Ask The Wall Street Journal: When Are Islamists 'Moderate'?

February 24th, 2015 3:47 PM

Even the Wall Street Journal news pages can get caught in the politically correct labeling games that mar so much of today's reporting -- especially when it comes to Islam. Case in point: Friday's story about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, complete with big headline and large photo, occupying the whole top third of the back page of the front section. The article explored Western governments’ reluctance to fully back Al Sisi's call for military action against Islamic State's terrorists in Libya. According to the article, Western diplomats object to Al Sisi's "crackdown at home on moderate Islamists."

Come again?

Note that this was an allegedly "straight news" story. Yet on six different occasions the reporters Tamer el-Ghobashy and Benoit Faucon referred to "moderate" Islamists, without any qualifier such as "purportedly moderate," to describe Al Sisi's opponents. Twice it specifically referred to the Muslim Brotherhood as a "moderate Islamist group." Yes, that Muslim Brotherhood – the one that, as demonstrated by former anti-terrorism prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, is a "global threat" which still proclaims, as its official motto, the following: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu Akbar!"

Al Sisi’s contention, buried in one quick sentence in the eighth paragraph and another in the fifteenth, is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not moderate at all, but instead is “linked to militant extremists such as Islamic State.” It is at the very least a reasonable contention. Yet the Journal reporters took sides by repeatedly proclaiming the Brotherhood to be “moderate,” as if that is an accepted fact. And Al Sisi’s efforts to control the Brotherhood were described, several times, as “crackdowns,” with no mention at all of the Brotherhood’s own atrocities when it was briefly in power in Egypt.

Even apart from the Muslim Brotherhood, it is borderline tendentious to describe any Islamist as “moderate.” The very definition of Islamist (Google any online dictionary) is “advocating Islamic fundamentalism.” Noted Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, a longtime professor at Harvard, distinguishes clearly between mere “Islam” and “Islamist.” The former, he has written, is a religion that need not be in hostile relations with Western Civilization. But he says that, by definition, Islamists are necessarily “incompatible with Western Civilization.”

Yet the WSJ news story was crafted in such a way that all of the assumptions or assertions against Al Sisi are treated as the norm, as accepted fact, while the Egyptian president’s own contentions against the Brotherhood and other Islamists were described twice as mere “claims” or as a “link” Al Sisi “sought to draw.” Each time, the report immediately provided several paragraphs citing unnamed diplomats and unnamed “human-rights groups” refuting those “claims.”

This is not to say that a good news story should do the opposite, by taking Al Sisi’s side. But this story is so clearly, overwhelmingly slanted against him – against the first Egyptian leader ever to bravely call for a full-scale “religious revolution” against extremist, jihadist Islam – that it almost might as well be an opinion piece by members of the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Alas, its writers, and its editors, did not have the guts to label the opinion for what it was, instead hiding behind the cloak of (false) objectivity to denigrate a would-be ally in the fight against Islamic State.