I have to thank Mortimer Zuckerman. It was because of him that I became one of the first successful Muslims in Hollywood.
But before I explain that comment, let me give you a little background on Mr. Zuckerman. As the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report and the owner of the New York Daily News, Mr. Zuckerman has consistently used his position as one of America's most powerful media moguls to advocate in support of the neoconservative agenda and its allies in Israel's right wing.
In recent days, he has begun a campaign aimed at making Iran the new bogeyman to be defeated. Mr. Zuckerman has publicly ridiculed President Obama's efforts to extend a hand of friendship to the people of Iran, and is now calling for Arabs and Israelis to forget their deep-seated political differences and unite against the new Persian threat.
While a case can certainly be made that the balance of power in the Middle East has shifted toward Iran in the past decade, Mr. Zuckerman is the least credible messenger on the subject - as it was his previous support for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that boosted Iran's power in the first place.
In 2002, as the Bush Administration began to promote its intention to attack Iraq, Mr. Zuckerman wrote an editorial advocating the neoconservative line in support of the invasion. "The imperative for preemption of Saddam," he wrote, "lies at the juncture of the man's character and the nature of his weaponry...With determination, the objective of regime change in Iraq can be achieved...Iraq is ready for change, and--who knows--such change could be a harbinger of better tidings throughout the region."
It appears that by "better tidings throughout the region," Mr. Zuckerman was referring to the current situation that any serious analyst of the Middle East could (and did) foresee - the rise of Iran as the primary beneficiary of Saddam's downfall.
Now that these "better tidings" have been garnered, Mr. Zuckerman wants us to extend our hostility to Iran as the new enemy in a game of never-ending war. Based on his track record, I fear for whoever is the next beneficiary of Iran's downfall. Unless of course, that beneficiary is ultimately Israel, which should be safe from Mr. Zuckerman's messianic efforts to remake the Muslim world through death and destruction.
I have to applaud Mr. Zuckerman, who is a skillful chameleon, daily shifting stripes and allegiances to promote his one unshakeable agenda - Israeli hegemony. Like his fellow neoconservatives, he is a master of preying on the fears of the American population in order to goad them into doing things that are not in their nation's self-interest, based on carefully manipulated news and information.
His skillful ability to weave in subtle lies in his editorials allows him to push the herds along exactly as he wishes, right to their slaughter. All the while appearing to be a man of moderation and wisdom. Bravo sir, Leo Strauss would be proud.
As Mr. Zuckerman understands, words have power.
But words also have consequences. And sometimes the consequences are the opposite of what we intend when we speak.
And so I can share with you now why I owe a debt of gratitude to a man whose Machiavellian political philosophy I abhor. It was because of one of Mr. Zuckerman's particularly fact-challenged tirades over 13 years ago that I decided to change my life and focus on building a Muslim voice in the media in response.
In 1996, Mr. Zuckerman used his perch at U.S. News and World Report to write a critique of Yasser Arafat, suggesting that the Palestinian leader was a two-faced liar who was using negotiations as a front while preparing his people for war with Israel. That was a hawkish and cynical view of Arafat for sure, but certainly not an outrageous opinion for any observer of Middle East politics to hold. Indeed, Arafat's intentions were unclear even to many Arabs and Muslims.
But then Mr. Zuckerman used his brilliant gift for subtle lies to open up a new line of attack against Muslims in general. He went on to use his opinion of Arafat's political maneuvering to defame Islam's Prophet Muhammad and one of the proudest moments in Muslim history - the Treaty of Hudaybiyya.
As I discuss in my novel Mother of the Believers, the Prophet made a treaty with his Meccan enemies in 628 AD, ending the state of war that had consumed Arabia for the past five years. The treaty was very much in the favor of the Meccan pagans, and many Muslims were disgruntled and questioned the Prophet's diplomacy as weakness.
But Prophet Muhammad held fast to the treaty, encouraging Islam to spread in peace through trade and dialogue rather than bloodshed. Two years later, the Meccans broke the treaty and the Prophet had grown in such political stature that he was able raise a powerful army in response. The outcome was the peaceful surrender of Mecca, a general amnesty for the vanquished, and the triumph of Islam in Arabia.
The Treaty of Hudaybiyya thus proved to be one of Islam's greatest moments, and one of the Prophet's most important legacies. Muslim leaders often look back at that treaty and reference it to convince their communities of the importance of making peace between enemies and honoring one's covenants.
But when Arafat did the same to convince his people that a negotiated peace with Israel was in accordance with Islamic faith and principles, Mr. Zuckerman proceeded not only to criticize the Palestinian leader, but also to smear Prophet Muhammad.
