As I write, the world continues to await news of the fate of Lebanese-born Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun. The story is getting more confusing by the moment, with Reuters just reporting:
A militant group denied on Sunday it had beheaded a U.S. marine in Iraq who was seen earlier in televised pictures being threatened by his captors with a sword.
Fears for Lebanese-born Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, had risen after a statement appeared on two Internet sites on Saturday saying the Army of Ansar al-Sunna had decapitated him. ... There was no way to verify which, if either, of the statements attributed to Ansar al-Sunna was authentic.
Hassoun has been missing from his unit since June 21, according to U.S. officials. Reuters says that his Lebanese father has urged his son's captors to have mercy on him as a Muslim and an Arab. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has broadcast a video in which militants are said to have killed U.S. Private Keith Matthew Maupin.
It certainly does not seem that these bloody stories are going to go away in an age in which digital cameras and the Internet make it possible to send moments of shattering pain, torture and death around the world with a few clicks of a mouse. I wrote about this the other day for a simple reason: It seems almost impossible to discuss the topic of beheadings without bringing up radical, literalist versions of Islam. Yet it also seems that the mainstream press is unwilling to connect these dots at all.
Writing at Slate.com, Lee Smith has asked a simple question: Why is this? And, especially, why is the mainstream press allowing Muslim leaders to continue to say their scriptures are silent on this subject? Here is the opening of his article:
Following the recent beheadings of Americans and other foreigners in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. press turned to various experts to identify a precedent in the Quran or Islamic history for this kind of gory murder. "Beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran at all," Imam Muhammad Adam El-Sheikh, co-founder and chief cleric at the Dar Al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., told USA Today. Yvonne Haddad, a professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University agreed, telling New York Newsday, "There is absolutely nothing in Islam that justifies cutting off a person's head."
Smith notes that reporters merely need to purchase and open a copy of the Quran -- he plugs N.J. Dawood's Penguin Classics translation -- where they will find: "God revealed His will to the angels, saying: 'I shall be with you. Give courage to the believers. I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers.' " (Sura 8, Verse 12) Or how about: "When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads." (Sura 47, Verse 4)
This wave of journalistic fog raises some very disturbing questions. At some point, notes Smith, Americans should start worrying that journalists are afraid to tell them the truth. At this point, American media will begin to mirror the media in Arab cultures. They will have to start figuring out who is refusing to report what and why. Perhaps that is good, in the long run, but it would also be tragic to watch what he calls the "Al-Jazeera-fication of the U.S. press."
As I stated earlier, the goal is for reporters to be able to report the facts -- not bash away at the beliefs of millions of Muslims around the world. Islam did not invent beheading as a horrific way to end the lives of criminals and infidels. It is wrong to say that this terror is unique to Islam. But it is also wrong to say that the acts of these particular terrorists have nothing to do with their faith. Smith concludes:
Islamic history is giddy with heads separated from their bodies, a tradition detailed in news outlets that are generally considered right-wing and on conservative Web sites, but apparently whitewashed in the mainstream press.
Why? It can't be that decapitation is too unbearably horrifying, since the image -- from the head of John the Baptist to the grisly end of Gwyneth Paltrow's character in the movie Seven -- is familiar enough in Western culture. No, the press' sensitivity seems to be triggered by the combination of Islam and beheading. Why? Do newspaper editors and TV producers worry that their audiences could turn into genocidal mobs ready to murder their American Muslim neighbors if they knew that Allah encourages beheading in the Quran?
If the press recognizes that most Muslims don't want to behead infidels, then infidels should be given the benefit of the doubt as well. Of course we won't kill our Muslim friends and neighbors, but we really wish the Muslims who are lending their expertise to our infidel press would tell the truth. Otherwise, this conversation between cultures isn't going to work. We are surely destined for a very violent clash of civilizations if one dialogue partner will lie about something that is written down for anyone -- even American journalists if they make the effort -- to read.
Which raises another question: What are you seeing in your local media? Is the silence on this topic universal?