Has Arab Media Shifted Tone on Terror Coverage?

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Journalism professor Ramez Maluf of American University in Lebanon offers his perspective on how the Arab media has covered recent terrorist attacks. Maluf tells Steve Inskeep many reports reflect concern that Islam is increasingly being associated with indefensible actions.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne, with Steve Inskeep.

The recent terrorist bombings in London and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, have again focused the world's attention on violent Islamist extremists. To see how media outlets in the Arab world are covering these attacks, Steve Inskeep called a journalism professor; we check in with him from time to time.


Ramez Maluf has been monitoring the Arab media from his post at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, and he joins us once again to tell us what he's seeing and reading and hearing.

Welcome to the program.

Professor RAMEZ MALUF (American University in Lebanon): Well, my pleasure.

INSKEEP: Of course, there have been quite a few bombings and attempted bombings in recent weeks. Let's talk first about the attacks on London. What has the tone been, generally, of coverage of those bombings?

Prof. MALUF: I believe that there has been a real turning point in the tone. Increasingly there is concern with the image of Islam in the West, much more so than before. There's less attention to trying to defend the bombings as something brought about by the bad policies of the West.

INSKEEP: Is this a normal swing of the pendulum? When there is an attack against the West, people's attitudes change, as you say, and then when that attack becomes more distant and perhaps something like American abuses is more in the headlines, the views shift back again?

Prof. MALUF: Well, I think it's probably more concern with this idea of equating Islam with terrorism. I mean, let me give you an example. Earlier this week, there was a very interesting program on Al-Jazeera. The subject of this talk show was: Is Islam causing these terror attacks or are there political issues that are making Muslims behave in this way? And this question was posed to the public, so people had a chance to vote. And at the end of the program, they gave the result of the polls, and the polls showed that 36 percent of the people that called in to vote said that the reason for the terror attacks was the teachings of Islam. Now I find these figures amazing, that the viewers of this program were willing to say that there was something in the way Islam was being taught, or something as well as these participants in the debate were saying that was intrinsic to Islam itself.

INSKEEP: We should mention, I suppose, these weren't scientific numbers, but nevertheless, you're pointing out some number of viewers of this program were willing to reconsider what's happening inside their own religion.

Prof. MALUF: Right, right. But these are normal viewers of Al-Jazeera, I assume, who normally would be very virulent, you know, anti-Western. And the argument that was being made during this program was that the Islamic terrorists were actually resorting to citing scripture, Islamic scripture, to justify their attacks. So they were equating terror with Islam. It was their doing.

INSKEEP: Do you see other signs of this attitude as you look through Arabic newspapers or flip through Arabic channels?

Prof. MALUF: Well, I have in front of me an article in the Al-Hayat newspaper that deals with this issue in a different way. Al-Hayat newspaper is a pan-Arab paper. It's probably the foremost pan-Arab newspaper. One of the articles--this is very interesting. It's by a Saudi Arabian researcher. He says that what he fears is that the wonderful liberalism that exists in the United Kingdom is now going to be lost, and laws that are closer to the martial laws that are in place in the Arab world are going to be implemented because of terrorists. And I think the fact that he's so worried about that is very contrary. It's very--it's not the kind of article that you would see--you would have seen after September 11, where a lot of people rushed to try to not necessarily justify, but to explain why the Arabs are behaving this way. You will hardly find this kind of argument anymore in the papers.

INSKEEP: How is the coverage affected when, as in Egypt, many of the victims are Muslim?

Prof. MALUF: Well, I'm sure that some people in the West saw the, you know, large demonstrations in Egypt, chanting Islamic slogans against the terrorists; in other words, people on TV standing up to the camera and saying, `How dare you use the name of Islam to do this.' People don't like the fact that the terrorists have hijacked Islam at all, and I think they are very distressed by that.

INSKEEP: Ramez Maluf at Lebanese American University in Beirut, thanks very much.

Prof. MALUF: Yeah. My pleasure.

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