Despite Newsweek’s retraction of its Quran-in-the-toilet story, plans are proceeding for a global anti-American protest Friday involving leading Islamic organizations.
Since the story broke, evidence shows that supporters of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban have been at the forefront of fomenting the protests around the world, and they are continuing to do so.
Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, once imprisoned for his anti-Taliban reporting, told watchdog group Accuracy in Media, or AIM, that groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries are cynically exploiting the Newsweek article for political gain. Many of the Pakistani groups oppose Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and his alliance with the U.S. in the global war on terrorism.
In an interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Qazi Hussein Ahmed said that Newsweek’s admission of an “error” would not affect world Islamic movements from going ahead with the global protest day May 27. Hussein Ahmed is the leader of the fundamentalist Jama’at-i-Islami, which seeks to usher in a complete Islamic state to govern Pakistan. He is also a leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA, alliance. It opposes all Westernization, including Western-style women’s rights, which it views as a Trojan horse designed to subvert Islamic society. He denies all links to al-Qaida and asserts that any claims to the contrary are “propaganda.”
The MMA expects to join Muslims from “America to Morocco” to voice their condemnation against the “shameful sacrilege” of throwing a Quran down a toilet.
Meanwhile, more questions have emerged about the Newsweek story and the bogus “information” that went into it.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told AIM: “The original Newsweek article was irresponsible and had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Calling the story “demonstrably false,” he added that there have been “no credible allegations of willful Quran desecration. Newsweek has produced no such evidence.”
Noted Whitman: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.”
While the original Newsweek story cited “sources,” it now cites only one anonymous source (an alleged government official) who reportedly gave the publication the erroneous information. A follow-up story in Newsweek indicates Isikoff contacted Marc Falkoff, a lawyer representing 13 Yemeni detainees from Guant?namo, for information.
Falkoff told AIM: “I personally had no role in the original Newsweek story. … My clients have alleged that they are the victms of – for want of a better term – ‘religious abuse’ at Guantanamo, and a number of their statements have previously been reported in the press. I do not know whether Mr. Isikoff was aware of those reports before writing his brief story.”
In a follow-up story in the May 30 issue, the story takes another strange turn, as Isikoff and Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas report that Command Sgt. John VanNatta, who served as the prison warden at Guantanamo from October 2002 to the fall of 2003, documented a case of a detainee – or suspected terrorist – dropping a Quran near his toilet. Other inmates misinterpreted what happened, VanNatta said, and came to believe that U.S. military guards had thrown the book on or near a toilet. Newsweek said this led to unrest that was quelled only after the inmate was taken cell to cell to explain what really happened.
During a Monday appearance on the MSNBC show “Connected Coast-to-Coast with Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley,” AIM Editor Cliff Kincaid cited the new account in saying that it may be the case that an inmate dropping a Quran near a toilet was transformed by Newsweek and its uninformed “source” into the unfounded and inflammatory allegation against the U.S. military that sparked the anti-American protests.
AIM spoke with Isikoff soon after the controversy was beginning to build, but he was somewhat defensive and unwilling to speak about the story.
“Any clarification that’s needed is right there in the story,” he said. “We’re not going to say anything more about this.” Isikoff had also mentioned FBI e-mails in his story and said they were obtained by the ACLU and posted on their website. AIM was told by the ACLU that these e-mails, however, did not refer to investigators confirming that a Quran was flushed down a toilet.
While charges about alleged desecration of the Quran have surfaced before, their appearance in Newsweek – and the Isikoff report that investigators had confirmed the account – appeared to give the information some credibility. The story was then picked up by Al-Jazeera and other outlets.
Now, despite Newsweek’s correction, apology and retraction, Friday’s protests are going forward. The following are some details about the groups and individuals behind them:
- The Jamaat-i-Islami, which calls bin Laden the “hero of the Islamic world.” In 1998, the organization invited bin Laden to attend its three-day rally in Islamabad, which drew some 500,000 people. At the rally, organizers announced they had made “extensive security arrangements in case of Osama bin Laden’s visit to Pakistan and [had] formed special squads of mujahedeen.” Author and terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky reported bin Laden did not attend, but sent “a fiery message of support” to those who were demonstrating for a “true Islamic order” to come in force in Pakistan. “More ominously,” Bodansky reported, “Qazi Hussein Ahmed urged a public uprising against the government if Islamization was not completed.”
- Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of JI and MMA and an outspoken figure on the Newsweek story, has previously denounced the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terming them wars against Islam.
- Bodansky reported on a 1998 Peshwar rally jointly organized by JI and JUI (Jamaat Ulama Islami) leaders where they spelled out the “anticipated Islamist revenge.” Nobody had “struck fear into the heart of America” like Osama bin Laden; therefore he should act to make Washington “terrified about the reaction to its Iraq attacks by militant Islamic states.”
- When al-Qaida’s No. 3 man, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured in March 2003, it was in the home of a member of JI. In addition, the house itself belonged to a leader of the women’s wing of JI. The 9/11 Commission Report called Mohammed “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.” He also was reputed to have aided in the Bali nightclub bombings, the murder of Daniel Pearl and other attacks. At the time of his arrest, security officials said that they had seized computer disks carrying names of important associates of the al-Qaida network in Pakistan.
- Jamaat-i-Islami set up the Shuhda-e-Islam Foundation, to aid the families of “martyrs.” They claim to have disseminated 13 million rupees in Pakistan since 1995, according to author Jessica Stern.
- In a January 2000 congressional hearing on terrorism and immigration, policy terrorism expert and author Steve Emerson stated that the JI supports violent jihad.
The MMA also includes the Jamaat Ulama Islami. Pakistani journalist Rizvi told AIM the JI is made up of mainly of middle-class believers from urban areas, while the JUI includes the less-educated lower classes and is well-known for being heavily involved in running the madrasas, religious schools that have been termed by author Stern as a “supply line for jihad.” The madrasas peppered along the Pakistani-Afghan border became training grounds for the Taliban, eight of whose ministers were alumni of the same school: the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania. Saudi funding has poured into both the JUI and JI.
Rizvi said those protesting are a combination of “common people” who may or may not have a political component to their protest, as well as extremist groups who are exploiting the situation for political gain. The reporter also spoke of disgruntled former power players in Afghanistan who are fomenting the unrest.
The first protests broke out in Jalalabad, an area that is a stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hizb-i-Islami, which has both a military and political wing, and which is a partner of Jama’at-i-Islami.
Sherrie Gossett is associate editor of the Accuracy in Media (AIM) Report.