Media | Zooming In

May 25, 2005

Zooming In 5-25

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: international reaction to the Newsweek scandal, a long-nose competition, and a toilet-themed restaurant.

David Goldenberg

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.

Opinion columns from English-language newspapers in the Arab and Muslim world had a lot to say about the aftermath of the Newsweek Qu'ran desecration story.

Ramzy Baroud, an Arab-American journalist whose column about the story appears in several op-ed pages throughout the region (including the Middle East Times in Egypt), writes that the press is making too much of Newsweek's role in the riots that claimed 16 lives, and should instead be examining America's military policies. "Did it dawn on anyone in the mainstream media that the Afghani people might possibly be angry over years of American occupation? Perhaps this failed to cross anyone's mind. Could it possibly be that hundreds of millions of Muslims might have had enough common sense to connect the dots and to establish that the desecration of the Koran is only the latest episode of a consistent US military policy that hasn't only dishonored religious symbols but the sanctity of human life, in fact hundreds of thousands of human lives?"

Fawaz Turki, writing in Saudi Arabia's Arab News, agreed, saying that the administration is causing Americans to look bad. "Those riots in Afghanistan were not then triggered exclusively by a questionable sentence in Newsweek, but dormant resentments harbored against a US that commits human rights abuses while it advances itself as the messenger of human rights to less endowed societies. This administration, made up of neoconservatives and neoimperialists, whose outlandishly hyperbolic moralizing has alienated not just Muslims and Arabs but Europeans as well, has saddled the United States and the American people, essentially decent folk who genuinely believe in social justice and freedom, with an image problem."

In the Iran Daily, Muqtedar Khan writes that Qu'ran desecration is worse than torture. "This is worse than Abu Ghraib; Abu Ghraib represents the physical and psychological torture of a few Muslims, Quran desecration represents a spiritual, emotional and psychological torture of all Muslims. Even if it turns out that the Newsweek report was false, most people will see it as a cover up and another American attempt to eschew accountability."

Hassan Al-Haifi adds that Bush is following in the tradition of "men who use God to serve their own selfish interests" (Yemen Times). "So, Mr. Bush thinks that a fuzzy apology by Newsweek (but not a retraction, mind you) dissolves him from responsibility in all the evil that has come out of the White House, not just against Moslems, but even against his own people (except the rich ones of course). It is certainly enough to listen to the reports of the tens of deaths that are coming out of Iraq to presume that Mr. Bush has no desire to go to paradise or seek the favor of the Lord. But to allow such horrible desecration of the words of the Al-Mighty surely indicates that Mr. Bush has no desire whatsoever to reach the Al-Mighty as long as his friends in the military-industrial complex are happy.

The Balochistan Post in Pakistan gives readers a list of things to do when the Qu'ran is being desecrated, and points out that even though the Newsweek story has been retracted, dozens of other incidents of Qu'ran desecration have been reported elsewhere. "If any Muslim still believes that no the war is not against Islam it is against the terror then he is from those to whom Allah (swt) referred to as 'blind, deaf and dumb' persons and Muslims cannot afford to allow these people to lead them at this critical juncture of the history."

In his New York Times column, Thomas Friedman says that Americans must demand from Muslims that "they answer for their lies, hypocrisy and profane behavior, just as much as we must answer for ours." He quotes from an editorial written (originally in Arabic) by Abderrahman al-Rashed, the editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language paper Asharq Al Awsat in Saudi Arabia, calling him one of a "few courageous Arab intellectuals." "When thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about a report in a magazine that does not reach them, written in a language they do not speak, leading them to protest in a manner unprecedented among other Islamic nations that do speak English, the matter is worth pursuing further: it tells us more about the dangers of propaganda and its exploitation by opposition groups than it does about spontaneous popular sentiments."

Hasan Abu Nimah, writing in the Jordan Times, takes umbrage with Friedman and al-Rashed in a column entitled "The Easy Way of Blaming the Victims":

Worst still is Friedman's reference to a "courageous Arab intellectual" who joins him in ridiculing Muslim reaction, quoted as saying: "When thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about a report in a magazine that does not reach them, written in a language that they do not speak... it tells us more about the dangers of propaganda." Is the message, then, that one has the right to be offended and the right to react only when the offence is made in his own language and when the magazine which carries the offence reaches him physically? And who determines that English and Newsweek are not read in Afghanistan? This logic only adds insult to injury and is bound to aggravate even further a situation which is critically bad.

In India's The Hindu, P. Sainath adds that the small Periscope item behind the scandal is in no way Newsweek's biggest mistake:

What's funny, though, is that Newsweek has carried many false stories on the Iraq war. No retraction was ever sought or given on any of these. That's because the lies those stories spewed favoured the White House in its drive to war against Iraq. Like most other U.S. media outlets, Newsweek played an ignoble role in that build up and drive. As the media monitoring group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) points out, Newsweek's March 17, 2003 issue stoked fears of a "Green Mushroom" threat. "Saddam could decide to take Baghdad with him." Saddam was portrayed as ready to go out with a big bio-chemical bang. "It is up to the U.S. armed forces to stop him before he can achieve notoriety for all time." Newsweek was thus part of the huge U.S. media effort in planting fake WMD stories. All those have proved fraudulent beyond doubt. No retractions required. No apologies either. Though such stories helped set up the slaughter of thousands. A slaughter that continues to this day.

