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Press Review: PBS Special "Muhammad" MHMD
upon him Allah's blessings and peace

by GF Haddad

A review of the US press based on the following 13 blurbs: (stars for the top five pieces)

Islam's Prophet Motive; PBS's Muhammad paints a too rosy picture of a humanitarian faith and its founder - by Michael Elliott - Time Magazine - Dec/23/2002

An Admiring PBS Profile of Islam's Founder - by James D. Davis, Religion Editor - South Florida Sun-Sentinel - Dec/19/2002 'Muhammad' avoids hard questions - by John Ruch - Boston Herald - Dec/18/2002

PBS - Missionary for Islam? - by Daniel Pipes - Jerusalem Post - Dec/18/2002

Why are they saying nasty things about this documentary? Making a nice Prophet - by Linda Stasi - New York Post - Dec/18/2002 *Life of prophet, lives of today's Muslims; PBS' ╬Muhammad' takes a needed look at Islam; by David Zurawik; The Baltimore Sun - Dec/18/2002

* The Impact of a Prophet / American Muslims tell how Muhammad has touched their lives - by Ann Hodges - Houston Chronicle Dec/18/2002 Muhammad at His Most Noble / Biography on Muslim's founder is admirable, if a little too sincere - By Noel Holston - Newsday (Nassau and Suffolk) - 12/18/2002

*PBS documentary 'Muhammad' a revelation - by Jonathan Curiel - The San Francisco Chronicle - Dec/17/2002

A visual, thoughtful examination of Islam by Howard Rosenberg - Los Angeles Times - Dec/16/2002

*PBS Biography Succeeds Even Without Its Big Star; Prohibition on Image Complicates 'Muhammad' - by Caryle Murphy - Washington Post - Dec/14/2002

Documentarians hope to enlighten Americans about prophet - by Richard Scheinin - San Jose Mercury News - Dec/14/2002

*Understanding Muhammad by Alexander Kronemer - Christian Science Monitor - Dec/09/2002

-- This is a review of some of the blurbs and articles in the US press immediately preceding or in the wake of the airing of the December 18 $2.5 million PBS two-hour special co-produced by Muslim converts Alex Kronemer (a graduate of Harvard Divinity School) and Michael Wolfe (an author and journalist) and directed by Michael Schwarz, "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet." Upon our Prophet and all Prophets blessings and peace. The Time magazine blurb by Michael Elliott was a strange read because of rather glaring quotation marks on the word moderate in his phrase "moderate Muslims" as if such an entity were in fact questionable. ("[T]wo ideas about Islam have become axiomatic: that Americans need to know more about the religion and that 'moderate' Muslims in the U.S. and other Western societies need to reclaim their faith from those who kill and maim in its name.") Well, moderates of all kinds may be irrelevant these days and Muslim moderates particularly unPC, but the yellow journalists of the world should still not remain unanswered.

Elliott says that the Prophet Muhammad was, I quote, "the 'founder' of a religion..." ("he was as much a politician in Arabia as the 'founder' of a religion that now has more than 1 billion adherents") using quotation marks again, as if that title also was usurped - and so, consequently, the object of the founding - the religion itself. That such diseased opinion can now pass for journalism is a good day for the politics of demonization. Buttons have to be pushed and Time is part of that machine in unabashed fashion. It is in CNN days like these one is tempted to say that the Christian Science Monitor and PBS are the last remnants of an unbiased "mainstream" media.

Elliott's rhetorical concession of "the caring side" of Islam is just that, a concession: "It is right to be reminded of Islam's caring side and the extent to which it gives breath and meaning to a worldwide community." Then comes the real punch, the non-token text, the words "murder" and "anti-semitic" as in: "When the Muslims in Medina murder 700 Jews, up pops a commentator to insist that Muhammad was not anti-Semitic." How many loaded statements can you load into a single sentence? What murder of 700 Jews? He is referring to the battle of the Banu Qurayza, a Jewish tribe that violated its peace treaty with the Madinans and took part in the Meccan attack against them. After a twenty-five day siege of the Banu Qurayza, the Madinans captured them and executed their 400 (not 700) fighting men according to the judgment given by one of the Jewish tribe's allies, the Banu Aws. This harsh requital is nevertheless nothing like the massacres of the Gentiles and the razing of their cities by the Israelites led by their Prophet-Kings in the Old Testament.

"Anti-semitic"? How about: "You cursed nation," "you race of vipers," "you whitened sepulchres," from the Psalms and Gospels? King David and Jesus were not "anti-Semitic," but Muhammad is a more facile target of this reversely-bigoted catchword. When the Jews of Madina put the Torah into his hand Muhammad kissed it and placed it on the cushion on which he was sitting, then sat on the ground instead. Is this the act of an anti-Semite? The PBS program quotes a Jewish convert to Islam - Brooklyn fire marshall Kevin James - as saying: "The Koran teaches you that the saving of one life is as if you've saved all of humanity." Is this the religion of an anti-Semite? San Fransisco Chronicle's Jonathan Curiel writes: "'Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet' succeeds in dispelling the false myths that Falwell and others would like to propagate. Did Muhammad hate Jews? No. As [Karen] Armstrong reminds viewers, Muslims view Jews as "People of the Book" who follow a religion that -- like Islam -- is monotheistic and linked to Abraham.... It sets the record straight about a man who has been demonized by those who know little to nothing about the substance of his life or his message. And it makes clear that Islam is a peaceful religion followed by people who are devoted to faith and helping others, even if some adherents (such as Osama bin Laden) distort its teachings." Others thirst for the usual terrorist clichû. "Although it [the PBS special] makes the life of the prophet clear, it leaves Muslim violence disingenuously opaque," claims John Ruch of the Boston Herald. LA Times' Howard Rosenberg innocently muses, "[I]t's appropriate to note, as many have, that most global terrorists appear to be followers of Islam. Can this be a coincidence?" Well, Howard, for one, James Reston of the NY Times pointed out that if by global terrorists are meant those who inflict harm on civilians for the promotion of their political causes around the world, then you know very well that terrorist world enemy #1 is your own government! Yes, the nation that preaches freedoms, equality, and justice for all has itself "also yielded criminal savagery in its name."

