25 Jun 2013
While the apology and retraction last week by the Daily Maverick and its former journalist De Wet Potgieter over an alleged terror plot in South Africa was meaningful, it did not enjoy as much coverage in the mainstream press as the original article had. But in this regard, Muslims were just as much to blame for failing to take it up in the mainstream media with a flood of op-ed pieces that could have drawn attention to the imbalance.
That was the view of Imam Dr Rashied Omar, who joined VOC’s news analysis program, Sunday Live, at the weekend. Last month the alim was part of a panel, along with experienced journalist, Faizel Dawjee, who pointed out glaring weaknesses in Potgieter’s article, following his yearlong investigation. Omar commended Muslim media, like VOC, who had interrogated the matter, but highlighted the fact that such media had pretty much “preached to the converted”. What was needed, he said, was wider engagement with other media outside the Muslim community to help stamp out Islamaphobic media coverage.
“We must commend media like VOC who had robustly followed up on this issue. We had all waited on Potgieter’s second installment to his article which never came. I’m certain that this kind of robust engagement was part of the reason for the retraction. Another reason was no doubt the threat of legal action by the Dockrats. But we must also be realistic.
“Yes, the damage was done, but an apology like this was rare. You don’t normally find media issuing an apology willy nilly.” According to Omar, that alone was a big victory. “It shows that Muslim media and opinion makers are active. But we must also learn lessons from it, which is to build on this capacity, for Islamaphobia in the media is not going to disappear. Tomorrow you will find another Islamaphobic piece elsewhere.
“We now need to take this up formally with our intelligence agencies and government, especially the DA who had asked questions about this in parliament. We have to go back to them for answers and I don’t think we can expect the Daily Maverick to answer all these questions.Who was really behind this report? We need to exert pressure for answers because there is much than there than we know. ”
The alim was referring to Potgieter’s claim that he had been under some “pressure” from some sources in the intelligence community to publish the article which, amongst others. had linked the Dockrat brothers to Al Qaeda. As for the seeming silence from the general Muslim public on the apology, Omar said it was understandable that Muslims had become “sick and tired” of such aspersions being cast on their community.
“But we must also stop lamenting about it. What we need instead is more media activism. Yes, the mainstream media did not cover the apology as widely as we would like. So they must be challenged and there is nothing wrong with writing an op-ed to those papers. Furthermore, if they don’t publish such pieces, we have a case against them,” he said.
“We need more Muslims to understand the importance of promoting ourselves with such activism. Can we expect a non-sympathetic mainstrem media to do our work for us? What about ourselves? We certainly have the expertise. If we did not get as much coverage on the Daily Maverick apology and retractionas we wanted, we must look within and blame our own inadequacy,” Omar stated.
He also reiterated Dawjee’s comments last month on Sunday Live when he called for a wider media network to be formed to monitor and challenge Islamaphobia in the media. This, he said, cannot be left to only one organisation like the Media Review Network. Instead, money needs to be set aside for a formal network where all coverage on Muslims could be reviewed and challenged where needed since this was the era where there was every opportunity to engage in “jihad of the pen”, Omar said.
Also Muslims at grassroots level need to understand “that we must all help breakdown prejudice and misconceptions about us so that people can see the true face of Islam. That means engaging people where we live so that people in rural areas, for instance, no longer see us as the strangers who walk around in ‘pajama’s, looking like the Taliban.” He added that role models that Hashim Amla were doing a great service for Islam in the way they engage non-Muslims, adding that more Muslims should follow that approach.
At the same time, Omar said it was vital for all Muslims to remain vigilent on the issue of extremism. “Another concern is the matter of extremism. While it is important to combat Islamaphobia in the media, it is also important to keep on reminding ourselves and South Africa that we, as Muslims, are committed citizens of this country and we fully support what government is doing to combat religious and all other forms of extremism. We know there are some nuts cases out there who might do things and there are many Muslims here from from foreign countries. Allah forbid that something ever happens, for if it does, we will all, as Muslims, be implicated,” he concluded. VOC (Munadia Karaan)