Sunday, June 20, 2004

Problem With Our Public Performance

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi •

When asked on the BBC’s “Hard Talk” last week about teaching hate in schools, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Matroudi, deputy minister for Islamic affairs, explained that the concept of fighting Jews during Armageddon is a religious concept believed and taught by other religions including Judaism. The issue here, he explained, is whether it is prudent to teach such concept to 9th graders. This reminds me of a point usually forgotten in our response to similar questions — our fanatics are no worse than theirs.
In an article published in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, Nicholas D. Kristof writes about a call by some leading evangelicals at a Washington conference for their fire-breathing brethren to tone down their badmouthing of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Giving examples of outrageous statements by Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Vines, he reports a new rationale not to provoke Muslims. Kristof explains, however, that the change of tone doesn’t reflect a change in conviction — it is more a PR move that also tries to protect traveling evangelicals.
These fanatics are part of an empire that receives billions of dollars annually, with huge support from governments, political parties, religious and public organizations. What they get in a year is more than all Muslim organizations put together have received in their entire history. Besides hundreds of TV channels and radio stations, superpowers, led by the US, put their huge political, economic and even military resources at the service of such organization.
The NYT report mentioned one George W. Bush as the world’s No.1 evangelical. The support received by the Christian militant movements in Sudan and Indonesia are examples of such support. On the other hand, Muslim charities are harassed, banned and pressured. Their employees are sometimes taken prisoners of war for being in the wrong place at the wrong time — even though this is exactly the kind of environment that requires charity presence.
Going back to Dr. Matroudi’s interview, one couldn’t help noticing his unconvincing performance. I don’t blame him. To appear on such a challenging program, you need more than English — and he wasn’t great at that, either. More important is to know what you are talking about, to have up-to-date and comprehensive information as well as some freedom to speak your mind, let alone the truth.
Avoiding the questions and speaking in vague and outdated terms does not work. It doesn’t help your credibility either to assume that your host doesn’t know enough so you can cover up and embellish embarrassing facts. Journalists do a lot of research these days, and they do know what they are talking about.
I would recommend we appoint capable spokespeople representing each department, give them proper training and information and enough space to be more transparent and straightforward. Otherwise, it is better for us to opt for “no comment!”

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