Monday, September 13, 2004


By William Fisher

“How are we to win a war against blood-spattered enemies whom our own free press continues to protect through politically correct sanitization? It wasn't no-name militants or wayward guerrillas who have butchered, beheaded and slaughtered thousands of innocents over the last three years alone.”

So wrote Michelle Malkin, the newest darling of the American right-wing, in the Houston Chronicle, followed by a litany of all the horrible things Muslims have done “in the name of Allah”. Ms. Malkin attacks the mainstream media for continuing to "whitewash" exactly “how deadly the Muslim terrorists we face are.”
She faults the mainstream media for referring to them as “generic ‘militants’ or ‘guerrillas’ or ‘rebels’ or, ‘activists’. She wants them called Muslim Terrorists.

But just what would the term ‘Muslim terrorists’ add to the reader’s understanding? None of the information journalists usually try to convey in a short description, like where they’re from or what they believe in. There are over a billion Muslims. They live all over the world. They have different interpretations of their religion. Those who carry out acts of terror represent a tiny fraction of Islam’s adherents.

On the contrary, what the use of ‘Muslim terrorists’ does is to paint all of Islam with the same uninformative brush and promote religious stereotypes. It would be like describing the Ku Klux Klan as a Christian extremist organization. What do we learn about Christianity from the KKK? Or describing the young man who assassinated Prime Minister Rabin of Israel as a ‘Jewish extremist’. What does that teach us about Judaism? Or calling Timothy McVeigh the ‘Roman Catholic bomber’ of Oklahoma City. Did he do what he did because of his religion?

As a journalist, my judgment would be that a person’s religion is relevant only when the person represents the predominant thinking of the religion. Like the Pope. Clearly, none of the examples above – or Ms. Malkin’s ‘Muslim terrorists’ – meets that test.

As for acts of terror carried out “in the name of Allah”, since the beginning of religions in the world, people have told the most outrageous lies and committed the most egregious acts -- and invoked their God to make their causes righteous.

This includes the Crusaders, the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, skinhead militias, creationists, and other fringe groups who have attempted to highjack great religions “in the name of …”

Many Muslims dislike the United States. So do believers in many other faiths. That doesn’t make them ‘terrorists’.

This is not a political correctness issue. It is an accuracy in reporting issue. Reporting should illuminate. Ms. Malkin’s formula would obfuscate.

The writer has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development, and served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy administration.