Time Magazine and My Psychosis
Sun 4th Nov 2012
Over the 2011 summer holidays, I bought a copy of Time Magazine's Summer Supplement on Ibn Batuta's travels around the world (Time Magazine, 1-8 August 2011). It was a most enjoyable read.
I had not subscribed to Time Magazine for a long time, having previously been a regular subscriber for many years.
Time and I parted company when we had a major disagreement which started in 2002. I have written about this elsewhere.
In summary, the case was as follows: A Time Magazine article had said that the Israeli Kahan Commission had found Ariel Sharon, the then Minister of Defense, "indirectly responsible" for the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. I wrote to Time pointing out that the Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon "personally responsible" for the massacre of the Palestinians.
Ms. Gloria Hammond, the Time Letters Editor, wrote to me enclosing numerous extracts from the Kahan Commission Report to support Time's erroneous reporting. I wrote back to her quoting the exact section finding Sharon to have been directly responsible for the massacre of thousands of Palestinians. ("We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense bears personal responsibility.") The Kahan Report recommended that Sharon be fired under "Section 21-A (a) of the basic law of Government."
I suggested that, in the interest of journalistic integrity, Time should print a correction.
I was ignored. Over the next few years all my reminders were ignored. So, I gave up. I assumed that America's unconditional support for Israel was such that it was willing to rewrite history in order to exonerate its ally from any charge of unacceptable behaviour. I ended my article on this episode by saying the following: "This is an infinitesimal but significant part of the terrifying standards permeating current Western political thought. Since we have allegedly gone to war to safeguard freedom and democracy in Iraq, I find this somewhat frightening. For if we are happy to give half truths for the benefit of an ally (Israel) what half lies are we willing to perpetrate for the detriment of our enemy (Iraq)?"
After that, I discontinued my subscription to Time Magazine. For the next few years, every time I saw Time on stationers' shelves I experienced a shudder of disgust and walked away.
Till the Ibn Batuta Supplement eight years later in the first week of August 2011. I was seduced and thought that time should have healed old wounds and took a copy to the checkout and bought it. I was glad that I did. It was a most enjoyable read.
And fair is fair. I wrote to Time Magazine congratulating them on their "waft of fresh air" in these Islamophobic days. I wished the then editor, Michael Elliott, the very best in his new job for the charity ONE, dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty.
I added a criticism that Time had succumbed to the Western habit of presenting Arabs as two dimensional stereotypes. I suggested that this was a superficial way of dealing with a complex and culturally, ethnically and nationally diverse people with all the attributes of multi dimensional characteristics.
Here is the letter in its original form.
"Thank you for Time's Summer Journey Issue "Travels through Islam" (Time, August 1-8, 2011). It was a welcome waft of fresh air to help clear the awful Islamophobia of recent years. It was also a fitting farewell to Editor Michael Elliott on his departure. I wish him the very best in his new post as the CEO of ONE and I look forward to reading good news reports of his success in helping eradicate extreme poverty.
Reza Aslan's analysis of Ibn Batuta's travels and writings is one of the most astute I have read. His focus on Islam as a globalising agent is both powerful and apt since, even in today's world, Islam is the glue that holds our ethnically and racially diverse Nation together (The "Umma" of "Dar al Islam") through what Ibn Batuta calls "the [Islamic] universalist spiritual, moral and social values". Sadly, Reza is, of course, right in saying that the halcyon days of great Islamic contribution to science, trade, mathematics and architecture have been sadly eroded by colonialism, imperialism, corruption and civil strife. One could also add "dictatorships" as the cause for the current stagnation and as a major contributory factor to the fragmentation of the Muslim "Umma". Young Arabs are currently rising against their oppressors and demanding the right to live in a free society, to work diligently and to receive an apt education in a world without fear. I wish them the very best in their endeavour to create a new world for themselves.
I do, however, have one criticism of your coverage. You have succumbed to the Western tendency to see Muslims in general, and Arabs in particular, as the "other" - those funny little people who have a passing resemblance to us Westerners whilst being not quite like us! For example, your piece on Saudi Arabia focuses entirely on young Saudi men looking for sex as if that is all that Arabs do. We Arabs are like any other nation: We laugh, cry, aspire, fall in love, fall out of love, work hard, try to get away with what we can get away with ... etc ... just like any other human being. Furthermore, if Saudi men incessantly search for sex, they are no different to any other man on this planet. Quoting Lewis on sexual frustration being the source of extremism and the font of violence is the very Islamophobia I refer to above. Your piece on Egypt is entirely on Muslims trying to take power as if doing so were an aberration. Your piece on Turkey is about people making money as if that is all that they do. No nation, Islamic or otherwise, is made up of one dimensional cardboard cutouts. We are all complex three dimensional human beings and should be presented as such."
Time published my congratulatory comments. However, it saw fit to remove my expressions of best wishes to their departing Editor as well as my criticism of the two dimensional presentation. I could charitably put the first down to modesty and humility. The second, I fear, is less easily dismissed as it smacks of censorship.
This the edited piece as published by Time Magazine (29 August 2011):
"Islam's Global Identity
Your special issue offered a welcome breath of fresh air to help clear the awful Islamophobia of recent years. Reza Aslan's analysis of Ibn Battuta's travels and writings is one of the most astute I have read [World Wanderer, Aug. 1-8]. His focus on Islam as a globalizing agent is both powerful and apt since, even in today's world, Islam is the glue that holds our ethnically and racially diverse ummah together. Sadly, Aslan is also right in saying that the halcyon days of great Islamic contributions to science, trade, mathematics and architecture have been eroded by colonialism, imperialism, corruption and civil strife. One could also add dictatorships as the cause for the current stagnation and as a major contributory factor to the fragmentation of the Muslim world. Young Arabs are currently rising against their oppressors, and I wish them the very best in their endeavor to create a new world for themselves."
So, criticism of Israel was out even when it was supported by clear historical and documentary evidence.
And now, criticism of Time Magazine is also out.
And criticism of Arabs and Muslims is well worth quoting and publicising without a pretence of even handedness.
I am afraid that I now have a recurrence of my psychosis which causes me to shudder every time I see a copy of Time Magazine on the shelf.
Maybe I will write to them again in ten years. When we've both grown up. And I am back home in Palestine.