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Alex Rowell

Huffington Post distorts Muslim Brotherhood connections – then defends them

Writer accuses NOW of misrepresenting HuffPost Arabi’s editorial line, only for Washington bureau chief to admit to “deeply offensive” content

“I am a member of the Brotherhood” – one of several interviews following his 2013 release from jail in which Fouda freedly admits to his Brotherhood affiliation

Two weeks ago, NOW reported that the Huffington Post had employed the services of two Muslim Brotherhood supporters to run its brand new Arabic-language edition, HuffPost Arabi.

 

There were two relatively honorable ways in which the Huffington Post could have dealt with this revelation. One would have been to replace the men in question, editor-in-chief Anas Fouda and “partner” Wadah Khanfar, on account of their irreconcilable political differences with the secular liberalism that broadly characterizes the Huffington Post’s English-language editorial line.

 

The second would have been to own up to the religious arch-conservatism of its Arabic edition, and to mount some sort of defense thereof. Khanfar, after all, had already done something similar at his previous employer, Al Jazeera Arabic, where he upheld his Islamisation of the content – bitterly resented by many left-leaning colleagues – as an innocent reflection of the new “political reality” in the Arab world. Versions of the same argument have even been made by non-Islamists, such as the satirist Karl Sharro, who wrote (non-satirically, as far as I can tell): “The notion that Huff Po Arabic needs to be a vehicle for ‘progressive politics’, whatever that means, runs against the need for debate now […] What is being said is that Huff Po Arabic should be a safe liberal publication like it is in English. Why, why be afraid of controversy?”

 

In any event, Huffington Post opted instead for a third option: to lie about it (and defame NOW in the process), only to later adopt a rather jaw-dropping variant of the second approach.

 

To take each in turn: yesterday morning, the Huffington Post published a commentary by one Chaker Khazaal defending HuffPost Arabi against “antagonists” who have brought attention to the outlet’s Muslim Brotherhood connections, the existence of which Khazaal denies altogether (“specious” and “salacious” accusations). Specifically, he described NOW’s report as a “cherry-picked” one that “intentionally neglects to mention that Fouda denied these allegations [of Muslim Brotherhood affiliation].”

 

As the author of the report, I certainly did “intentionally neglect” to mention Fouda’s denial, because he never made anything of the sort. On the contrary, he’s been consistently and unapologetically frank about his Brotherhood ties. As he said in 2013 upon his release from jail in an interview to which I linked in the piece, the reason for his arrest was “my affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood,” which he confirmed had been ongoing since 1988. If Khazaal wasn’t satisfied with that, he might have looked up any of Fouda’s other statements following his return to Cairo, such as those in this TV interview, in which he recalls (from 10:00) the following exchange occurring with his Emirati interrogator:

 

“He said to me: ‘Are you [Muslim] Brotherhood?’ I told him: ‘I am [Muslim] Brotherhood’ […] ‘Are you a member of the [Muslim] Brotherhood?’ ‘I am a member of the [Muslim] Brotherhood.’ I never withdrew [my membership], I did not resign.”

 

What he did say – which, again, was mentioned in NOW’s original piece – was that he had held no formal party role; no “administrative position,” to be precise; since 1995.

 

Khazaal grew up in Beirut, and has fluent Arabic, meaning he could with a moment’s research have found the above remarks, or equivalent ones. I leave it to readers to judge which one of us is “intentionally neglecting” to mention things.

 

Which brings us to the second piece published on the matter yesterday by the Huffington Post; a surreal explanation from Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim as to why his organization is now a platform for what he breezily admits is “homophobic and anti-modern” content in the Arabic edition.

 

The Arab world, Grim tells us, is awash with reactionary bigotry (“The latest Pew survey in Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian territories, for instance, found 94-95 percent of people saying they personally believe homosexuality is "morally unacceptable."”). The remedy for this, apparently, is to publish more of it.

 

“Many of us back here at HuffPost U.S.,” writes Grim, “find some of the commentary deeply offensive, while other bits of it seem simply absurd.” He gives the example of what he calls a “ridiculous” piece published the other day about the alleged spread of pornography and homosexuality since Egypt’s military coup in 2013. However objectionable “from our perspective,” Grim tells us, this “represents the views of a sizable number of Egyptians, and we gain nothing by suppressing it.”

 

Indeed, indulging theocratic conspiracy theorists may even be an act of great political and moral courage, we’re told. “Allowing heterodox voices to engage in dialogue is a radical move, but it's one we embrace proudly,” says Grim.

 

And embrace it they have, publishing articles on as broad a range of topics as the “steadfastness” of the Taliban and the “many positive qualities” of its deceased leader, Mullah Omar; the “poisonous” idea of unmarried cohabitation; and the hypothesis that the Bilderberg Group “rules the world.” Only once were things deemed to have gone too far, when an author used what Grim described as a “grotesque” homophobic slur.

 

“We took the post down […] but he's free to resubmit it with a less grotesque term, even if the overall message remains offensive and retrograde,” Grim added.

 

“He’s free to resubmit it.” In other words, the Huffington Post has become, by the admission of its own senior staff, a consenting megaphone for abhorrent bigotry. Perhaps NOW was mistaken to begin with in thinking the publication a liberal one – perhaps the “huge audience of conservatives” back home of which Grim boasts are reading the site for good reason. If amplifying the voice of the religious right is their goal, they are of course perfectly entitled to pursue it. But they are not entitled to accuse NOW of journalistic malpractice simply for pointing it out. A retraction, I think, would be the least they could do.

“I am a member of the Brotherhood” – one of several interviews following his 2013 release from jail in which Fouda freedly admits to his Brotherhood affiliation (Source: ONtv YouTube page)

The Arab world, Grim tells us, is awash with reactionary bigotry. The remedy for this, apparently, is to publish more of it.

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    This dichotomy is constitutive to Western so-called "liberals" like Huff Post, and it in fact is what gives right-wingers fodder to attack them. On one hand they adhere to ideas that their ideological enemies (in this case radical Islam) reject outright and violate every which way, but on the other hand, they ask any opponent of their enemies to be understanding of the lower quality of the culture at large and to allow these very same enemies make a mockery of genuine liberal ideas. I call it guilt-inflicted cultural Dhimmitude. The "other" is different, even lower, than us, and so we must allow it the excesses we reject to ourselves.

    August 16, 2015