the Jefferson Monument on the Potomac, along with a rather whimsical statue of Mason.

Alongside, on the wall are inscribed words from the Declaration which read:

“The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained by despotick (sic) governments.”

But just a few days earlier, the U.S. government co-sponsored along with a despotick (sic) regime, Egypt, a UN resolution in the Human Rights Council (whose members are mostly governments that deny human rights) threatening the very basis of a free press and free speech generally.

The resolution urges states not just to condemn but to make into a criminal act: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence" as well as "negative stereotyping of religions and racial groups,"

This is in the context of a campaign by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and a huge number of other forces to stop criticism of any aspect of Islam or even of political Islamism. The best-known example was the right of publications to print cartoons from Denmark that Muslims didn’t like.

True, the Obama Aministration thinks that it "fixed" the resolution by making changes but it didn't, leaving in such languge as that the duty and responsibility of the media involves "taking action against anything meeting the description of `negative racial and religious stereotyping.'" Several delegates from Muslim majority states made it clear that they viewed this as applying to any criticism of Islam as such.

Either this is a case of the U.S. government seeking consensus and popularity at any cost or it really doesn't understand the mistake it has just made.

That the surrender of freedom of speech and of the press was a shocking departure for Western countries was buried under an avalanche of epithets like racism, Islamophobia, or hurting people’s feelings—seasoned with a spicy blend of death threats.

After publishing an op-ed recently by a radical Israeli professor urging a boycott of Israel, the Los Angeles Times editorial page editor, Jim Newton, said, “Had Hitler submitted an excerpt from Mein Kampf in the late 1930's [I would have published it] because the world would have benefitted from exposure to evil ideas."

I’ve discussed this behavior in an earlier article which you can read here.

Mr. Newton seems to sincerely believe in hard-hitting, unapologetic journalism only regarding certain targets. Following the op-ed mentioned above he ran a piece by a Palestinian writer, Daoud Kuttab, not about Palestinian Authority repression or extremism or support for terrorism but about what a darn good government it is. That’s media balance twenty-first century style.

Oh, and now he has published an op-ed by Hamas and Hizballah apologist Alistair Crooke about how these terrorist groups are just dandy organizations.

Newton seems to have adapted the famous old New York Times motto (All the news that’s fit to print) into: All evil ideas are fit to print….Often….And hardly ever contradicted.

I do not, however, favor censorship of the media regarding such materials, though I’m not sure any more how the Obama Administration stands on censoring what the world’s main purveyors of hatred deem to be unacceptable hatred. I just wish the media would spend a bit more time on points of view that don’t bash democratic societies, slander Israel, and praise terrorism.

And yes I still agree with Mason that the media “is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty.” I just wish they’d stop promoting so extensively those who want to destroy liberty.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, the Islamist-oriented regime has set a fine on the Dogan news group of $2.5 billion, more than the entire value of the company, in a harassment originating when the company's newspapers exposed government corruption. The ruling AK party has already raised its control over the media from 20 to 50 percent, with much of the rest--as I've witnessed personally--being intimidated.

Too bad the U.S. government is blind to the growing anti-American, Islamist, and dictatorial orientation of the Turkish government, which the Obama Administration seems to be holding up as some kind of good example of moderate, democratic political Islam.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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