Happy Holidays, New York Times!

Reflections on Jesus, Muhammed, and the Gray Lady.

Well, Advent is upon us, and so the New York Times is full of the usual articles about the season. Sorry, my mistake: as far as I can see, the Times hasn’t run anything specifically about Advent. For years. Meanwhile, it’s published these articles:                      

  • “The Joys and Sorrows of Ramadan” (August 1, 2011)
  • “Ramadan Poses Challenges for Muslims at the Olympics” (July 31, 2012)
  • “Measuring Ramadan” (July 13, 2014)
  • “Eid Al-Fitr Prayers in a Brooklyn Park” (July 17, 2015)
  • “Ramadan Is Here. What Islam’s Holiest Month Is About” (June 5, 2016)
  • “The Right Way to Observe Ramadan” (June 5, 2016)
  • “Ending the Ramadan Fast with an Indonesian Feast” (June 5, 2016)
  • “Ramadan for Muslim Inmates: Mixing Religious Duty with Prison’s Limits” (July 6, 2016)
  • “A Cinnamon-Scented Soup to Break the Ramadan Fast” (June 29, 2016)
  • “During Ramadan, Home Cooks Shine” (May 26, 2017)
  • “Nabra Hassanen and the Lost Innocence of Ramadan IHOP Nights” (June 24, 2017)
  •  “During Ramadan, Read These 3 Books by Muslim Authors” (May 5, 2018)
  • “Reconciling Faith and Modernity for Ramadan” (May 14, 2018)
  • “This Ramadan, I’ll Try Praying for Enemies, Friends” (May 16, 2018)
  • “Australia’s New Rule for Asylum Seekers Makes Ramadan Even Harder” (May 28, 2018)
  • “To Be Poor and Ignored During Ramadan” (June 13, 2018)
  • “The Personal Wake-Up Call to Prayers, a Ramadan Tradition, Is Endangered” (June 13, 2018)
  • “For Some in Tunisia, Ramadan Is a Test of Personal Freedom” (June 13, 2018)
  • “Everyone Is Beautiful During Eid” (June 20, 2018)

And there’s more where these came from. Plenty more.

Not that the New York Times is ignoring the fact that Christmas is around the corner. No, as the great day approaches, the Times is, as usual, giving a nice fresh holiday spin to its usual stale agitprop. The daily dose of Trump-bashing, for example, has taken on a seasonal flavor, with the White House Christmas decorations, notably Mrs. Trump’s supposedly “blood-red” trees, providing fodder for at least a couple of snarky articles. A November 30 piece by Ginia Bellafante about the annual Christmas spectacular at Radio City Music Hall not only focused on race (“The crowd was overwhelmingly white….the Rockettes…are themselves almost all white”) and sexism (“it is easy to see the Rockettes as a nostalgic expression for a time when women were not to step out of line”), but even managed to work in the obligatory swipe at President Trump: “Two years ago, when the Rockettes were asked to dance at the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, some in the corps protested and voiced their displeasure. But in the Trump worldview, women dancing in bodysuits was surely what had once made American great. The show went on.”

This isn’t an easy time of year at the Times. You see, if you’re the Times and it’s Christmastime, you’ve got to acknowledge the holiday somehow. But you’ve got to do it the right way. The Times way. You’ve got to come up with a snotty angle. If possible, find a way, as Bellafante did, to use Christmas to bang away about victim groups and/or to bash Trump. Most important, you can’t be sappy or sentimental about Christmas. Above all, you’ve got to try to skirt as much as possible the fact that it’s a Christian holy day. Because the Times can’t let itself seem to be doing anything remotely close to promoting Christianity as a faith. Indeed, the Times is so fastidious about this matter that it does its best to avoid covering the ongoing slaughter of Christians in the Muslim world.  

