When the New York Times finally decided in January to report the anti-Semitic comments made by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohammed Morsi, almost two weeks after the Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI] broke the story, the report prompted further coverage in newspapers across the world, and even forced a statement from the White House in condemnation of the remarks.
But why did it take so long? While hundreds of articles have labeled, say, the Israeli politician Naftali Bennett an "extremist", why does the media try to avoid criticizing actual despots and extremists in other countries?
In a number of interviews, uncovered by MEMRI in January, President Morsi condemned Zionists -- and Jews -- by describing them as "bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs." Morsi called for "military resistance in Palestine against these Zionist criminals assaulting the land of Palestine and Palestinians". Another video, also unearthed by MEMRI, showed Morsi addressing a crowd in the Nile Delta, urging Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews."
In June 2012, major media outlets completely ignored a video posted online, which showed Morsi chanting: "Jihad is our path. And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration."
Why did most newspapers hesitate to criticize Morsi in the first place? One would at least expect some kind of coverage from the Western media of unfolding events, especially in solidarity with their Egyptian counterparts. More Egyptian journalists have been prosecuted for insulting Morsi during his six months in office than during Mubarak's thirty years in power.
The media eventually broke its silence over Morsi's comments after criticism from a number of commentators, including a piece by Forbes' writer, Richard Behar, who wrote:
"Needless to say, this was HUGE NEWS for American mass media! Only it wasn't. (Knock, knock, New York Times? Anybody home?) In fact, to be fair to the paper of record, not a single major outlet has covered it. Not AP or Reuters. Not CBS News or CNN. Not Time magazine or U.S. News & World Report. Not the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or USA Today … Most would agree that, even in the internet age, the Times is still the leading agenda-setter for major media … But it does seem to avoid covering Islamist incitement against Jews (and Christians) like the plagues."
Once the New York Times finally reported the Morsi story, other newspapers across the world followed suit. Well, not all of them did. The British Independent has not carried a single mention of the story. It has, however, run dozens of condemnatory articles on, for example, Naftali Bennett.
Provocative stories -- mostly untrue and usually concerning Jews -- appear, by newspaper editors, to be considered more important. A few weeks ago, the Independent ran a story: "Did Israeli troops deliberately provoke boy, only to shoot him in the back?" Needless to say, the article did not even begin to corroborate the accusatory headline.
Even those papers that did report Morsi's comments managed to devote far more column inches to the ostensible immorality in Israel of Bennett's position. Yet Bennett has never uttered anything remotely so violent as Morsi's call for Arabs to nurture their children to hate the Jews.
Further, even though New York Times eventually did cover the Morsi story, his comments were presented as an aberration. There was no reference to the institutionalized anti-Jewish and pro-terror sentiment rooted deep within Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood's own website features articles denying the Holocaust and warning Muslims against the exploitative nature of the "Jewish character." Other articles advocate jihad and martyrdom, condemn Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and denounce all forms of negotiation or compromise. All of this goes unreported.
Back in May 2012, New York Times journalist David Kirkpatrick responded to readers' questions about Egypt's elections. Answering an inquiry about anti-Semitism in Egypt, Kirkpatrick dismissed the claim and downplayed the idea that the Brotherhood was hostile to Israel:
"I have not seen or heard any slurs against Jews on the campaign trail, and I do not think that has figured in the campaign in any way. … It may be interesting to note which candidates are most hostile to Israel. Not the Islamists. Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh are relatively positive about the importance of the peace."
Sky News has been one of the few media outlets to offer some accurate journalism. Foreign editor Tim Marshall wrote:
"Describing Jews as sons of pigs and monkeys is commonplace throughout the Middle East, it is routinely repeated on the street, in mosques, in TV debates, in cartoons, and in newspaper articles.
In Europe, when Europeans say things such as expressed above, we recognise them as 'Fascistic'. When expressed by people in some other parts of the globe we appear frightened to call things what they are."
Morsi faced the (somewhat forced) opprobrium of the West only after a number of commentators condemned the media's silence. Other equally outspoken extremists escape criticism completely. Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas, regularly praised as a "moderate" by Western media, has said of suicide bombers that, "Allah loves the martyr." He has described wanted terrorists as "heroes fighting for freedom," and recently said that, "We have a legitimate right to direct our guns against Israeli occupation. It is forbidden to use these guns against Palestinians. … Our rifles, all our rifles are aimed at the occupation."
Palestinian Media Watch has uncovered further evidence of such aggressive rhetoric by Abbas's government. Recently, on Fatah's 48th anniversary, a television broadcast by the Palestinian Authority's television station, showed a new film, "Revolution until Victory," about the history of the Fatah movement. The program declared that Europe had "suffered a tragedy by providing refuge for the Jews," and that, "faced with the Jews' schemes, Europe could not bear their character traits, monopolies, corruption, and their control and climbing up positions in government."
Similarly, amid the tumult of the protests and marches in Pakistan last month the only clear inference from the media's reporting was that Tahir ul Qadri, the leading figure behind the demonstrations, was harmless – even a welcome influence. The Guardian explained:
"Qadri has no interest in introducing Taliban-style sharia law. He was best known for his unexceptional career as an elected member of parliament and the 600-page fatwa, or religious ruling, that he issued against terrorism and suicide bombing."
