What Muslims Think Is Really Happening

What the Muslims think is Really Happening in Jerusalem

The far-right Israeli extremists who demonstrated in Jerusalem were not just protesting the plan to remove Israeli colonists from Gaza, as was reported in the Western press.

Rather, they were threatening to invade the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Muslim world understood this threat as an intention to destroy the third-holiest shrine in the Islamic world.

For historical background on the Temple Mount or al-Haram al-Sharif, see this excellent piece by Oleg Grabar.

(Grabar notes the traditional association of the Haram complex with the “city of David,” but it is worth noting that the Assyrian and other ancient scribes, who wrote down everything that happened in the Middle East in the 900s BC, even mentioning obscure little rulers, never heard of David or his kingdom, and for all we know he was actually a bedouin chieftain later mythologized into a king with a city).

What we do know is that Jerusalem was under Muslim rule for nearly 14 centuries, longer than it was under the rule of anyone else, and Muslims consider the mosque on the Haram Sharif to be the third holiest site in the world.

It was to protect the shrine that Palestinians rallied on Sunday.

They were not alone. The entire Muslim world was alarmed by word of the threats, including:

King Abdullah II of Jordan, whom Israel formally recognized as guardian of the shrine in 1994. He warned of a destabilization that would completely destroy the peace process, if the shrine were harmed.

Yemen warned of a destruction of the peace process if the shrine came under attack. Especially vocal was the fundamentalist Muslim Islah or Reform Party.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt exploited the Israeli extremists’ actions to rally their supporters against President Mubarak.

The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (whose families had been expelled from their homeland and displaced to squalid camps in someone else’s country by the Israelis in 1948-49).

Saudi Arabia.

Iran issued the same warning.

So an issue that stirred Muslim fundamentalists to fury and might be a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda was surely intensively covered by the Western press, right?

Wrong.

The Washington Post said that the Palestinians were protesting plans by the Jewish fundamentalists to “rally at the site.” That wasn’t what they were afraid of at all. They were afraid that the extremists were bringing dynamite to blow up the mosque (a widespread rumor).

The New York Times likewise did not report that the Muslims understood the extremist group, Revava, to have sinister designs on the shrine. The NYT even put scare quotes around the word “defend” when it reported that young Muslim men were going to the Aqsa Mosque over the weekend, saying they wanted to defend it. I don’t understand the scare quotes. Why not just report that they said they wanted to defend the shrine?

The Los Angeles Times reported that some Palestinians pledged violence against the Revava members if they came into the Aqsa Mosque. But the paper never explained why the Palestinians might have been that exercised. They thought Revava was coming in with sticks of dynamite.

Now, maybe Revava never threatened to destroy the mosque. I don’t know. They don’t appear to be humane, level-headed people, so maybe they did make the threat. But it is a gross dereliction of duty for the US press to neglect to even report that this threat is what had alarmed the Muslims around the world.

How can we possibly fight al-Qaeda and understand the Muslim world if our press does not even report what Muslims think is at issue in incidents like this? And note that no Western press article appears even to have rounded up the reaction in the Muslim world. They are invisible to our public, even when they are outraged.