"The Media's Islamic Blind Spot"

By Eric Boehlert

By Salon Staff

Published September 26, 2001 7:30PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Yes, the media has an Islamic blind spot, but it is certainly not the one Eric Boehlert describes. The press has reported, over and over again and without a hint of irony, on the horror American Moslems feel about the attacks on the U.S. Perhaps they protest too much. Where were these expressions of horror when two little boys were beaten to death near Tekoa? When 21 Israeli teenagers were blown up in a Tel Aviv discotheque? When seven children and eight adults were slaughtered in a Jerusalem restaurant? And why have we seen no investigative reporting on the connection between American Moslem organizations and Middle Eastern terror groups such as Hamas? The media's Islamic blind spot lies, in fact, in its willingness to take the disclaimers and protests of the American Moslem community at face value.

-- E. Scott Menter

I agree that U.S. policies in the Islamic world have led to justifiable anger in the Islamic world. However, it doesn't take the U.S. to create repressive regimes such as those in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Where is the tradition of democracy and pluralism in these countries? Does anyone think that the fall of the royal family would lead to a more open society in Saudi Arabia? There are definitely changes that should be made in U.S. foreign policy, but let's not pretend that political repression is only made in America.

-- Jeff Jawer

While I agree with the substance of your article ("The media's Islamic blind spot") and share the view that the U.S. must examine our political relationships in the Middle East, I question Walter Denny's claim that U.S. foreign policy is to blame for anti-American sentiment in the region.

Denny fails to note that encouraging anti-American sentiment serves the political interest of both the ruling oligarchies and Islamic fundamentalist that control the Middle East. He also seems unaware that the roots of radical Islamic fundamentalism can be traced back to Ibn Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century cleric who encouraged hatred of, and violence against, "infidels."

To argue that bad U.S. foreign policy in the region created this mess is as simplistic and misleading as holding bad European economic policy after World War I accountable for Hitler and the Holocaust. Surely U.S. foreign policy made it easier to stir Anti-American sentiment, but as a professor at one of America's leading universities, Denny should know better to confuse cause with effect. Denny is wrong, but what makes his argument irritating is that by claiming the U.S. is to blame, he is suggesting that the people in the region cannot think for themselves and therefore cannot be held responsible for how they feel -- they are merely reacting to the U.S. To include such elitist and simplistic views in an article that criticizes both U.S. citizens and the national press for being ignorant about the region undermines an otherwise thoughtful piece.

-- Alexander Wardwell

Thank you for answering a question I've had, but the mainstream media seems to avoid or give ill-informed answers like Rather's.

It's easy to oversimplify the hijackers' reasons for terror as pure hatred. But when many Middle Easterners applaud the hit on the United States, it's only natural to ask WHY they dislike us so much?

It does indeed seem hypocritical that our government has supported authoritarian regimes which squelch basic democratic freedoms.

I don't excuse the hijackers. The terrorists' network should be eliminated. But we also ought to take a hard look at our foreign policy in the Mideast.

-- Harlan Simantel

Your author, Eric Boehlert, states that people in the Middle East are angry at the U.S. because we support regimes which curtail freedoms. Examples of such regimes were given: Turkey, Egypt, and others. I am surprised to learn this. I have never read about any democratic opposition forces in the Middle East, asking or campaigning for more individual freedoms. Rather, I have heard reports of fundamentalist opposition groups demanding government by Islamic law. If the examples of governments in Iran and Afghanistan are to be viewed as prototypes for these governments by Islamic law, then I don't see how they give the general population more freedom at all. On the contrary, they seem to allow fewer freedoms: limits on free press and limits on women's rights, to name just two. Mr. Boehlert cites no evidence of democratic opposition groups whose activities are somehow being hampered by U.S. policy. Rather than helping to clarify and understand the complexities of the issues in the Middle East, your article has only served to further obfuscate.

-- Nils Brubaker

Leftist terrorist apologistas continue to embarrass America. Your laughable attempt to pin the blame for Islamic lunacy on America foreign policy falls well short of convincing:

"The United States time and again has sided with authoritarian regimes in Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Jordan and elsewhere. These are governments that routinely curtail basic rights, such as freedom of the press, for their Muslim citizens. So rather than despising freedom, many Muslims despise America for standing in the way of their own freedom."

Yeah, right. Which freedom-loving democracies in the Mideast would you prefer we support? Far from standing in the way of their freedom, we represent the only beacon of hope in the world for their oppressed people. This area of the Earth is rich in natural resources, but because a wealthy ruling elite sops up all the oil revenue to finance their lavish lifestyles, the poor have nothing.

