Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There's a New Sheriff in Town

Meet the New York Times new ombudsman, Ali bin-Zabar.

Recently, The Times— along with virtually every other American news organization—decided to show “sensitivity to Islam” by declining to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. At the time, some of you wondered: “What kind of slippery slope are we on here?”

With this column, I am prepared to provide the answer.

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Ali bin-Zabar, the new public editor of The New York Times.

Reporting to no one but the Prophet himself, my goal here is not to defend “All the News That Fits,” but to make sure The Times publishes only “All the News That’s Halal.”

In short, there’s a new imam in town. And with no further ado, let us proceed down the path to righteousness.

Dear Ali bin-Zabar:

All praise to Allah. Peace be upon him. My question is threefold: 1) Wasn’t it just a little hypocritical of The Times to illustrate the story of the Danish cartoons by using a portrait of the Madonna painted with elephant dung? 2) What happened to their so-called “journalistic integrity”—their vaunted “freedom of speech” and cherished “First Amendment rights”? 3) Would you agree they capitulated and (pardon the pun) “caved” into political correctness here? Akbar Z, Brooklyn

Dear Brother Akbar:

Indeed, you raise interesting issues. So allow me to preface my answer by quoting from The San Francisco Chronicle, whose editors declared “Islam is not a violent religion.”

On the one hand, you’re right: If The Times were really interested in not wanting to incite violence, they probably wouldn’t have published the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib prison. (Fortunately for us, they ran them.) Likewise the tank photographs from Tiananmen Square. (Fortunately for them, this kind of censorship is now being outsourced to Google. It’s the American way.)

From a theological standpoint, however, I would remind you: There are no “puns” in the Koran. There are no “Amendments,” first or otherwise. And to those who would disagree, I reply: Death to the infidels. A fatwa upon your house. May your embassies go up in flames, your flags burn in hell, and may your S.U.V.’s meet their fate at the hands of an I.E.D. on the Grand Central Parkway.

P.S.: Starting next week, the Escapes section will be renamed Hostages.

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