Of course, the Times’s reluctance to give proper coverage to the slaughter of Christians is enhanced by the fact that the perpetrators of this slaughter are Muslims. And if the Times views Christianity, per se, as a ticklish topic, it’s ideologically committed, as all good progressives should be, to the defense, appeasement, whitewashing, promotion, and normalization of Islam. While framing Christmas as a secular holiday, the Times doesn’t miss a chance to foreground – and, for that matter, to lay it on thick about – the purported joys and beauties and glories of Islamic spirituality (which, obviously, is a good way to avoid the aspects of the religion that involve knives, explosives, stoning, gang rape, etc.). When the topic is Islam, the goal at the Times is always and ever celebration – whether it takes the form of grotesquely exaggerating Islam’s contributions to Western civilization, or flatly denying some of its more unpleasant tenets (“Islam Does Not Kill Blasphemers,” November 21), or serving up gushing profiles of “moderate” Muslims who are, in reality, anything but (e.g. “Linda Sarsour Is a Brooklyn Homegirl”), or belittling legitimate concerns about the spread of Islam, the establishment of sharia courts, and the rise of jihadist terrorism in the West.

Take an article from February of last year that sought to sum up our newly elected president’s view of Islam. In a recent speech, noted the article, which ran under the bylines of three reporters, Trump had cited the Islamic threat: “The Islamic State was brutalizing the Middle East, and Muslim immigrants in the West were killing innocents at nightclubs, offices and churches.” True, of course; but in the view of the Times, Trump, simply by admitting such facts, was “embrac[ing] a deeply suspicious view of Islam” that is “[r]ejected by most serious scholars of religion” (i.e., the bought-and-paid-for faculties at Saudi-funded Islamic Studies programs) but that has “flourished” among “Islamophobes” (the Times named Robert Spencer and others) who reside on “the fringes of the American right.” As a source, by the way, the article cited Asma Afsaruddin, who three years ago, as it happens, was given a book award by the president of Iran – a detail that, mirabile dictu, went unmentioned in the article.)

Of course the Times’s love affair with Islam is nothing new. In my book Surrender, I discussed “Reading the Koran,” a piece by Tariq Ramadan that the Times Book Review ran a full decade ago. Despite the title of his piece, Ramadan utterly avoided any specifics about the Koran’s contents and instead served up 2500 words of windy drivel about the holy book’s supposedly unsurpassed sublimity: “No need for studies and diplomas, for masters and guides. Here, as we take our first steps, God beckons us with the simplicity of his closeness….” That was January 6, 2008. If anything has changed since then, it’s that the Times – in keeping with its long-term transformation from a liberal-leaning but reasonably serious newspaper into an ideology-driven rag that’s so reflexively devoted to identity politics that it put Sarah Jeong, notorious for her vulgar anti-white tweets, on its editorial board earlier this year – has become even more strident and reckless in its pro-Islam cheerleading.

Example: a November 20 op-ed by Haroon Moghul entitled “Happy Birthday, Muhammad.” Subhead: “The prophet was an outsider. Just like me.” Moghul, who has made a career as a mainstream-media face of Islam by crying Islamophobia and soft-pedaling jihad, went even further in his Times piece than most Islam apologists would dare to do, risibly depicting Muhammed as a man who “loved the vulnerable,” who “was a paragon of compassion,” and who was “dedicated to building a society that would provide the inclusion he (and his followers) had been deprived of.” Moghul concluded by suggesting that “we Americans would do well to study Muhammad’s life: He preached and attempted a politics of tolerance, which is not what people of faith are associated with today.” 

Responding to this breathtaking load of hogwash, Robert Spencer, the aforementioned Islamophobe, gently pointed out that Moghul’s “paragon of compassion” was, in fact, a bloodthirsty warrior who by the time of his death had subdued most of the Arabian peninsula by the sword. Moghul, in his Times piece, professed to have been shocked by 911, which he contended was an un-Islamic act; in response, Spencer dryly suggested that Moghul, purportedly a student of his faith, should hardly have been shocked, since the story of Islam (as comprehensively documented in Spencer’s own History of Jihad) is from start to finish a tale of savage jihadist violence. “Haroon Moghul,” Spencer concluded, “is a dissembler and propagandist of the most cynical type. And the New York Times is his eager and willing accomplice.” Indeed.

