Carol Turoff's tirade in the Conservative Voice, "Reflections on Ramadan: The Pope Must Die" (September 28th, 2006), is so severely devoid of intellectual integrity that it does not merit a formal response. (Article Link: http://www.theconservativevoice.com/article/18760.html )
However, the piece is worth analyzing as a case study of the machinations typically employed in America's thriving Islamophobic industry.
Turoff's survey of Muslim reactions to Pope Benedict's remarks turns up only chaos and mayhem.
She seems to scout the Muslim world for the most caustic reactions and castes them as representative of Islam and Muslims rather than judging them as particular to the individuals or communities that espouse them.
At the same time, she brazenly ignores the more significant reactions of mainstream Muslim organizations around the world which were both peaceful and constructive, whether Al Azhar of Egypt, the world's most respected Sunni institution, or Muslim organizations in the West.
This is especially telling given the Muslim American communities success in getting their voices heard by the mainstream media, including their unequivocal condemnations of the violent reactions in some parts of the Third World.
As a result of her misleading reporting, Turoff conjures a grossly distorted perception of Muslims and Islam upon which even more warped conclusions are built.
Her laundry list includes an unidentified Iranian newspaper, a Turkish cleric who wants the Pope on "his knees," two gunmen from Somalia, arsonists from the Gaza strip, and a papal would-be assassin from the 1980's. Her motive behind leveraging this hand-picked selection of merry misfits to project a damning prognosis for Islam and Muslims at large becomes clear towards the end of her column:
"We are in the midst of a clash of civilizations, in which one side desires supreme dominance. As Muslim populations swell throughout Europe and the United States, this crisis will exacerbate," she warns.
"If we care about our progeny, we must address this malevolence with swift certainty."
And with that, the drums of a war of civilizations are beaten.
Not so quick, Turoff.
Criticizing the problematic elements within the Muslim world is fair game. I personally do it all the time as do many forward-looking Muslim leaders. However, looking at the worst possible case scenarios within the Muslim world in order to insinuate a general point about all Muslims or about Islam itself is as scholastically disingenuous as it is disrespectful to readers. It also constitutes classic Islamophobia.
If Turoff was genuine in her attempt to ascertain "Muslim reaction" to the Pope's remarks, she would not ignore the multitude of Mainstream Muslim voices that command credibility and stature, and instead choose to quote an obscure London extremist who commands neither.
Why does she scavenge for the worst of what Iran, Somalia, and Gaza have to offer while carefully steering away from what the mainstream Muslims of her own country have done in response to the crisis?
Is it because they condemned the violence and urged dialogue and solidarity with Catholics? Is it because they announced plans for collaborative social services between the two communities?
Why did Turoff skip the reaction of MAS, America's largest Muslim grassroots organization?
Why did she fail to disclose that MAS and Pax Christi, America's largest Catholic grassroots organization, held a joint press conference in which they vowed to strengthen their ties to service-based projects and joint leadership programs through the youth components of their respective organizations.
(source: http://www.masnet.org/takeaction.asp?id=3765 )
Turoff exploits the murder of an Italian nun by two gunmen in war torn Somalia (possibly, not definitely, linked to the Pope's remarks) to make her point that Muslims are raging madmen.
Yet she fails to note that MPAC swiftly issued a press release, on behalf of American Muslims, condemning the cowardly act while welcoming the Pope's Apology. (source: http://www.mpac.org/article.php?id=417 )
Which is more representative of "Muslims", an isolated gunman acting independently, or MPAC, a Muslim public service agency supported by thousands of members, and revered by millions more worldwide - if one must extrapolate in the first place?
The answer is self-evident to a fair-minded analyst, not so to an agenda-driven polemic.
Why did Turoff choose to ignore the official response of CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim Civil Rights advocacy group?
Surely, CAIR, which serves millions of Muslims in America, is much more relevant than a smalltime radical newspaper in Iran which Turoff scoured the web in order to find and quote.
In response to the torching of churches in the West Bank and Gaza, CAIR launched domestic drives to collect donations from Muslims in order to help rebuild the churches. A check was given to a New York papal agency that offers support to Christian churches in the Middle East.
Turoff, however, did quote another CAIR spokesperson – yours truly.
But even then, the cut-n-paste job she employed in presenting my quote to her readers is damning evidence of her ill-intent.
Here's the quote she has for me in her article:
"Pope Benedict's apology is incomplete because it expresses remorse for Muslim anger to his questionable selection of quotations, rather than his own poor judgment in choosing them."
Notice the glaring difference between the above quote and the original one as printed in the Chicago Tribune:
"Pope Benedict's apology is incomplete because it expresses remorse for Muslim anger to his questionable selection of quotations, rather than his own poor judgment in choosing them.
Yet, we welcome it as a step in the right direction."
Why did she feel the need to conceal the last part of my quote from her readers? Is it because it would take away from the obstinacy she was hoping the half-quote would exude?
If there was any confusion as to my position, the next paragraph in the story makes it as clear as rain:
"Muslims are still waiting for this pope to reclaim the reconciliatory path of Muslim-Catholic dialogue Pope John Paul mastered; when he does, he'll find many willing Muslim partners just as Pope John Paul did."
"While Ahmed Rehab regards the Pope's apology as incomplete, he deplores the violent acts that have followed saying they are more insulting to Islam than any words in a speech by the Pope. What's crucial, he says, is avoiding misunderstanding."
Who benefits when Turoff seeks to misrepresent the real positions of Muslim American leadership? Why does she attempt to conceal our uncompromising stance against rage and violence? How does she expect to maintain credibility with her readership when she feeds them misinformation and trickery?
In her puff propaganda piece, Turoff actively omits (or sabotages) reasonable Muslim voices, while laundry listing a selection of the most sensational ones in order to paint a dismal picture of Muslims and Islam. The reader is left with the impression that Muslims are evil. She then delivers the punch line, asserting that we are in a clash of civilizations, and that only one must dominate.
She interprets the Islamic faith to her readers, while she is evidently not qualified to do so. She asserts that "Islamic law stipulates Muslims can peacefully co-exist with Christians and Jews only if the non-Muslims acknowledge their second-class status." That is a lie. Not one noted scholar of Islam has every endorsed this view.
Isn't it interesting how the most racist beliefs attributed to Islam are not ones espoused by any qualified student of Islam, but by clueless anti-Muslim commentators who for some odd reason allow themselves the liberty to speak for Islam?
In a flash of irony, Turoff complains that "Radical Muslims illogically promote the idea that the war against terrorism is a war against Islam." Indeed they do, but so too do "Radical Conservatives" like Turoff.
Ahmed Rehab is the Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations Chicago chapter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org