Wednesday, July 27, 2005

MEMRI - The Middle East Media Research Institute

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) explores the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.

Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization. MEMRI's headquarters is located in Washington, DC with branch offices in Berlin, London, and Jerusalem, where MEMRI also maintains its Media Center. MEMRI research is translated to English, German, Hebrew, Italian, French, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian. LINK

From time to time I check out this site trying to get a feel for what is happening. I have to say that they pull no punches. They really are just reporting, without editorial comment, the written and broadcast material being fed to readers and viewers all over the Middle East. Much of the material is deeply disturbing, such as clips from Muslim sermons fanning the flames of hatred and resentment of the US, or praising as heroes those responsible for terrorist acts. But at the same time other pieces that are equally harsh in confronting those views.

This series of clips from a Coptic priest, Zakaria Boutrus, is an example of how that most ancient of Christian sects is confronting their Muslim neighbors. Remember, they have been living close together for a long time. That is not to say they really understand and appreciate one another, any more than adversaries in Northern Ireland or Bosnia or Korea or anyplace else "understand" anything about their designated enemies. It should be noted, however, that this priest is speaking from a safe distance in the United States. My guess is that saying what he does would be suicidal if he lived in Egypt, where the program was broadcast.

In an environment where literacy is limited, especially for women, television and radio messages may be the only information stream available to a large part of the population. It seems to me that despite the extreme nature of the material, especially those parts we find most offensive, the media makes a point to air opposition positions such as these. There could be an ulterior motive to inflame hatred even more. But because the content is specific, the tone of presentation is even, I give producers the benefit of the doubt. The headline reads Coptic TV Show Causes Controversy in Egypt.

The weekly show "Questions About Faith" on the Egyptian based Christian Al-Hayat satellite channel features an Egyptian Coptic priest residing in the United States. Father Zakaria Boutrus, the show, and Al-Hayat TV itself, have come under harsh criticism in the Egyptian press. Boutrus and his show have been accused of attacking Islam; of being supported by the U.S. to sow division and strife; and of "mocking the verses of Allah."

Al-Hayat TV has been accused of being the work of foreign agents collaborating with the U.S., and Pope Shenouda III reportedly announced his opposition to the station's broadcasts, and denied that the station was in any way connected with the Egyptian Church. [1]

One episode which aired on July 4, 2005, discusses anti-Christian verses that, according to Boutrus, should be struck from the Koran. Another episode aired on June 27, 2005, discusses a Hadith, which according to Boutrus, is "reminiscent of Hitler." An episode from June 16, 2005, talks about how Islam is spread by the sword.

Interviewer: "What do you mean by terrorism and oppression?"

Boutrus: "Terrorism – 'Urge the believers to fight,' and the hadith: 'I was commanded to fight people until they say: There is no God but Allah.' All this is terrorism and murder. Number six:Stopping the attack on Jesus and the Holy Book in mosques and in all the media. Number seven: Giving people and Muslims the freedom of... You may ask what do I care about the Muslims? No! They must have the freedom to choose their religion and the freedom to express their belief. Number eight:To abolish the punishment for apostasy, to stop torturing people who convert to Christianity, and to stop imprisoning or even killing them. Number nine:Formal apologies must be made by leaders throughout the Arab world for the murder of Christians in countries invaded by Islam. Number ten: Leaders throughout the Arab world should make formal apologies for the insults directed against our faith throughout Islamic history. The viewers may say: 'Is this priest crazy, or what? These demands could only be made by an insane man... To strike out Koranic verses... Does this make any sense? What is he going on about?' OK, if you cannot change (the Koran), why are you asking us to change our beliefs? Why do you demand that we say what you say, or else - the sword?

"(Al-Halabi) says: ' If the Prophet wanted an available woman...' – in other words, an unmarried woman, a widow, or a single woman – '...he was allowed to enter her...' I don't like to use the word i-n-t-e-r-c-o-u-r-s-e. '...without her guardian and without witnesses...' Without witnesses. '...and against her will.' Against her will. 'If he desired a married woman, her husband had to divorce her for him. And if he desired a servant-girl, her master had to give her to him. He can even marry off the woman to whoever he wants, against her will.'"

Interviewer: "We know that the Prophet is allowed what others are not."

Boutrus: "Why? Is he made of different stuff than the rest of mankind?"

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From another clip....
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"Another thing is the punishment for apostasy. 'The punishment of killing any Muslim who abandons Islam is one of the most important factors terrifying all Muslim. He does not dare question the truth of Islam, so that his thoughts will not lead him to abandon Islam. In such a case, he would receive the punishment for apostasy: He would lose his life, and his property and wives would permitted for all.'

"This reminds me of a true story that I heard about the preachers who spread Islam in Africa. They reached a certain place in order to spread Islam, and they asked one of the locals: 'Do you prefer to worship one god and have four wives, or to worship three gods and have one wife?' We, of course, don't worship three gods, but that's what they said. The African said 'I like four women, and I don't care which god. I want four women.' So they told him to say the shahada, and he did.

"Then they told him he had to be circumcised in order to become a Muslim. He asked: 'Do I really have to? I am a grown man.' They answered: 'Yes, you have to, in order to get the monthly stipend, and you can marry four wives.' The man agreed, and underwent the pains of circumcision despite his advanced age. They began to pay him the monthly stipend, and after a few months they cancelled the stipend. The man went and asked: 'Where's the money?' They told him: 'Now you are deep in Islam, you don't need the monthly stipend any more.' He threatened: 'I will abandon Islam.' They said: 'If you leave Islam, we will carry out the apostasy punishment on you.' He asked what it was, and they said: 'We will chop off your head, and cut you into pieces.' This African man began to mumble: 'What a strange religion: when you go in they cut off a little piece of you, and when you go out, they cut you into little pieces.'

"This is the punishment for apostasy that keeps people afraid. Even when they reach the truth, they're afraid to express their opinion. There are other factors, such as upbringing from a young age. Children are brainwashed that Islam is the truth, that Mohammad is the last prophet, that the Christians are infidels and that the Jews are infidels. They repeat it constantly.

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