Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Parallel Universe: European Media and The Koran Desecration Story

Marc Schulman on American Future and Joe N. at No Pasaran have noted the absurdity of an Agence France Presse (AFP) report concerning “18 Saudi Muslim Scholars” who are demanding that “those involved in the alleged desecration of the Quran at the US detention facility of Guantanamo Bay be tried by an Islamic court.” But the problem is not only in the Arab world.

Indeed, in a somewhat subtle fashion, the AFP report itself gives evidence of this fact: How, after all, can anyone be involved in an “alleged desecration”? This language is not that of the “18 Muslim Scholars”. It is the language of the AFP and, moreover, it is the article’s lead sentence. So from the outset the AFP report predisposes the reader to lend credence to the allegation and even – by way of its “those involved” – creates the impression that there are known suspects who could potentially be hauled before an Islamic court if only the US would cooperate and satisfy the demand of the “scholars”. It is not until the second to last paragraph that one learns that Newsweek retracted its story and even then one only learns this by way of wording that will give much cause to pause to the leery but ill-informed reader – i.e. the virtual entirety of the readership that takes AFP (and, notably, precisely in the Arab world) as an authoritative source. The magazine retracted the story, we are told, “after its source developed doubts”. Well, when a source “develops doubts” – especially in connection with allegations that have had such grave consequences – couldn’t that be because pressure has been applied? And, seeing as we’re talking here about the United States, it will not take much nudging and winking for a reader properly nourished on anti-American or anti-Bush phantasms to imagine whence such pressure might have come. There is no specification of the fact that the source “developed doubts” about something he is supposed merely to have read. No mention that the source remains anonymous. No acknowledgment that the entire construction of what is supposed to have happened and gone wrong in the development of the Newsweek report is based entirely on the unsubstantiated and, in effect, unsubstantiable claims of the Newsweek editors themselves.

Joe N. notes that the BBC has, in the meanwhile, taken to referring to the Koran desecration allegation without any mention of the fact that the source that invested it with credibility – i.e. not the released Jihadis who have long been saying anything and everything about the conditions of their detention, but Newsweek – has retracted it. As if the retraction never happened. In the last 48 hours, I have heard no less than three reports by other major European electronic media outlets – the Spanish state television TVE, the Swiss francophone television TSR, and the trans-European cable news network (broadcasting in 7 different languages) Euronews – that do the same. It is especially disappointing and worrisome that Euronews would do this, not only because of its trans-European reach, but also since it tends to be more serious and balanced than the big state-owned European broadcasters.

The Koran desecration story is in the process of passing into the lore of supposed American “outrages” against Arabs and Muslims. It is taking on the status, for all intents and purposes, of an established fact – and this, astonishingly, despite the retraction. And when I say it is taking on this status, I am referring not to the Arab media (about which I am not in a position to judge), but the European media. For the latter – remember Charles Enderlin’s famous defense of his role in the France2/Al-Dura affair – “fake but accurate” is increasingly becoming the order of the day.

This is an ominous development: because the “fake but accurate” mantra was not in fact first invented by CBS and the NYTimes during last year’s American presidential campaign. “Fake but accurate” has a long tradition: notably in anti-Semitic circles where the mantra is commonly applied to none other than the authoritative text of modern anti-Semitism: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.