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  • Michael Totten: The Moderate Supermajority

    by Sid (Faisal)
    5th March, 2008 at 2:15 pm    

    Michael Totten’s article in Commentary is essential reading for those who would like us to think that media images of angry, rioting, blame-shifting supremacists in the Muslim world is all there is out there. As I’ve said before, only Muslim radicals and certain elements of the Mainstream Media benefit from sensationalist news coverage. Nothing like facts to dispel the effect of smoke and mirrors.

    I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

    More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood fore square against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

    And it carries on:

    Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

    And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

    The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

    Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

    Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

    Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

    Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

    Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

    There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

    Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

    There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

    The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

    hat tip: DT

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    Filed in: Current affairs

    13 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. geezer — on 5th March, 2008 at 2:46 pm  

      Yes, freedom of speech, but in a wider perspective the question of moral obligation and due consideration of the effect of publication is an interesting one.

      Perhaps nothing can stand in the way of the drive to generate profit…

    2. Ashik — on 5th March, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

      Am Brit by nationality & birth, Sylheti Bangali by ethnicity and Sunni Muslim by faith. Identity is composed of facets of all the above.

      As a ‘moderate Muslim’ if I am expected to somehow actively oppose and denounce extremists among my fellow believers, am I also expected to actively oppose extremists in Britain eg. the BNP/ Paisley style Unionists and amongst Bangladeshis eg. Jamaat I Islam?

      All things being equal, will others operate under a similar burden eg. when can we expect Whites come out in their thousands and actively denounce the people of Dagenham and other areas where BNP councillors have been elected?

      Individuals should be held responsible for their own actions.

    3. Katy Newton — on 5th March, 2008 at 2:57 pm  

      I’ve been reading Totten’s site for a while now and I think he comes closer than most Middle East journalists to achieving balanced commentary.

    4. Random Guy — on 5th March, 2008 at 3:53 pm  

      Sid: “only Muslim radicals and certain elements of the Mainstream Media benefit from sensationilst news coverage”

      Err…I think you are missing out on some other major groups and organisations that also derive a healthy amount of benefit from this type of sensationalism. Was that intentional?

      Apart from that, interesting read. It has the usual generalisations and yearning to simplify, as well as the standard moral high-horsing that is part and parcel of such commentary nowadays, especially in the context of a non-muslim, non-believing (?) Westerner whose genuine stake in the whole debate is normally one of the following: revisionism, rescoping, or miscontextualising the issues at hand.

      Its especially interesting to read what his perception is of the Algerian Civil War, with the government etc. ‘putting down’ jihadists when the whole horrible escapade has been precluded by the immoral actions of the very same government during the ’91 elections. Still, we sure love the word ‘Islamist’ these days don’t we?

      Cynical, moi?

    5. fugstar — on 5th March, 2008 at 3:54 pm  

      a predictable distusting dishonour to the people of Algeria who were subjected to the extreme bum end of the secularist vs islamist contest. People who died after islamists won an election, were denied the fruit of that win and then refused to turn the other cheek.

      the writer who you quote plays sensationalism just like any other journalistic scumbag, fitting misapprehended facts together to lie another day.

      my favourite piece of the articles foolishness is this
      “The world could use more moderate Muslims….”

      first ‘the world’ … sorry do you thing you have any right to talk of the world you colonial thrwoback.. are you just culturally bred to beleive you are the world?

      second ‘use’… hmm im glad weve got that one straight

      third ‘moderate Muslims’… does that mean you are embracing the faith then? why are you further dividing muslims with your pansiness?

    6. Sid — on 5th March, 2008 at 3:55 pm  

      Err…I think you are missing out on some other major groups and organisations that also derive a healthy amount of benefit from this type of sensationalism. Was that intentional?

      Who’re you thinking of in particular Random?

    7. Katy Newton — on 5th March, 2008 at 4:16 pm  

      Fugstar and Random, I thought that one of the main (and justified) grievances of Muslims (if you will forgive me generalising) is that the peace-loving majority are never given any credit by the Western media. Here’s someone who does, or at least appeared to - to my decadent, Western, post-colonialist eyes, anyway. Do neither of you see anything good in that at all?

    8. Random Guy — on 5th March, 2008 at 4:35 pm  

      Anyone who wants a war in the Middle East to secure its Oil Reources for starters…..and anyone else who supports them in doing so.

      Anyone who needs an excuse to extend surveillance of the civilian population.

      Any group that sees racist stereotyping as a means of gaining political power.

      Any corrupt regime who can use the excuse of hardline ‘Islamists’ to stay in power, per.

      The list can be longer. Still, in the context of this post I think the more interesting point is to what extent perceptions would influence policy makers and people in general if the media had to be enforced in presenting its ‘views’.

    9. Random Guy — on 5th March, 2008 at 4:39 pm  

      Katy, if I appear to belittle the good points in the post, it may only be my cynicism coming through.

      That, and the points from the last discussion we had with regard to the whole secularist/islamist thing - a topic which is tres chic a.t.m. - and in which I already clarified my position on this point of view. That last discussion happened a few days ago on PP.

      Oh and Katy, the issue (or ‘grievance’) that you seem to be implying is addressed here…in my view this guy has just had a (sort-of) reality check. Nothing more.

    10. fugstar — on 5th March, 2008 at 4:59 pm  

      no. theres nothing essentially different in that chaps approach. same gaze, slightly more palatable vocab(for some). bit of a distraction really.

    11. Sid — on 5th March, 2008 at 5:14 pm  

      Here is more on Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini:


      Mohammad Ali El Husseini said he believes that about 20 percent of his fellow Lebanese Shiite Muslims share his views on nonviolence. However, he said it is difficult for him to compete with more militant voices.

      I left the meeting very impressed with Mohammad Ali El Husseini and hopeful that his aspirations — which include building a community center to teach about peacemaking — may be realized sometime soon. I was honored to meet this courageous peacemaker in a country that has been traumatized by war.

    12. soru — on 5th March, 2008 at 6:25 pm  

      All things being equal, will others operate under a similar burden eg. when can we expect Whites come out in their thousands and actively denounce the people of Dagenham and other areas where BNP councillors have been elected?

      You mean like:

      ‘they were surrounded by over 400 anti-fascist protesters chanting slogans and jeering at them.

      The anti-Nazi counter demonstration, called by Unite Against Fascism, drew a large, vibrant and diverse crowd of local residents, trade unionists, students and anti-racist activists.

      East London trade unions were particularly visible on the Unite demonstration, with banners from local branches of the GMB, T&G, RMT, PCS, NUT and Unison unions.’

      Support for organised anti-extremism/anti-fascism is, in my view, one of the small set of key ‘core values’ which different groups simply need to share in order to get along peacefully in the same city.

      That applies even to the bloody SWP…

    13. fugstar — on 5th March, 2008 at 7:22 pm  

      theres nothing like demo theatrics to let people know where they stand. but then theres demo interpretation too. didnt the stop the war jive get accross the message that ‘yo neighbours and fellow citizens, those particular crimnals are not of us?’. even last year after the scotland stuff there was a ‘community reassurance campaign’.

      im not into the whole apologising for people i dont even know charade, its indignant. the demand has stuck however ever since 2001.

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