Elliott, also, points the finger in the all-too-exclusive direction when he concludes, "What the world needs is not a hagiography of the Prophet or an apologia for Islam but a clear sense that modern Muslims are prepared to engage in an honest debate on the way in which their faith has been perverted by those who kill thousands of innocents." As in Palestine under the Merkava tanks and Apache helicopters of the Israeli "Defence" army? Alas for Politics and the English language.

The world definitely does need more familiarity with the real person and ideals of the Prophet Muhammad MHMD upon him blessings and peace - and a firm denunciation of the demonization of Islam and its Prophet being conducted by scoundrel evangelists. As New York Post's Linda Stasi states, "Can you imagine if every documentary on the life of Christ included the excess of the Crusades or the priest scandals?" Hence, says Caryle Murphy of the Washington Post, "It is a timely documentary, coming as Islam is under attack from within, by fanatics who distort its teachings, and from without, by those seeking a scapegoat for violent hot spots around the world." And the Christian Science Monitor's Alexander Kronemer: "It should be remembered that no religion is inherently violent, or for that matter, inherently peaceful. Not Islam, not even Christianity."

The Quran mentions the disbelief of the Meccans about the Prophet's journey in a single night from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. The PBS special mentioned another great miracle, the Prophet's night ascension to the seven heavens. South Floridian "religion editor" Davis and Daniel Pipes criticize PBS for mentioning such "legendary" miracles as facts. Davis also whispers conspiracy: "When has television taken such an admiring look at the Bible?" Most of the time. Stasi has it right: "What about the bazillion documentaries about Judaism and Christianity? Can you imagine if the parting of the Red Sea or the raising of dead Lazurus [sic], for example, were presented as made-up, folk stories?"

The world also needs for modern people of conscience to speak out in defence of truth and condemn mass aggression against civilians such as Palestinians, Bosnians, Albanians, Chechnians, Kashmiris, as well as non-Muslims. An Israeli, Russian, Indian, US-funded and US-supported world bloodlust is running amok of which the Muslims are primarily the victims. Because some of them turn to unethical methods of warfare (innovated by the American bombings of cities in WWII) instead of turning the other cheek, the whole religion comes under suspicion. There is a Muslim genocide going on in the world and Muslims are losing the media war as well, with or without reverent band-aids like the PBS special. This is not to say that this first ever biography of the Prophet Muhammad on American television does not deserve support and commendations. As for the Daniel Pipes hate piece in the Jerusalem post, it is just more of the same Elmer Fudd shotgun-toting bigotry we have seen from that man. He apparently has no idea that polygamy is a standard fact of life in MidEastern antiquity. More than a stumbling-block of the historically illiterate, polygamy is a familiar strawman of disinformants on Islam.

Another example of Pipes' ignorance-bombs: "No commentator is so impolite as to note that however admirable this [emancipation of women] was in the seventh century, Muslim women today suffer widely from genital mutilation, forced marriages, purdah, illiteracy, sexual apartheid, polygamy and honor killings." Mr. Pipes, no commentator is so deceitful as to ignore time after time that genital mutilation is an African aberration that victimizes poor rural women regardless of religion; that forced marriage and honor killings happen in Orthodox Greece and Catholic South America also; and that there are probably far less illiterates among the poor Muslim women of the world than among their non-Muslim counterparts. Najah Bazzy, a critical-care nurse in Dearborn states in the film: "How I walk, and how I speak, and how I carry myself, and how I treat my husband, and how I treat my mother and father, and how I behave as a sister and a daughter and a nurse and a friend and a neighbor, that's all prophet Muhammad in action." Does this sound like a woman victimized or marginalized by her religion? Pipes is upset that the Philadelphia Inquirer calls the film a "blessed opportunity for rest and reflection." Rest and reflection for some, Mr. Pipes! For others, anguish and gnashing of teeth. Pipes also advertizes the revisionist school on Muhammad and Jesus, with its unhealthy focus on trying to turn everything historical into fiction, a pseudo-scholarly pretext for conspirational theories about the world religions being unreal and centuries of recording (scrupulously self-critical in the case of Islam) a perfect, highly synchronized organized lie! Think again.

Then the Pipes finale: "On behalf of taxpayers, a public-interest law firm should bring suit against the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, both to address this week's travesty and to win an injunction against any possible repetitions." Poor Mr. Pipes! Islam is winning the hearts of his white Judeo-Christian countrymen, their sons and daughters, and there is nothing he can do about it. The future belongs to God despite the war-mongers, hate preachers, and other professionals of the clash of civilizations.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad
2002-12-22




 

 

 

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