On December 16th, Al-Jazeera reported that the lowest number of journalistic deaths whilst on active duty in 16 years took place in 2019. While the loss of life in any case is always tragic, this is a huge accomplishment and marks tremendous progress! The suppression of freedom of speech is an age-old problem from the perspective of those working towards a free and democratic world. The ongoing toll on journalists, such as the murder of Palestinian journalists Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein by Israeli forces in 2018, continues to wreak havoc on the ability of the press to reliably report the issues that concern all of us with any accuracy. Murtaja and Hussein are just two amongst the 18 journalists killed in Palestine by Israeli forces since 2001. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in journalists imprisoned, particularly in China, which represents a third of all journalists imprisoned globally.
It is possible that the outcry over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi contributed to this decline, as the focus of the world has increased on the tragic deaths of journalists in the line of duty. While this is a praiseworthy result from an unspeakable tragedy, I’d like to make a suggestion: While we applaud that fewer journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2019, let’s stay educated on the few who do lose their lives. After all, while Jamal Khashoggi became a household name, the names of the journalists murdered by Israeli troops are significantly less well-known. Perhaps to hold the powers that be accountable, we need to remain aware of as many journalists who lose their lives as a result of speaking truth to power as possible. After all, we need to keep in mind the historical perspective that selective representations of the truth are often used by Western media in ways that target Muslims.
Additionally, it is significant that the kind of public outcry surrounding Khashoggi‘s murder was not reflected in other tragedies plaguing Muslims. Time Magazine, who last year chose to make Khashoggi their “Man of the Year,” has barely commented on the genocide the Chinese are committing against the Uighur, and barely reported on the horrific human rights crisis in Yemen. Why millions of Muslim lives are not a priority for the Western media is an ongoing testament to the selective filters of news agencies.
One of the most famous manifestations of racism is known as “confirmation bias.” It involves the selective reading of reality in ways that confirm the pre-existing stereotypes of the subject. The ongoing horrors against Muslims are significant, and we cannot allow the selective reading of current events to keep us from seeing events as they are. The life of every Muslim is incredibly important, and worth protecting, be they journalists, Muslims in Yemen, or Muslims in China.
This week, there was a summit in Malaysia, arranged to bring Muslims together. We are aware of the efforts to create dialogue between the Saudi government and the Iranian government. The Malaysians chose not to invite the Saudi government, in part due to the criticism surrounding Khashoggi’s death and other ongoing criticisms of the Saudi royal family. However, this is exactly the opposite of what Muslims need to do to fight the rampant Islamophobia overwhelming Muslims all around the world.
The oldest trick in the book is to divide and conquer. We as Muslims must selectively filter the media reports about each other and remained focused on our common welfare. We cannot bend to the pressure of media that supports Islamophobia, fooling ourselves into thinking it is reporting that reflects “truth” as an objective reality. Truths are told by people with a worldview and a motive, and what people say and how they say it supports their worldview and their agenda. We need to be clear about this as we celebrate the truth-telling of journalists, the victories for freedom of speech this year, with our ongoing commitment to be critical and conscious in our reading of the media.
“And hold fast, all of you together, to the cable of Allah, and do not separate. And remember Allah’s favour unto you: How ye were enemies and He made friendship between your hearts so that ye became as brothers by His grace; and (how) ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, and He did save you from it. Thus Allah maketh clear His revelations unto you, that haply ye may be guided.” (Surah Ali-Imran 3:103)
Whilst we can celebrate this landmark year, it remains a huge tragedy that these people — people who fight for all of our freedom — continue to pay the ultimate price for their courage and dedication to truth.
The need for freedom of the press is one of the fundamental human rights required for democracy. Whilst we can celebrate this landmark year, it remains a huge tragedy that these people — people who fight for all of our freedom — continue to pay the ultimate price for their courage and dedication to truth. Let’s aim to remember all the journalists who lost their lives reporting the truth, not just those that suit the Western narrative. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon. Allahu Hafiz.
Let’s unite and criticize China and Israel, and not each other. And when we criticize each other, remember each other’s rights over us. Remember that we have to hold onto a good opinion of each other. From the Hadith of Imam Nawawi (Hadith 35: Blood, Wealth and Honour are Inviolable):
“On the authority of Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do not be envious of one another; do not artificially raise prices against one another; do not hate one another; do not turn one’s back on each other; and do not undercut one another in business transactions. And be, [O] servants of Allah, bretheren. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He does not wrong him. He does not fail him [when he needs him]. He does not lie to him. And he does not show contempt for him. Piety is here” – and he pointed to his chest three times. “It is enough of evil for a person to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. All of a Muslim is inviolable to another Muslim: his blood, his wealth and his honor.”