The Economist’s Epic Fail: Libels Moderate Muslim Leader, Then Offers Half-Baked Apology

The Economist recently published an article entitled Now is the time on the subject of Tunisia.  In that article, they mentioned Rashid Al-Ghannushi, the leader of Ḥizb al‐Nahḍah, the Tunisian Renaissance Party.  Al-Ghannushi is a well-known Islamic intellectual, so it was somewhat surprising to see The Economist portray him as a fundamentalist; but more outrageously, the article claimed (incorrectly) that Al-Ghannushi threatened to hang a prominent Tunisian feminist!

When they were notified of this horrendous error, the editors of The Economist had the decency to issue a public apology, saying:

An apology to Rachid Ghannouchi

IN OUR briefing last week on women and the Arab awakening (“Now is the time”), we said that Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Nahda party, opposes the country’s liberal code of individual rights, the Code of Personal Status, and its prohibition of polygamy. We also said that he has threatened to hang a prominent Tunisian feminist, Raja bin Salama, in Basij Square in Tunis, because she has called for the country’s new laws to be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We accept that neither of these statements is true: Mr Ghannouchi has expressly said that he accepts the Code of Personal Status; and he never threatened to hang Ms bin Salama. We apologise to him unreservedly.

Did I say you’re a convicted sex offender and that you like to rape little kids?  My bad.  Sorry about that.

Yes, it’s true that everyone makes mistakes, but don’t you think you should be careful before you accuse someone of wanting to hang a woman?  It also indicates that the writer did not know much about Tunisian politics and religious discourse, which begs the question: why does Anglo-American media use “Middle East experts” who don’t know even the basics about the topic?  It’s just a case of the blind leading the blind.  No wonder I actually took it seriously when I first read the headline Journalist Mistakenly Interviews Bollywood Actor Imran Khan Instead of Pakistani Cricket Legend. (It’s an Indian “Onion” site.)

I mean, dammit, can’t the writers and editors of The Economist even bother to use the resources that a high school student would use to do a social studies report, like Google or Wikipedia?  Here’s what Wikipedia says of Rashid Al-Ghannushi:

Al-Ghannushi claims to represent a progressive strain in Islamic reformism, and continuously stresses the need for innovation against social injustice. He underscores the importance of local culture, and an Islamist movement based in the needs of Tunisians and not in “the obscure theories of Sayyid Qutb“. He has sided with worker’s rightsunionism, and women’s education and rights, though those rights are based in Islam and not Western liberal feminism.[2]

He maintains that women, being one half of the Islamic community, should have full access to education[5] He cites oppressive cultural codes in Islamic cultures as the major force behind women’s choices to turn to Western culture, and believes that Islamic reform, as part of a larger reformist movement, is needed to address women’s education, participation, and respect…[6]

In discussions of plurality within Islamic societies, Rashid Al-Ghannushi believes that non-Muslim citizens should not be barred from positions in government, setting himself against more conservative viewpoints.[7]

On 22 January 2011, in an interview with Al Jazeera TV, Rashid Al-Ghannushi confirmed that he is against an Islamic Caliphate, and supports democracy instead, unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir. In the interview, Al-Ghannushi accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of exporting a distorted understanding of Islam.[8] For expressing moderate views, Rachid Ghanouchi is banned from entering Iran and Saudi Arabia.[9]

Please email the editors of The Economist and tell them of this new thing called Wikipedia.  In the words of Michael Scott: “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”  Even Michael Scott could have done a better job of this.

Anyways, the reason I call The Economist’s apology “half-baked” (I wanted to use another word) is that they didn’t even bother to at least list off Rashid Al-Ghannushi’s religious and political views, especially when it comes to human, civil, and womens’ rights.  Once you’ve defamed his reputation so much, shouldn’t you at least clarify what his real views are on women?  After reading the apology, an average Joe would think “fine, maybe he didn’t say that, but he must still be pretty extreme…”  That is why the apology is wholly insufficient.

Note: This article should not at all be seen as an endorsement of Rashid Al-Ghannushi.  Although I am aware of Rashid Al-Ghannushi and some basics about him, I do not profess to have read his work in detail.  (To be perfectly clear, I am a proponent of secular, liberal democracy.  But alas, that is a discussion for another time…)

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