Accuracy in Media

In a report noting that Al-Jazeera television personality and Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has supported violence against Israelis and Americans, The New York Times quoted Professor Emad Shahin of the University of Notre Dame as saying, “You call it violence; I call it resistance.”

But the professor is now disputing the quote. “The placement of my quote in David Kirkpatrick’s report on Sheik Yusef al-Qaradawi is deeply disturbing, as it suggests that I condone violence of any kind,” he said in a statement. “As a scholar of Islamic law and political movements, I have studied the thinking of many clerics and political leaders in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Kirkpatrick correctly states that Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy, but that he makes exceptions for violence against Israel or the American forces in Iraq. The subsequent quote from me, ‘You call it violence, I call it resistance,’ was one part of a longer interview in which I was explaining what Qaradawi thinks—not what I think. My own position is that violence is not only morally wrong but ultimately ineffective, and that peaceful resistance (as we just saw in Tunisia and Egypt) is far more powerful than violence ever will be.”

Shahin is the Luce Associate Professor of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The institute is named for Joan Kroc, the third wife of McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc.

The professor’s webpage lists a number of media appearances, including CNN, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Voice of America, and Al-Jazeera Arabic and English.

Reporting from Cairo, David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times had noted that al-Qaradawi was banned from the United States and Britain for “supporting violence against Israel and American forces in Iraq” but delivered his first public sermon in Egypt in 50 years last Friday, “emerging as a powerful voice in the struggle to shape what kind of Egyptian state emerges from the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.”

Kirkpatrick called him the “popular television cleric whose program reaches an audience of tens of millions worldwide,” failing to note that the television channel that features al-Qarawadi is none other than Al-Jazeera, now demanding more access to U.S. media markets. This is the same network praised by such figures as Sam Donaldson of ABC news and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC for covering demonstrations in the Middle East.

Florida broadcaster Jerry Kenney, who has been drawing attention to public TV stations in the U.S. airing the Al-Jazeera channel, counters: “I remember years ago when a man in California was praised for reporting fires. Then they found out he was lighting them. Likewise, it is little wonder that Al-Jazeera, with its very close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, has managed to be first with news in the war on terror and the uprisings in the Middle East.”

The Times’ Kirkpatrick called al-Qaradawi an “intellectual inspiration to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood” but claimed that “Scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy.” Notre Dame’s Shahin was supposed to be one of those scholars.

However, Kirkpatrick quickly went on to say that al-Qaradawi “has made exceptions for violence against Israel or the American forces in Iraq” and then attributed the disputed quote to Shahin.

These “exceptions” included suicide bomb attacks. “It’s not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God…” al-Qaradawi has said. “Those killed fighting the American forces [in Iraq] are martyrs given their good intentions since they consider these invading troops an enemy within their territories but without their will,”  he has declared.

While disputing the quote attributed to him by the Times, Shahin contributed a chapter, “Political Islam in Egypt,” to a 2007 book, Political Islam and European foreign Policy, which was underwritten by the Open Society Institute of billionaire George Soros. Shahin argues that the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to sharia, a concept of Islamic law, and democracy but that its power in Egypt has been somewhat eclipsed by a new political movement, the Wasat Party, which “also seeks to implement the principles of sharia through democratic means”

The chapter also appears on the website of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mainly consisting of a breakaway faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wasat Party has just been given an official license to operate in Egypt.

The media are describing it as a “moderate Islamist party” which preaches “a more tolerant form of Islam.” That seems to be Shahin’s opinion as well.

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