Will Media Remember Praising Al Awlaki the ‘Moderate?’

With the news that an American air strike has killed the U.S.-born head of Al Quaeda in Yemen, Anwar Al Awlaki, the media will explain his significance in the terrorist organization, and his role in inspiring the Ft. Hood shooter and the “underwear bomber.” What they probably won’t tell you is that they once celebrated Al Awlaki as a “moderate” and a bridge-builder “between Islam and the West.”

Awlaki once served as imam of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia, the very same place that attracted many of the 9/11 hijackers and, later, Major Nadal Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter.

Yet before and, remarkably, after 9/11, the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Baltimore Sun, along with NPR, fawned over Al Awlaki as one of a “new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West,” in the Times’ words. In Nov. 2001, just two months after the 9/11 attacks, the Post did a video profile of Al Awlaki and hosted him in an on-line Q & A session with readers. "[T]he greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul,” the bridge-builder told questioners.

Just a few years later, Al Awlaki was praising Nadal Hasan as “heroic,” saying “may God richly reward him.”

Al Awlaki turned out to be an exact opposite of the moderate he professed to be, and clearly burned the credulous media. That’s understandable. What’s not is that the media learned nothing from the experience.

Another name often mentioned in those old puff stories about so-called moderate imams was Feisal Abdul Rauf – the Muslim cleric who caused a storm of controversy in 2010 with his plan to build a mosque within two blocks of Ground Zero in Manhattan.

When the story exploded, the media rushed to Rauf’s defense, burnishing his “moderate” credentials. For the Post, Rauf seems to have taken over Al Awlaki’s old post as in-house Muslim public relations director. Since 2008, Rauf has penned at least 20 “On Faith” columns for the Post’s website. Rauf may or may not be as radical as Al Awlaki, but it’s hard to trust the conclusions of the “see-no-evil” media.

Al Awlaki’s death should serve as a reminder to the media of its embarrassment at his hands. And maybe it does, but don’t hold your breath waiting for an acknowledgement.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture