For the past year, there’s
been a concerted push within the U.S. government to ban frank talk about
the nature of the Islamist enemy. It began with the Department of Homeland Security, then moved to the National Counter
Terrorism Center and the departments of State and Defense. Already in
May 2008, I heard an excellent analysis of the enemy by Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense Thomas Mahnken in which he bizarrely never once
mentioned Islam or jihad.
been wondering how this change in vocabulary actually occurs: is it
a spontaneous mood shift, a group decision, or a directive from on high?
answer just arrived, in the shape of a leaked memo dated March 2 from Jennifer Janin, head of the Urdu service at the Voice of America.
The directive can be found in its entirety at “Urdu Language Style &
Guidelines #3.” Addressed
to the Urdu radio, television, and web teams, as well as to the director
and program manager of VOA’s South Asia Division, her diktat insists
on no connection being drawn from Islam to politics. In gist:
terrorists: DO NOT USE. Instead use simply: terrorist.
Fundamentalism/Muslim Fundamentalists: AVOID.
Extremists: NOT NECESSARY. Extremist serves well.
is a dialect of Hindustani written in Arabic script found mainly in
Pakistan and India and spoken almost exclusively by Muslims; it is mother
tongue to about 70 million people. One can understand why euphemisms
appeal in so far as VOA competes for market share with other news outlets
and wishes not to insult or alienate Muslims. But VOA is not a commercial
station with a bottom line and shareholders.
in 1942 as part of the Office of War Information, it is funded by the
American taxpayer and speaks on behalf of the U.S. government. It must
not pander to increase its ratings at the expense of its integrity.
Urdu-speakers need to know the real American discourse on Islam, not
Janin’s bowdlerized version.
her defense, Janin might argue that she is merely picking up on Barack
Obama’s emphasis on “respect”
for Muslims, but there is
no public indication that “respect” means pretending that Islam
is not a central public issue facing Americans. Indeed, on occasion,
Obama has been very clear that it is. A pungent example came one year
ago in Philadelphia, on March 18, 2008 when, in the course of a major
speech, Obama repudiated as “profoundly distorted” the “view that
sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions
of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse
and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
and hateful ideologies of radical Islam”? It does not get much stronger
than that. One wonders how might Janin’s new regimen translate this
– probably as the “perverse and hateful ideologies of radical extremism,”
which is both inaccurate and unworthy of a credible news service.
1. Janin, sadly, is hardly alone at VOA in coddling radical Islam. For
another case, look no further than Spozhmai
Maiwandi, copied by name
on Janin’s memo. Nicknamed “Kandahar
Rose,” Maiwandi is the
director of VOA’s South Asia Division and acquired some notoriety
for filing pro-Taliban reports and conducting an interview sympathetic
Omar, the Taliban chief,
ten days after 9/11.
2. This latest directive from VOA fits a pattern of U.S. government-funded
programming to the Middle East posing problems. Two earlier cases that
come to mind: a 1991 scandal concerning the pro-Saddam tilt of VOA’s reports from Baghdad and the 2007 resignation of Larry Register from Al-Hurra television for promoting anti-American
and anti-Israeli views. Could someone instruct the Voice of America
staff, once and for all, that its mission is not to flatter its audience
nor to pursue ratings for their own sake but honestly to convey American
mainstream views to the outside world?
3. And while we’re at it, could someone remind VOA employees that there’s
a lively debate in the United States about radical Islam; for a change,
how about VOA covering this rather than smothering it under the Islamist
line? In 2006, Meredith Buel of VOA robotically took a Council on American-Islamic
Relations press release and rewrote it as a VOA news item; for the gory
details, see my weblog entry, “Voice
of America – CAIR’s Shill.”
And the DHS document that started the whole euphemizing campaign, “Terminology to Define the
Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims,” relied on an unidentified “broad range
of Muslim American community leaders and scholars” that has the hallmarks
of CAIR & Co. Hey, VOA, repeat after me: “We work for the American
people, we are not a subsidiary of CAIR.”