Let us begin by posing a question.
If a poll of fundamentalist Christians indicated that some 21 percent thought that bombing abortion clinics and killing abortionists was justified, do you think the media would focus attention on the 79 percent who thought otherwise?
Probably not. And rightly so. Double-digit support for murder and mayhem among a group numbered in the millions would be worrisome.
So it is perhaps understandable that in Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, author Bruce Bawer should draw attention to the manner in which a May 2007 survey of U.S. Muslims by the Pew Foundation was treated in the media:
"Muslims Assimilated, Opposed to Extremism," the Washington Post rejoiced. The headline in USA Today read, "American Muslims Reject Extremes." And the Christian Science Monitor trumpeted: "In Many Ways, US Muslims Are in Mainstream America."
Problem was, as Bawer notes, the survey itself provided little evidence for such optimism:
"Among the most widely celebrated findings was that 80 percent of young American Muslims said they opposed suicide bombing - even though the flip side, and the real story, was that a double-digit percentage supported it."
Bawer raises some pointed questions about Islam in his book. He objects to things like stoning adulteresses, hanging homosexuals, and the Quran's division of the world into Dar al-Islam (House of Submission - the part governed by sharia) and Dar al-Harb (House of War - which is all the rest of the world).
In this respect, however, Surrender is simply a counterpart to Bawer's earlier book Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity. What sets the new book off is its focus on the outlook the media - with support from the academy and government - have adopted toward Islam, as exemplified in the way the Pew Foundation survey was reported. It is an outlook shaped, Bawer says, by "multiculturalism," which he describes as "a peculiarly Western set of attitudes about the non-Western world." One such attitude is that "while freedom may be fine for us, because we're Westerners, a lack of freedom is just as good, if not better, for them, because, well, that's their culture and who are we to criticize it?"
Another good example of how this outlook manifests itself in media coverage of Islam is provided by the controversy - and violence - that erupted when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005. Protests were mounted, death threats issued, and the cartoonists went into hiding. Later on, Danish embassies were vandalized, Danish businesses boycotted, Danish Web sites hacked, and, worst of all, about 200 people lost their lives.
The Danish prime minister stood his ground and refused to comply with a demand for a meeting from a group of 10 ambassadors from Muslim countries. "It is so self-evidently clear what principles Danish society is based upon," Fogh Rasmussen said, "that there is nothing to have a meeting about." Jyllands-Posten also remained unapologetic: "Our right to say, write, photograph and draw what we want to within the framework of the law exists and must endure - unconditionally."
The cartoons were reprinted widely in Germany, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. But no British newspaper published any of them, and only one daily paper in the United States did - the one you happen to be reading. None of the broadcast networks showed them, nor any of the cable news channels.
The New York Times justified the media's restraint as "a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols." But Gerard Baker, columnist for the London Times, called this "a characteristically pompous and ponderous piece of chin-stroking sanctimony," noting that such sensitivity had not prevented the Times in the past from running pictures of "a crucifix in a vat of urine or an icon of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung."
The case of the Danish cartoons is pertinent because they are back in the news. This month, Yale University Press announced that The Cartoons That Shook the World, a book about the controversy by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen scheduled for publication later this month, would not contain any reproductions of the cartoons that are the subject of the book. A group of experts Yale consulted advised against it on grounds it might spark violence.
John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, last month quoted one of those experts, Ibrahim Gambari, a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as saying: "You can count on violence if any illustration of the prophet is published. It will cause riots, I predict, from Indonesia to Nigeria." Donatich was quoted in the New York Times as saying that "when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question."
At least he's honest. He doesn't want to print the cartoons because he is afraid to. Still, he might want to ponder the words with which Bawer concludes his book:
". . . there's no guarantee that Western Muslims, in meaningful numbers, will ever openly and actively champion freedom and defy jihad; to do so, after all, is alien to every value with which many of them were raised. But we certainly can't expect them to take a stand for liberty if the rest of us don't stand up for it ourselves."