Qur’an desecration creates Amazon jungle of issues


Many things are not surprising about reports of the desecration of an Islamic Holy Book, the Koran (Qur’an), including that many Americans don’t see what the problem is.

In today’s post-Sept. 11 American world of growing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim animosity, no reason to hate a Muslim or Arab is a bad reason, including desecrating a book that is the Muslim equivalent of the Bible and Jewish Torah.

But fueled by hatred, this story has grown to be so much more.

Here are so of the issues that I have seen.

First is the role of Newsweek, which published the item reporting that an interrogator at an American prison for Islamic and Arab prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ripped up pages of the Koran and flushed them down a toilet to further agonize the Muslim prisoners.

It wasn’t really a news story, but was a “news item” carried in a front section of the weekly news magazine where other “light” and unusual items are placed called “Periscope.” It’s basically an “afterthought” section for news that isn’t quite news.

Newsweek’s first problem is its professional journalism failure to recognize the item for the larger news story that it really is. Desecrating a Koran may not sound like news to American journalists, but in the Muslim World it is huge. You would only know that if you cared enough about that audience to recognize what is and what is not news.

The report outraged the Muslim World and provoked anti-American street protests throughout. In situations like this, Western media have one characteristic trait. On stories that they really care about and consider important, the editors always stand by their story and the reporters who wrote it.

Not Newsweek. They immediately apologized and confessed in a candor uncharacteristic of American journalism that their reporters failed to get a proper confirmation for the report. The report, by the way, was old news, reported previously by many other sources such as Amnesty International and the Red Cross. But in a reflection of the American media’s typical poor journalism, it was ignored by the mainstream American media.

This week, an Indonesian Muslim in Los Angeles, Azza Basarudin, said she had ordered a copy of a Koran from Amazon.com, the behemoth online bookseller. Ironically, most Arabs and Muslims in American order all their books online because many American book store retailers don’t carry the books of most interest to them.

When she received the book, Basarudin opened it and found a profanity scribbled on one of its pages along with “Death to all Muslims.”

Basarudin brought her experience to one of the only American organizations that cares about racism and bigotry against Muslims in this country, the Muslim Public Affairs Council based in her hometown of Los Angeles. MPAC immediately denounced the act and demanded the Amazon.com explain the incident, apologize and take action against those that might be responsible.

At first, Amazon apologized for the distress caused to Basarudin, but MPAC pressed for more action, including “zero tolerance” for that kind of racist act. It is the same demand made often by Jewish and Christian organizations responding to acts of anti-Semitism or racism against their own.

Basarudin’s book actually came from Bellwether Books, which distributes through Amazon. Press by MPAC, Amazon suspended Bellwether from selling copies of the Quran through Amazon.

It all seems reasonable.

In Bellwether’s defense, it’s owner said that the book Basarudin had purchased was a “used” copy. He said that if he could determine an employee of his company had been involved in desecrating the book or had written the obscenity, that employee or employees would be fired.

Immediately, notorious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Internet hate sites challenged the incident suggesting the timing of the racism coming on the heels of the Guantanamo Bay controversy may have been contrived by Basarudin.

Of course, these same critics never suggest that the acts in and of themselves are wrong, but always place the burden of the crime on the victims.

Clearly, these events show two very disturbing trends. The first is the steady increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racist acts committed by Americans.

But more troubling, the failure of the American media to treat anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate with the same ferocity that they treat anti-Semitism against Jews or racism against other minorities.

In that environment, the only thing surprising is that these incidents of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred don’t occur often.

Of course, maybe they do, but the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim media just doesn’t seem too concerned about reporting them.