Monday, May 16, 2005

Update: Newsweek Retracts Story That Alleged U.S. Soldiers Desecrated the Qur'an

Newsweek, which reported last week that U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Qur'an, even flushing pages of it down a toilet, have retracted their story. Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker (left), speaking for the magazine, said, "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to the victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst." This comes after the Pentagon vehemently denied that any proof of such occurrences exist and after widespread violence broke out in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Gaza Strip in protest to the allegations. The White House and the U.S. Department of State also criticized Newsweek for not retracting its story sooner.

The story, reported originally by Michael Isikoff (right) and John Barry, was based on information from a "reliable source" that claimed that the U.S. government was looking into several allegations, including an incident where pages of the Qur'an were flushed down a toilet. Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers said on Thursday that the Pentagon had not confirmed a "toilet incident," though he did say there was a report being investigated that alleged that, "a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Qur'an and putting [them] in the toilet to stop it up as a protest." Myers denied that a U.S. soldier was involved.

To be blunt, Myers' allegations that a Muslim desecrated a copy of the Qur'an to "protest" U.S. human rights abuses at Guantanamo is ridiculous. Muslims are not even supposed to touch the words of the Qur'an (i.e. the Arabic, not translations) without having performed ritual ablutions or wudhu. It is extremely difficult for me to believe that a Muslim, even a member of a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda, would treat the Qur'an in such a manner for any reason. Also, the "toilet" allegation is not the first time that U.S. soldiers or intelligence officers have been accused of such behavior toward the Muslim holy scriptures. There are, in fact, numerous cases where U.S. personnel were alleged to have stomped on the Qur'an or otherwise treated it with extreme disrespect. So, to believe additional allegations is not asking much. The profound ignorance of some in the U.S. military and intelligence services is almost too hard to believe: how could people be so blindly ignorant of what their actions represent and what they can cause?

For more information on Newsweek's backtracking, see:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/15/newsweek.quran/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran/index.html


According to a Reuters report issued May 16, Muslims around the world believe that Newsweek only backed off because of pressure from the U.S. government. In short, they don't believe that the incident never occured. Protests are expected to continue and the idea that the U.S. amorphous "War on Terror" is really a war against Islam and Muslims has been fueled yet again, either by an extreme case of journalistic error or by the U.S. government's continued blunders in its campaign to "win Muslim hearts and minds." It was probably both.

For more information on disbelief among Muslims that the Newsweek "correction" is accurate, see:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran.intl/index.html

Several prominent Muslim clerics have condemned the alleged desecration. Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah (right) of Lebanon said, "The desecration of the Holy Qur'an in the terrifying Guantanamo detention center that America created under the title of fighting terrorism against the Muslims who have been arbitrarily rounded up there, is one of the American methods of torture . . . This is not an isolated act carried out by an American soldier but is part of an American program...of contempt for Islam, to disfigure its image in the minds of Americans."

Grand Shaykh al-Azhar Sayyid Muhammad al-Tantawi called the alleged incident a "great crime," but he said it was the work of "a bunch of kids, criminals..."

Both quotes above are reported by Professor Juan R. I. Cole of the University of Michigan, a noted expert on South Asian and Middle Eastern history and Shi'i Islam.

To view Professor Cole's blog, see:
http://www.juancole.com
(The referenced entry is under May, Monday 16)

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that Newsweek has the responsibility to spread the word that the U.S. military treats "the Qur'an with great care and respect." To be frank, that is ridiculous. Yes, Newsweek has the obligation to make its retraction is known (and judging from the comments from Muslim religious leaders worldwide, people are already aware), but the U.S. doesn't have the high ground here. Abuse of the Qur'an probably has happened and it may happen again. Unfortunately, it's not that hard to believe.

For more information on the Newsweek retraction, see:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran/index.html

United Press International is reporting that the International Red Cross documented cases where U.S. military personnel desecrated the Qur'an, which it reported to the U.S. government:

http://beliefnet.com/story/167/story_16703_1.html