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Correct Mistake, Wrong Apology

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By Farooq Sulehria

Newsweek's recent retraction about its report of May 9 regarding the desecration of the Quran in Guantanamo Bay raises more questions than answers. To begin with, the retraction under White House coercion, mirrors the stifling of media freedom: Newsweek wasn't the first media outlet to report sacrilege of Quran by US military at Guantanamo.

The British daily Independent quoting ex-Guantanamo detainees last year reported the desecration of the Holy Quran (Aug 5, 2020); the Washington Post has also reported specific such instances as has The Financial Times (June 28, 2020).

There is more. 'The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported to US authorities on multiple occasions between early 2002 and mid-2003 that detainees at Guantanamo Bay were alleging that the Quran was being disrespected, a spokesman said', reports AFP (May 21, 2020).

The Newsweek management was certainly aware of these reports as indicated by the apology published by its editor. The retraction, therefore, is not merely a case of government choking press freedom, but also Newsweek's own cowardice.

The really disgraceful thing though, is how the White House and Pentagon stance that the Newsweek story led to anti-American rioting in Afghanistan. Rubbish. The article was a trigger, not the cause. The cause of rioting in Afghanistan was, and is, mounting rage at the occupying US forces' callous disregard for the Afghan people.

If half a column in Newsweek can mobilise thousands across the Muslim world, it is because US imperialism and interference in this region and continuous exploitation has fuelled popular rage. Newsweek, in this case, is guilty only of providing the trigger.

Therefore, Rumsfeld's advice to Newsweek rings rather hollow. "People lost their lives. People are dead. People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do," he cautioned. One wishes he had applied same restraint in the case of Iraq.

But the Newsweek story was not a case of carelessness. The magazine admits to having sought the Defence Department's clearance (an act which in itself raises questions about media freedom) before publishing its May 9 report. What is regrettable is not the publication's ´carelessness´ but the government's scorching attack on it, attempting to intimidate the media and warn anyone who dares question US military operations abroad.

What is even outrageous about the Quran issue is the imperialist debasement of values. This should not be a matter of concern only for Muslims.

However, the reaction in Muslim countries also raises some important questions. Most important: how are other religions treated in Muslim countries? Saudi Arabian airport staff searching travellers' luggage routinely throw copies of holy books from other religions in the wastebasket. Arrests of Hindu migrant workers or those attending any religious service other than Islamic make headlines every now and then. Pakistan has its infamous blasphemy laws. Attacks on minorities in Indonesia are on the rise. "Islamisation" in Nigeria has led to Muslim-Christian riots. So, Muslim countries don't have a particularly clean record when it comes to religious minorities.

Another question: why does it take the desecration of the holy Quran to mobilise the faithful? While millions around the world was marching against the Iraq war on February 15, 2003, the Muslim world lay dormant. March 20, the anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, has been observed for the last two years as a protest day with massive demonstrations in Europe and the USA. There were but token demonstrations in Muslim countries (Turkey was an exception this year). Not a single Muslim nation has recalled its ambassadors from Washington, let alone severing relations, for its illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, it was good to see protests across Muslim world forcing White House to apologise. It will also be good to see Muslims protest when religious minorities in their countries are targeted, or the holy texts of other religions desecrated

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