The Guardian and others completely ignored Qadri's efforts to ensure that those who blaspheme should be executed:
"For three days from November 14 to 17, 1985 Dr Qadri presented his arguments continuously before the Federal Sharia Court of Pakistan to determine the quantum of punishment to be awarded to a person guilty of contempt of the finality of the Holy Prophet … He established, on evidence from the Quran and Sunna, that a person guilty of contempt of the finality of the Holy Prophet … deserved death sentence and the punishment will be imposed as Hadd. … The crime is so sanguine that even his repentance cannot exempt him from the penalty of death."
This move was particularly aimed at Pakistan's much-persecuted Ahmadiyya minority, whom Qadri describes as "heretics."
While Egypt's Morsi describes Jews as "apes and pigs," arrests his critics and violently suppresses all protest, Turkey's Islamist government jails journalists and political dissidents, murders Kurds and supports terrorist financing groups such as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation. Despite this, the London Times's leading article recently opined:
"Political Islam is perfectly compatible with democracy. Turkey has been governed since 2012 by the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist organisation. There is no necessary reason that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt should, having won an election, exercise power autocratically."
In November 1998, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research quoted the then-mayor of Istanbul who, in June 1997, during a meeting organized by the municipality to celebrate the city's conquest by the Ottoman Turks, said, "The Jews started to oppress the Muslims of Palestine in the name of political Judaism which is called Zionism. Today the image of the Jew is no different from that of the Nazis." That mayor's name was Recep Tayyip Erdogan; he later became, and still is, the Prime Minister of Turkey -- a man whom President Obama describes as a personal friend. Turkey is a member of NATO, and has a government which, as illustrated by The Times, is regarded as "moderate."
It is easy to forget that before the uprising in Syria, the media described Bashar al-Assad as a "moderate" and a "reformer," and Vogue magazine published a glowing profile of his wife. Even then, however, all dissent in Syria was harshly suppressed, political prisoners were executed and Syrian Palestinians were denied equal rights – all either laundered or overlooked by the Western media.
Assad's father was described in the same terms. In 1977, the Washington Post, welcoming a meeting between President Carter and Hafez al-Assad, wrote that Assad was "considered a moderate" and commended his "flexibility" in dealing with Israel [Washington Post, May 8, 1977, "Carter-Assad Meeting in Geneva Underlines Syria's Key Role", Stuart Auerbach]. The same Hafez Assad -- establishing a tradition continued today by his son, Bashar -- would later slaughter tens of thousands of his own people and violently suppress all political dissent.
Why does the mainstream media require Assad to murder 60,000 people before newspapers can consider him a brutal dictator? Why do, say, Naftali Bennett's statements receive front-page coverage while Erdogan's and Abbas's bigotries escape media mention completely?
Is it possible that many in the West are so desperate to support "moderates," whether or not they exist, that they embrace any figure who, on the face of it, seems slightly less extreme or corrupt than the existing despot?
The naivety of this desperation is far outweighed by the other possibility: a number of Western commentators regard ideological figureheads such as Morsi to be bulwarks against Western interference in the East (whether military, cultural or ideological) – most often described by Islamists and their Western apologists as a modern-day "imperialism".
The BBC, for example, upon finally reporting Morsi's anti-Semitic comments, decided to sanitize his words, claiming: "In the clip from Palestinian broadcaster Al-Quds TV, Mr Morsi referred to Jewish settlers as 'occupiers of Palestine' and 'warmongers.'" As monitoring group BBC Watch notes, Al Quds TV is not merely a "Palestinian broadcaster;" it is a television station owned and run by the Palestinian terror group Hamas. Moreover, Morsi never mentioned "Jewish settlers;" his anti-Semitic, pro-terror remarks condemned all of Israel's Jewish population.Meanwhile, the Guardian has painted a sympathetic picture of Islamist terrorists complicit in murderous attacks upon civilians, published pieces praising Morsi's recent power grab as a move to "protect against judicial repression" and has produced editorials claiming criticism of Morsi is an attack on the Egyptians' democratic aspirations. Guardian columnist and associate editor Seamus Milne has condemned purported Western attempts to crush the "anti-imperialist" Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power:
"The fact that they [the Arab uprisings] kicked off against western-backed dictatorships meant they posed an immediate threat to the strategic order … Since the day Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, there has been a relentless counter-drive by the western powers and their Gulf allies to buy off, crush or hijack the Arab revolutions. … The original crucial link between western imperial power and the Zionist project became a permanent strategic alliance after the establishment of Israel – throughout the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians, multiple wars, 44 years of military occupation and the continuing illegal colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The unconditional nature of that alliance, which remains the pivot of US policy in the Middle East, is one reason why democratically elected Arab governments are likely to find it harder to play patsy to US power than the dictatorial Mubaraks and Gulf monarchs."
"Anti-imperialists" enjoy a powerful legitimacy, provided by Western commentators, predicated on the idea that the most violent of extremists is still better than the decadence and supremacy of Western influence. As a consequence, the media can safely ignore the iniquities of many violent demagogues. Israeli politicians can be condemned as Western oppressors while the murderous or bigoted actions of collectivist ideologies and their cheerleaders are, in the eyes of much of the media, a compassionate product of their environment -- former colonies indefinitely corrupted by the past misdeeds of the West.
As the academic and author Barry Rubin has asked, what of the lonely authentic reformers in the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere, who receive no support at all from Western media? Their message of freedom and democracy is lost in the media's rush to extoll the virtues of the "moderate" Abbas, the "moderate" Erdogan, the "moderate" Qadri and the "moderate" Assad. If there is Western "imperialism" at all, it can be found in the Guardian and New York Times, as their journalists impose their brand of "moderation" onto the people of the East.