Friday, September 09, 2005

Ignoring the Good Guys

First published on

The July terror bombings in London and other recent terror attacks triggered familiar strategies for curing this world sickness, including urging moderate Muslims to speak out against radical co-religionists. But there are individuals in the Arab world who are speaking out, who are forcefully advocating reforms that would undercut the breeding of murderous extremism, and their voices are all but ignored in the West.

The Western media should be playing a vital role in publicizing these people's stories and winning support for them in their difficult efforts. Instead, America's major media have shown virtually no interest.

Some examples of people of whom you should have heard but almost certainly have not:

Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Said Al-Din Ibrahim has campaigned for open and transparent elections in Egypt, criticized the absence of basic freedoms, and urged an end to the abuse of Egypt’s large Coptic Christian population. Ibrahim was arrested in 2000 and sentenced to seven years in jail. He was released in 2002 and two years later was a key participant in a Cairo conference of reformists calling for religious as well as political liberalization and promotion of an Islamic reformation to counter the spread of radical Islam.

Kuwaiti author and teacher Ahmed Al-Baghdadi has attacked the politics of tyranny that dominates the Arab world and taken to task Arab artists for being intimidated by their governments and not using their art for social and political criticism. Earlier this year, he joined several other Kuwaiti educators and intellectuals in criticizing Kuwait’s Islamic education curricula for purveying an extremism that helps foster religiously-inspired violence. Baghdadi complained that current teaching, "focus[es] on the Jihad verses and the war verses [of the Koran] and... that the infidel must be cursed." Baghdadi has repeatedly advocated education reform and liberalization.

Tunisian human rights activist Muhammud Bechri has urged an Arab secular response to Islamism and has complained that, instead, "Arab/Islamic governments are rather colluding with the Islamists, hoping that anti-Western diatribes will help deflect the attack of the masses from their own failures." But Bechri also recognizes that secular alternatives are not necessarily panaceas and notes that Islamism is not the only murderous ideology popular in the Arab world. He points to the other of what he calls "the twin fascisms of Islamism and pan-Arabism" as likewise an ideological engine of mass murder. Bechri sees pan-Arabism at work in the Sudanese Arab genocidal campaign against the Muslim but black population of Darfur and in the wider Arab world's indifference and silence.

These men, and scores of people like them, routinely risk imprisonment or worse for speaking out against the absence of basic human rights in every Arab state, whether Islamist or secular, American "ally" or enemy. They excoriate their regimes for abuse of women and minorities, absence of a free press and other democratic institutions, and the purveying of hatred of external enemies to divert popular attention away from domestic ills.

One would think they would be celebrated in America's major national media, particularly the most self-consciously "liberal" news outlets. But rarely does the New York Times or Washington Post or National Public Radio cover their stories. (The Middle East Media Research Institute - - chronicles these people's efforts under "Reform in the Arab and Moslem World.") In this vital area of foreign affairs these news sources more typically betray liberalism.

Their betrayal has consequences. Publicizing the reformers' stories would garner support for their struggle. It would also demonstrate to like-minded souls that such exertions are not quixotic, futile or ignored and might embolden others, presently cowed into silence, to join their efforts.

Shining a bright light on these dissidents would convey as well to Arab governments that the world takes notice and this might inhibit government retaliation, as publicity has done for reformers elsewhere. (Ibrahim's release from prison in Egypt in 2002, two years into his seven year sentence, was a response to American government pressure; but even Ibrahim, who holds American as well as Egyptian citizenship, has received very limited coverage in the U.S. media.)

Why are such people's stories so abysmally neglected? No doubt much of the explanation is that their message violates a common media bias.

These individuals advocate Western-style reforms and Western freedoms, while the "liberal" media often lean to a moral relativism that views efforts to measure foreign governments by Western standards, or - even worse - efforts to export those standards, as culturally and morally insensitive, patronizing, even racist and imperialist.

This tendency has only intensified since 9/11. Reformers in the Arab world routinely decry their governments' promoting hatred of outsiders - particularly America, Israel, Jews and Christians - for political convenience. They decry Arab regimes fomenting such hatred to the point of justifying mass murder and genocide in media, mosques and schools.

The attacks of 9/11 should have rendered major media finally willing to report this story of fascistic indoctrination to hatred and mass murder. Instead, many outlets have seemingly become all the more averse to it, their moral relativism reinforced by fear and a wish to believe that the fault lies in large part with us and therefore that sufficient American sensitivity, self-effacement and dialogue will resolve the threat.

Conveying the messages of Arab reformers in America's media would not only serve these people's cause at home and help counter extremism but would also better educate our own nation about the forces that drive the terror war against us. But don't hold your breath.