- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

So, Newsweek had “little idea how explosive” its Koran-down-the-toilet story would be, writes Paul Marshall in National Review Online (NRO).

OK, I buy that — although Newsweek is hardly exceptional in its failure to understand Islam 101. Still, the anonymously sourced, now-retracted story — evidence of “media mistrust of the military,” writes the Wall Street Journal — didn’t become “explosive” until after Imran Khan, a Pakistani anti-U.S. opposition leader (and divorced son-in-law of the late financier Sir Jimmy Goldsmith) held a press conference to light the fuse.

And then what happened? White House spokesman Scott McLellan put it this way: “The report had real consequences. People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged.” Regarding the spate of killing and mayhem across the Muslim world, the New York Post’s John Podhoretz wrote that people “are dead for no reason other than some ‘good and credible’ source had an axe to grind with one of his bosses 15,000 miles away in the United States.”

The “report” did this? Our “image” has been damaged — only now? For no “other” reason? Something’s missing. That is, Koran-gate offers more than just another example of Washington politicking or good, old-fashioned media bias. Neither drove rioters to murder last week on the Arab-Muslim “street” any more than they drove Mohammed Atta to mass murder a few years ago in the friendly skies. It was jihad then, and jihad now, the rigid ideology that infuses medieval blood-lust with an unlikely longevity in a post-Enlightenment, technological age. Which is why the Newsweek story is not about us. Rather, it underscores something about them that is much more significant.

Us and them: The words are “divisive”; the concept politically incorrect. But what Michael Isikoff and Newsweek have done with their admittedly flimsy instance of reporting is focus our eyes on the chasm that lies between the Muslim world in which a book — one book — is sacred and life is cheap, and the Western world where speech is free and life is precious.

At least life is supposed to be precious here, just as speech is supposed to be free. The other revelation this story brought to light is the cringe-making extent to which we are willing to censor ourselves when it comes to Islam and the Koran — or, as our secretary of state has kowtowingly taken to calling it, “the Holy Koran,” an adjectival distinction I’ve never heard officially appended to the Bible.

NRO’s Mr. Marshall suggested Newsweek probably didn’t know desecrating a Koran is a capital offense in “SaudiArabia,Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere” — with enlightened Pakistan meting out only life imprisonment. But whether American news editors are up on their Islamic law is, for once, not the issue. The draconian repression of Islamic dictatorships is nothing for us to emulate or pander to, in our policy or our coverage. Frankly, if we tolerate “Piss Christ” and “Dung Virgin,” we should be able to shrug off Commode Koran.

Whether the toilet caper actually happened — in seeking to secure American lives, after all, not score an NEA grant — is also beside the point; the “damage,” the pundits keep saying, is done. As a Pakistani journalist told the New York Times, the Newsweek item confirmed suspicions of “a straight disrespect for the sensitivities of Muslims.”

Please. We see the “sensitivities” of some Muslims blowing up other Muslims on a daily basis in Iraq. We saw the sensitivities of Albanian Muslims on a rampage in March 2004, when they destroyed more than 30 Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo. We saw the sensitivities of Taliban Muslims in 2001 when they dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. We saw the sensitivities of Palestinian Muslims when, in 2000, they violently obliterated Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. In 2002, Nigerian Muslims took their sensitivities to the streets after This Day newspaper reported on beauty pageant contestants so lovely the prophet Mohammed would “probably have chosen a wife from one of them.” Before you could say, “The Koran is in the toilet,” more than 200 people lost their lives in riots that also left 11,000 people homeless. Also in 2002, armed Palestinian guerrillas and their sensitivities occupied the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. As the Jerusalem Post reported, “Catholic priests later said that some Bibles were torn up for toilet paper.”

I don’t recall riots breaking out in St. Peter’s Square. Which is why the West still stands on one side of the chasm, and Islam stands on the other. From this vantage point, we can give Newsweek a pass — but not such violently uncivilized behavior.

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