Referring to the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, Mr. Zuckerman wrote: "The Israelis have a historic question: Is Arafat a true peacemaker, or does he believe his own rhetoric when he echoes the doctrine of the prophet Muhammad of making treaties with enemies while he is weak, violating them when he is strong?"
With one simple stroke of his pen, Mr. Zuckerman lied about the Prophet's diplomacy, claiming that he had violated the treaty, when in reality Muhammad's enemies had broken the truce. And in doing so, Mr. Zuckerman had taken a valid criticism of a modern politician and used it to misrepresent the ancient wisdom of Prophet Muhammad as an act of treachery.
It was a stupid lie, and Muslims as well as historians flooded U.S. News and World Report with complaints, and the magazine was forced to issue a retraction, acknowledging that the Prophet remained faithful to the treaty and did not in fact commit treachery.
But the lie had served its purpose. Mr. Zuckerman wanted to turn the debate away from the practical realities of Middle East diplomacy and take a cheap shot against the founder of a religion he sees as a threat to the community he cares about most, Israel. By using his position as an influential media mogul, he could add fuel to the fire of anti-Muslim hatred and rally more people to his cause, which was to sabotage the peace accords.
But in doing so, he had created a destructive meme that poisons interfaith relations to this day. The idea that Islam teaches its followers to lie and use treachery has become a popular (and false) meme that creates only mistrust and hatred between Muslims and their neighbors, and prevents true dialogue and reconciliation between people of faith.
Last week, 13 years after Mr. Zuckerman started this ugly ball rolling, I was emailed by an Islam-basher who began with that line of attack - that my efforts to present an authentic and positive image of Islam in the media were all lies, which was not surprising considering (he said) that the Prophet taught Muslims to lie. I made the mistake of engaging this individual, who simply went on to intentionally misrepresent everything I said. When I realized that I was dealing with a fanatic who was not interested in dialogue, I wished him peace and ended the exchange.
Our discussion showed me the power of words, of how quickly false ideas about our neighbors can take hold and change the fabric of human relationships for the worse. Mr. Zuckerman has dedicated his life and considerable media power to promote the destructive agenda of the Israeli right wing and its neocon allies, and he has shown a willingness to say and do anything to promote that point of view. Consequences don't matter, because they are irrelevant. After all, when you are a serial liar, your whole life is about attempting to manipulate consequences, and when you hold a position of great power in the media, you believe you can foresee and control most outcomes.
But there is one consequence that Mr. Zuckerman and his neoconservative partners-in-crime did not foresee. It is that they inspired a young Muslim man who was studying at Cornell Law School at the time, to set aside his books and consider whether his skills would be best used elsewhere. Perhaps he had more to offer by leaving the law and entering the media, where he could at least be one lone voice speaking truth to power.
When I read Mr. Zuckerman's insidious attack on Prophet Muhammad, I realized that I had finally had enough. My entire life had been spent watching negative images of Islam in the media. Turning on the news to hear daily reports about the evil Muslims out to destroy the West. Going to the movie theater and seeing that all the bad guys onscreen were people that looked like me and prayed like me. And reading lies in the newspapers and magazines meant to make my entire faith the enemy.
I had to do something. I had to make a change, even if nobody else could help me. Even if the entire media establishment tried to block me or hold me back.
When I graduated law school, I moved to Los Angeles and began a long and painful climb to become one of the first Muslims to succeed in Hollywood. Almost a decade later, as a filmmaker, novelist and TV producer, I am now in a position to counter some of the attacks that are made against Islam by those that wish to lock humanity into an eternal clash of civilizations.
But I am still in a precarious position, and this blunt editorial will likely make me the target of many more attacks from the neoconservative con men and their army of Islam-bashers. But I have one thing that they do not - faith in God. Most neocons are atheists at heart, and cannot understand the simple power of believing in something greater than the limits of the human condition.
It is that lack of spiritual faith that leads them to fear others and see the worst in their neighbors rather than the best. It is that lack of understanding of spirituality that makes a man see treachery in an act of compassionate diplomacy.
Like true believers of all faiths, I do not fear what human beings can do to me, as these human beings did not create me from nothing, and they will not take my consciousness at the end of my earthly existence. My life is in the hands of a divine power that is eternal and can never be vanquished by human efforts.
So, Mr. Zuckerman, you can keep trying your best to promote war and destruction in Iran and the Middle East. But perhaps you will come to understand one day that history is driven forward by a hand that cannot be swayed by puny human manipulations.
And truth always outs.
Thank you again. I am now one of the first Muslims in the media who is in a position to challenge the neoconservative agenda. And I owe it all to you.
Kamran Pasha is a Hollywood filmmaker and the author of Mother of the Believers, a novel on the birth of Islam as told by Prophet Muhammad's wife Aisha (Atria Books; April 2009). For more information please visit: http://www.kamranpasha.com
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