Contrast Moghul’s malarkey with, oh, the Gray Lady’s big commemorative essay on Easter 2018. Written by Jon Meacham, it posed the question: “Where Did the Concept of the Resurrection Come From?” Note that the very title calls into doubt the central theological tenet of Christianity – a move the Times would never try to pull with Islam. Meacham proffered two opposing views – that of believers for whom “the Easter story is…historically true,” and that of those who say it was made up. Meacham concluded: “No matter where one stands in terms of faith, Jesus – be he God or man or, in the view of the church, both – was perhaps the most important figure who ever drew breath, and he will fascinate, enthrall and confound us to the end of time.” Note the “perhaps.”   

No, we shouldn’t expect secular media in a secular democracy to promote Christianity. But the Times sure sells the hell out of Islam. In fact, on a couple of recent occasions on which it (sort of) gave Christianity a thumbs-up, the real motive was to boost Islam. Case #1: a friendly review by Lesley Hazleton of Mustafa Akyol’s book The Islamic Jesus, which examines Islam’s reverence of Jesus as a prophet. The review ended by quoting Akyol as follows: “Whether we are Jews, Christians or Muslims, we share either a faith followed by him, or a faith built on him, or a faith that venerates him.” Translation: See? Both Islam and Christianity like Jesus, and thus aren’t really all that different. Case #2: last year, it the Times actually celebrated Christmas with an article by Akyol about the Koran’s account of Jesus’ birth. Akyol’s conclusion: Jesus’ “legacy is so great that two of the world’s great religions, Christianity and Islam, sing his praises….So this Christmas, say, ‘Glory be to him,’ as Christians say — or ‘Peace be upon him,’ as we Muslims do. And either way, merry Christmas to us all!” Lesson: the only way to get sentences like “Glory be to [Jesus]” or “Merry Christmas to us all” into the New York Times is to frame them as expressions of Islamic devotion.

Also penned by Akyol was an op-ed, published on February 13 of last year, suggesting that today’s Muslims could learn a thing or two from Jesus’s emphasis on forgiving love over unbending law – although Akyol took care to insist that Islam isn’t intrinsically problematic and that contemporary Islam, on the contrary, has a harsh side “because it was outperformed, defeated and even besieged by Western powers.” And on March 24 of last year, the Times ran a not unsympathetic profile of “a jihadi who turned to Jesus” – although the author, Patrick Kingsley, was at pains to dispute the ex-jihadi’s negative view of Islam and the Koran: “In his personal view, Christian prayers were more generous than Muslim ones. But these are subjective claims, and many would reject the characterization of Islam as a less benign religion, much as they would reject Nusra’s extremist interpretation of it.”

In 2016, to its credit, the Times commemorated Christmas with an unusually earnest statement of faith by Peter Wehner. And as recently as this past November 29, it actually ran an honest piece by Bari Weiss about anti-Semitism in Europe today – although the fact that most of the Jew-haters are Muslims wasn’t mentioned until the eighteenth paragraph. In any event, such articles are as rare in the Times as an admission that Donald Trump, by definition, cannot be both an evil genius and a thoroughgoing buffoon.

To be sure, the Times does occasionally feature a certain type of article that, while not being exactly pro-Christian, exploits Christianity in a way that is intended to make the Times seem to be affirming Christian values. I’m referring to those pieces that make use of Jesus to smack around Republicans. In March 2016, for instance, under the headline “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?”, Peter Wehner used Jesus as a stick with which to beat then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. (“Mr. Trump’s character is antithetical to many of the qualities evangelicals should prize in a political leader.”) Last year, similarly, columnist Nicholas Kristof invented a gospel story in which “Pious Paul” (Paul Ryan) chides Jesus for encouraging welfare dependency. I can’t wait for a Times column taking the form of a sura of the Koran and putting words into the mouth of Muhammed. Maybe next Ramadan.