Beyond Newsweek

Asia and Oceana

Japan: Article nine of the Japanese Constitution, enacted in 1947 at the end of WWII, states that Japan will never use or threaten to use military force to settle international disputes. According to Japanese Nobel Prize laureate Kenzaburo Oe, who won the award in 1994 for his thoughtful tales about post-war Japan, that article is now in jeopardy. In a speech in Seoul, covered by the Korea Times, Oe said, "From late last year, Japan's ruling party has been endeavering to revise the article nine of the constitution to increase the nation's armament. It scares me."

Russia: State Duma deputies are considering a bill that would make it illegal to use slang or foreign words in official settings, advertisements and the media (Moscow Times paid subscription necessary). The legislation, sponsored by Communist Deputy Yelena Drapeko, comes as some officials are increasingly worried that foreign-language phrases are becoming too prevalent. "...For each foreign word we have a nice Russian equivalent," said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who heads the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party and has used profanity and slang in official settings in the past, Interfax reported. "Why do we say 'summit' when there is the great Russian term 'vstrecha v verkhakh'?" Zhirinovsky said, using a phrase that can be loosely translated as 'summit conference.' "

Taiwan: Eric Wang just opened his second Marton Theme Restaurant in seven months in Kaohsiung, as diners flock to his eateries for the chance to revel in his toilet-themed decor. (AFP via Taipei Times). Customers sit on toilets and eat food out toilet-shaped bowls. According to the article, "The top orders are curry hot pot, curry chicken rice and chocolate ice cream because, well, 'they look most like the real thing,' Wang says." The AFP later adds, "His idea came from a popular Japanese comic featuring a robot doll fond of eating excrement in ice-cream cones."

Turkey: The Black Sea region of the country is known for its noses. Mehmet Özyürek, the current Guinness record holder for longest nose in the world (almost 3.5 inches), is from nearby Artvin. A local TV station is soon going to hold the 3rd annual national long-nose competition, the first since 2000 (Turkish Daily News), and is, for the first time, adding a women's category.

New Zealand: Eleven Recon Professional Services is a Petone-based security company that seems to have gone a little bit overboard is its most recent assignment. According to the New Zealand Herald, staff of the company, hired by their subject's estranged wife, kept a 24-hour watch on the man using night-vision equipment. They also broke into his house to copy family photos and to record phone conversations from under the floorboards. Detective Paul Fantham, who investigated the operation (which subsequently paid an out-of-court settlement with the man) told the paper that the investigators were working in a "007 fantasy world."


Malawi: A feature article in the Nation describes the tragedy that befell the Masese family of Jota village in Malombe. Abudu Assani, at 18 the oldest son, dug up what he thought to be an edible yam and served it to his hungry siblings. Almost immediately, several of the children became violently ill, and other family members brought three of them to the district hospital in Mangochi, a one and a half hour ride away. The doctors, recognizing the severity of the situation, told the family to quickly bring back the others who had eaten the yam. For some reason, no ambulance was available; by the time the rest of the sick patients arrived, the first three were dead. By the next day, six of those who had eaten the yam, all children, were dead.

Tanzania: Though the island of Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, it has long functioned as a semi-autonomous nation. The Guardian reports that Zanzibar has now instituted a national ID law which makes it mandatory for Zanibari citizens over the age of 18 to possess cards, which will be instituted in time for the island elections on Oct. 30. Violators of the law face fines and up to one year in jail. CUF opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad questioned the necessity for IDs, which will cost the government almost $5 million to produce. "It is untimely and a wastage of funds with a hidden agenda to block opposition supporters from taking part in general elections," he told reporters (


Ukraine: Last week, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych acknowledged that his resume, posted on a government-sponsored website, contains a false degree. "From 1976 until 1978, I studied at the School of International Affairs at the Columbia University and I don't have a master's degree," Zvarych says in an AP article. As one of many new Westernized cabinet members swept into power during the Orange Revolution, Zvarych has now earned the scorn of his supporters. "Flying into a country that is not your own (not really) and using opportunistic methods on your way to achieving high station in it is something like the textbook definition of carpet-bagging," writes Kyiv Post editor-in chief Andrey Slivka. "Just why is this man still in charge of Ukraine's Justice Ministry?" A later editorial from the Post adds:

As we write, young activists—to whom, we repeat, Yushchenko, Zvarcyh and Poroshenko in large measure owe their positions as the internationally lionized "reformist" leaders of a "new" and "democratic" Ukraine—are picketing the Justice Ministry. In a scene right out of the Orange Revolution, they're keeping up a 24-hour vigil outside the office Zvarych deservedly or not occupies, banging on metal drums. Keep up the din, fellows, as loud as you can make it. Don't let this new government play you for fools after you went to the barricades for them. Don't let them get away with the obfuscations and tall-tales they're spinning out to a compliant media. And if they don't play by the democratic, honest rules they promised to play by when they went begging you for your help last fall, then run them out of office in the next election, too.

Sweden: The Serieteket in Stockholm is a library devoted entirely to Nordic comic books. As it enters its 10th year of existence, the Serieteket has amassed over 9,000 volumes, and will soon start making its archives available online at (The Local). From the article, which is part of a series of features on comic books being written by Howard Suhr Perez: "Musing on what makes Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic comics uniquely Nordic, Kolehmainen takes Ulf Lundkvist's Assar, a walking sausage, as an example. 'His storytelling is very Nordic, it's ironic, but at the same time self-deprecating. He's able to work in Swedish political events in his work, yet Assar remains THE dork of dorks... with very low self-esteem. I think that is quite Nordic.' "

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Article by David Goldenberg

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