American foreign policy was not the cause of the attack. If that were the case, why wouldn't they target Russia? Surely their destructive war in Afghanistan (and continued war against Bin Laden-trained killers in Chechnya) would make them a more likely target. No, it's the fact that America is superior economically, militarily, politically, and culturally, and our continued superiority proves that everything that the extremists have been spouting is untrue.

The blame for the attacks falls squarely on the shoulders of Islamic extremists and their state sponsors. The most satisfying answer is to make the Mideast glow for 1,000 years. Just think: it'll give you Berkleyites something to whine about in perpetuity!

But a more reasoned approach would be to fund a $40 billion "Lower Manhattan Project." Like the Manhattan Project, which very quickly unraveled the secrets of the atom, the Lower Manhattan Project would find an alternative to fossil fuels. With that alternative, we'd eliminate the source of Mideast power (oil), and return them to herding goats like their grandfathers. Hopefully, the goats will keep them too busy to bomb us.

-- Matt Maddox

Again, thank you for refusing to succumb to the censorship of information regarding American foreign policy as one cause of terrorism against the U.S. Boehlert's article reflects the views of millions of Americans whose voices have been silenced by the mainstream media.

-- Darrell Zink

Eric Boehlert's argument that Muslim anger at the U.S. is rooted in U.S. support for autocratic governments in the Middle East is weakened when one looks more closely at those doing the hating. Western-style openness and civil liberties -- tempered perhaps by the demands of religion and culture -- are not what the Bin Ladens of the world and their followers are seeking. If they ever did manage to take control of a government, they would undoubtedly institute the same kind of repressive theocratic regime as exists today in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

This isn't about Americans trying to deny Muslims their freedom; it's about willing ignorance and brainwashing and the terrible vulnerability of some men to the life-extinguishing rant of a fanatic.

-- Bonnie Resnick

Eric Boehlert, in his article "The media's Islamic blind spot," misrepresents television critic Tom Shales in reporting his criticism of ABC's Peter Jennings. After President Bush's impromptu State of the Union Address last week, while every single other network broadcast a rather historic Democratic-Republican joint reaction, ABC made the interesting choice of instead interviewing Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain of Georgetown University. Shales, in calling this "a bizarre choice journalistically" is not criticizing the publicity of the Muslim perspective as Boehlert suggests. Instead he asks, along with many other Americans, why a frequent guest such as Hendi, who had and has since appeared several times, would preempt the historic Daschle-Lott address.

Many of the points Boehlert makes in his article are valid, but the attack on Shales is uncalled for.

-- Dan Roche

I agree with the opinion that U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East needs to be given hard scrutiny. But I must ask those such as Eric Boehlert the following question, are the Muslim citizen's choice really any better given the alternative of a radical fundamentalist regime that strips women of their rights and kills anyone who dares disagree with their form of government, who will not stop until Israel is destroyed and then whomever else they decide is Islam's enemy? Let's get a grip on reality.

-- Phillip Gilbert

Let's see here. The Taliban government is left with exactly one country in the entire world even giving vague diplomatic recognition, countries are lined up behind the United States to try to take out Bin Laden's group, expressions of support and regret are coming from even traditional foes of the United States, and Boehlert spends his time asking why everyone hates the U.S.?

Of course, I've never understood why when the United States has an enemy, people blame that on the need of an "other" for us to attack, but when someone else has the U.S. as an enemy, that's because their grievances are logical and justified.

For all of the complaints about how the demands of the terrorists aren't displayed on billboards all around the country, it still is easy for anyone who reads anything outside the most mainstream press to find it. How much coverage of the United States' goals do you think is available in Afghanistan? It is curious that the less bad case is what irritates Boehlert so.

-- David Steinberg

Eric Boehlert's comment "United States time and again has sided with authoritarian regimes in Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Jordan and elsewhere." ignores some unpleasant truths about the region.

The most glaring error is that the United States at some times opposed Egypt and Algeria. During the cold war these were clients of the Soviet Union and catatonically anti-U.S. A larger concern over Soviet imperialism necessarily lead to the involvement with regimes that we found distasteful. This is inherent in a policy of facing the enemy's clients with your clients as opposed to engaging in direct war with each other.

Still, Mr. Boehlert serves to point out some our other options. Would he rather that we supported Syria, Iraq, Khomeini's Iran, and Libya instead? Where are these liberal democracies that we might have embraced? Turkey is repressive but not as repressive as it would be under the corrupt and tyrannical Welfare Party. Would Egypt be ruled more kindly by The Islamic Brotherhood?

Diplomacy, like all government is often a choice between the disagreeable and the intolerable. And it is often hard to tell the difference. We are not hated because we have earned it, but because it serves the politics of many nations to deflect anger from themselves to the United States.

-- Roy Kay

Salon Staff

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