Posted on May 26, 2005
Quran story fits template too neatly
A Los Angeles woman has recently complained that she'd received a desecrated Quran from a book wholesaler outside of Pittsburgh, through Amazon.com. The way the Associated Press reported this is that 30 year-old Azza Basarudin ordered the used book "only to find profanity and religious slurs written on its cover page," for which she "wants an apology and a full investigation by the online retailer."
A May 20th Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story agreed that, "When she opened the package ... she found profanities scrawled inside the front cover in black marker, followed by 'Death to all Muslims'."
Maybe that's really the way it happened, but how can these reporters possibly know? What's been established is that Ms. Basarudin purchased a used Quran from Amazon, and that her Quran has offensive messages written in it. That may sound straightforward enough, but remember that it was also known recently that Anna Ayala of Las Vegas had ordered a bowl of chili at Wendy's, and that a human fingertip was in the bowl. The implicit assumption -- that she'd "found" the fingertip in the chili -- turned out to be false. To accept that assumption would have been bad journalism, and the same is true of reporters' acceptance that Basarudin's book was defaced before it was mailed to her.
There's certainly room for skepticism. In the wake of Newsweek's retraction of its unsubstantiated story about Quran desecration at Guatanamo Bay, the news media have desperately tried to churn up similar rumors in order to reinforce their own anti-American presumptions. Even as I write this, the networks and major newspapers continue to recycle the three year-old accusation --which was apparently the source of the Newsweek story -- that American prison guards flushed a prisoner's Quran down a toilet.
It's difficult to come up with a less plausible claim than this one. A toilet could easily be stuffed up by a single page, yet news producers and editors seem to have no trouble believing that one was capable of transporting an entire book out of a prison cell. Was this the toilet from the Starship Enterprise? It doesn't matter. The important thing is that the accusation came from one of our enemies, and therefore was given instant credibility by the press. That someone might take advantage of this obvious and overwhelming bias by concocting another such story, either for attention or out of sympathy for America's enemies, is a possibility that shouldn't be ignored.
In addition, news reports note that Basarudin is a graduate student in women's studies at UCLA. Anybody who would strive for an advanced degree in the academically useless field of women's studies has got to harbor ambitions of being a victim of society. Furthermore, victimization frauds have become such a routine part of college life that it would come as no surprise if they were eventually worked into the curricula. Is this the latest in a long line of "hate crime" hoaxes? One should not assume so, but neither should one so eagerly accept Basarudin's story at face value.
Yet Post-Gazette reporter Gabrielle Banks has bought into it so completely that she even writes, "When [Basarudin's] mother and sister came to visit her in Los Angeles wearing the hijab (head and body covering), people on the street made derogatory comments." Is it possible that her family was insulted this way? Of course. The problem is that Banks reports it as fact. How in the name of Jayson Blair does a reporter in Pittsburgh know what passers-by say to each other on the streets of Los Angeles? And how in the name of Howell Raines could the editor not ask himself that very question? That's the sort of blind credulity that the unnamed source of the Newsweek story was counting on.
Even if Basarudin's story is absolutely true, there's nothing newsworthy about it. So a woman bought a used book, sight unseen, and it turned out to have been defaced. Stop the presses.
If you've ever ordered a used book through Amazon, you might know that part of the price is that you may be exposed to the idiocy of its previous owner. As it happens, just a week before the vandalized Quran story hit the papers, I purchased a collection of essays and speeches called The Gulf War Reader. Evidently, the book was previously owned by a Saddamite, who filled in the margins of President George H.W. Bush's speeches with bitter pro-Saddam ramblings. Although some of them offended me, it never occurred to me to call a press conference and demand an investigation.
At the end of the speech that President Bush gave hours after the start of Operation Desert Storm, he said, "May God bless each and every one of [our soldiers] and the coalition forces by our side in the Gulf, and may He continue to bless our nation, the United States of America." Mr. Saddamite underlined this sentence, and wrote, "You know he is doing it. 'I bless that United States who kills for monarchies and oil'." When Bush announced that Kuwait had been liberated, he finished with the traditional, "Good night and may God bless the United States of America." To this, Mr. S retorted, "GAG ME WITH A BAYONET!" These are just two among dozens of similar remarks.
Now, I didn't fork over 74 cents of my hard-earned money to have the United States insulted and God portrayed as an illiterate. So where do I go to hold my press conference?
Okay, so The Gulf War Reader is not a holy book, but so what if I'd ordered a used copy of the Bible and received it in a similar state of defilement? The only way of getting it any press coverage would be to nail it to a wall and call it an art exhibit.
The desecration of a Quran is handy in that it fits the media's current demand, but any offense against Islam would suffice. After all, Banks bothered to relate to us the unverifiable statements of strangers almost a continent away. Surely, if Basarudin had ordered some other book, in which the words "Allah Akbar" were circled, and "Gag Me" written next to them, that would have been enough to justify the victimized party's outrage, as well as the media's hand-wringing.
Granted, "Death to all Muslims" is a lot more harsh than anything Mr. S had written, but it doesn't matter. Even assuming the vandalism isn't a hoax, it still can't be a threat, because the person who wrote it wouldn't know who was on the receiving end. Nor would that person be transmitting a message to others to kill all Muslims, through a book that would likely fall into the hands of a Muslim. Besides, this is America. We don't do fatwas here. As shocking as it might have been to see those words, they clearly fall into the "sticks and stones" category, and therefore are no more harmful than anything that spilled from the pen of Mr. S. In fact, an AP photo shows Basarudin displaying the vandalized page of her Quran, and the writing, unlike that of Mr. S, doesn't even look like it was done in anger. The letters appear as calmly formed as those on a "wet paint" sign.
If the Quran incident is so trivial, you may be wondering why I'm bothering you with a similarly insignificant story of my own. Well, what could it hurt? I've never once heard of a deadly riot being ignited by someone finding some anti-American blather scribbled in a used book. On the other hand, riots reportedly killed at least 15 people in Afghanistan, in apparent response to a bogus story about a desecrated Quran. How irresponsible is it to now report another single-sourced claim about a vandalized Quran, at the behest of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which staged the press conference?
The only reason Basarudin's story was reported nationally is because it's really not news at all, but merely the latest episode of a serial editorial. If a story transmits an image of Americans as mean and intolerant toward Muslims, then it must be told regardless of any shortcomings it has in the areas of credibility or newsworthiness. That's because, by treating it with undue importance, the media confer upon it a geopolitical significance. When a narrative starring American bullies and Islamic victims is juxtaposed with legitimate news from the War on Terror, it has the effect of developing the story line of the former as a subplot of the latter. It's really just a more subtle version of all those "why do they hate us" editorials that followed the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
To anyone who approaches Azza Basarudin's episode without that bias, it's plain to see that it's a trivial matter. Not only that, but it's already resolved. The wholesaler offered to replace the damaged Quran. When Basarudin declined, it refunded her money. The end.
On the other hand, I'm still out 74 cents, and I'm stuck with a bundle of enemy propaganda to boot. All's not lost, though. I can always forge Michael Moore's signature on it, and then resell it to some banana-brain on eBay.
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