[ by Charles Cameron — news, debate, credibility, Muslim brotherhood, Egypt, Ansar al-Shariah, Yemen, capital punishment, scriptures, USA, progress? ]
There’s plenty of food for thought here — quite a Smörgåsbord in fact — with rumor outstripping fact, images and facts too grisly for the squeamish, biases and bias-confirmation, subtlety in the details, scriptural sanctions and shifts in emphasis, capital punishment… and human progress, to paraphrase William Gibson, more or less evenly distributed.
On the 17th of August, Michael Carl wrote a piece, Arab Spring run amok: ‘Brotherhood’ starts Crucifixions in WorldNetDaily:
The Arab Spring takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood has run amok, with reports from several different media agencies that the radical Muslims have begun crucifying opponents of newly installed President Mohammed Morsi.
Middle East media confirm that during a recent rampage, Muslim Brotherhood operatives “crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”
The run amok is stated as fact, the crucifixions are described in terms of reports.
Also worth noting:
Carl quoted in his support Raymond Ibrahim — a Fellow with the Middle East Forum and the Investigative Project on Terrorism — in support. It is worth noting that Ibrahim, who authored The Al Qaeda Reader — a book I admire for its pointed insistance of the religious current in AQ documents — is himself an American of Egyptian Coptic Christian parentage, whose views of the Brotherhood can be gleaned from a recent post of his titled Egypt: Islamists vs. Copts — An Animosity That Seeks Any Excuse to Attack
On the 22nd, Jonathan Kay responded to Carl’s piece in the [Candadian] National Post, Egypt’s “crucifixion” hoax becomes an instant Internet myth:
Have you heard the one about how Christians are being nailed up on crucifixes and left to die in front of the Egyptian presidential place?
It’s a story worth dissecting — not because it’s true (it isn’t), but because it is a textbook example of how the Internet, once thought to be the perfect medium of truth-seeking, has been co-opted by culture warriors as a weapon to fire up the naïve masses with lies and urban legends.
Kay then offered his somewhat nuanced critique:
It is, of course, theoretically possible that Muslim radicals truly have “crucified” someone, somewhere, sometime, in Egypt. Islamist mobs have staged countless murderous attacks on Copt “infidels” in recent years — and a crucifixion would hardly be a more barbarous tactic than truck bombs and beheadings.
But the story doesn’t just allege that a crucifixion has taken place somewhere in Egypt: It alleges that multiple crucifixions have taken place in front of the presidential palace. That would be the equivalent of, say, mass lynchings taking place in front of the White House, or a giant gang rape taking place in front of Ottawa’s Centennial Flame fountain.
Kay then goes into some detail about his attempts to find a single photograph — or an eyewitness account — of a crucifixion outside Egypt’s Presidential Palace, and his inability to find either one, coupled with his research into the murky origins of the story…
His overall sense of things?
Why do so many people believe this made up story? For the same reason that people believe all urban legends — because they play to some deeply held narrative that resides in our deepest fears. In this case, the narrative is that the Arab Spring is part of an orchestrated Islamist plot to destroy Western civilization (beginning with Israel).
Carl quickly responded with Video Report confirms Egyptian Crucificions.
The problem here: Kay had written “That’s because there is no Sky report on the subject” — he had, he write that, and Carl quoted him, pointing out that Sky had in fact carried a report, as if that dismissed Kay’s point. What Carl didn’t quote was the following paragraphs, in which Kay said:
Yesterday I contacted the management of Sky News Arabic, and asked them about the crucifixions. According to Fares Ghneim, a Sky communications official, the crucifixion claim “began on social media. It started getting pick-up from there and eventually reached us.”
“Our reporters came across reports of the alleged crucifixions and a story very briefly appeared on the Sky News Arabia website,” he added. “The story — which was taken down within minutes — was based on third-party reports and I am not aware that any of our reporters said or confirmed anything along the lines of what is quoted…
So: Kay somewhat foolishly overstated his case with his summary “there is no Sky report” but made it immediately clear that there was in fact a report, “taken down within minutes”. Carl then quotes the inaccurate summary and shows it to be inaccurate, while ignoring the more detailed (and accurate) version.
Jonathan Kay came back on the 24th with More on the debunked Egyptian ‘crucifixion’ hoax (and its 2009 precedent). He made the point I’ve just made above, and then mentioned a Carnegie Endowment report describing “an internet rumor circulated in late 2008 to the effect that Hamas was ‘celebrating’ Christmas by crucifying Gaza’s non-Muslims”:
And amazingly, it wasn’t just the conspiracy theorists at WND who got sucked into this one. According to Brown, it was featured in blogs connected to such respectable publications as The New Republic, National Review and Commentary. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Center was pushing the story.
Voices that agree with you are easier to hear (and believe) than voices that don’t.
Carl came back again with Shocking video evidence of Islamic Crucifixion on the 29th:
WND recently confirmed a Sky News Arabia report of the crucifixion of dissidents in Egypt.
According to a report by Lebanon Today translated into English, the Yemeni jihadist group Ansar al-Shariah took control of the Azzan area of Yemen and imposed Islamic law, or Shariah.
In the process, the group crucified three men, accusing them of being agents for the U.S. The executions reportedly took place several months ago.
We’ve been discussing crucifixions allegedly taking place right outside the Presidential Palace in Egypt, and although the headline here doesn’t specify Egypt, the Egypt story is again mentioned — at which point we switch from Egypt to Yemen, and from the Muslim Brotherhood to the AQAO-related Ansar al Shariah!
Funny thing, that.
And then some:
The Carnegie report:
Here’s another quick quote from the Carnegie Endowment’s piece to which Kay referred, Pointers for the Obama Administration in the Middle East: Avoiding Myths and Vain Hopes from January 2009:
Myth 4: Hamas decided to celebrate Christmas by crucifying people.
Didn’t hear this one?
It is an odd story and one that is not central to diplomatic efforts. But it can illustrate the treacheries of finding one’s way in the conflict.
Different versions of this story has spread around the world—propounded most recently by a member of the Australian Senate.
If you have not read about it, that is because of what you choose to read. If you rely on the New York Times, the story would be news to you. If you choose the Washington Post, you may remember it popping up in Charles Krauthammer’s column. It turned up at least twice in the Washington Times. In the UK, it was asserted by a columnist for the Times but by none in the Guardian. Aficionados of English-language Israeli press would have read it a couple times in the Jerusalem Post but never in Ha‘aretz. It was featured in blogs connected to the New Republic, the National Review, and Commentary, but not the Nation or Mother Jones. It was pushed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center but not pursued by other mainstream Jewish organizations.
Oh, and by the way — it’s not true.
So the credibility of various media is at issue here, eh?
As Kay observed in his first piece, WorldNetDaily does have a history of making dubious conspiracist claims, such as:
most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products
Medical authorities with a wide range of approaches have refuted this claim, from Dr Andrew Weil (“the premier resource for timely, trustworthy information on natural health and wellness“):
When you consider that millions of men in China, Japan and other Asian countries have had soy foods in their daily diets from earliest childhood, you can appreciate that the plant estrogens they contain have no discernible effect on male sexual development, and no feminizing effects at all.
to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes for Health, which hosts the Fertility and Sterility (2010 May 1; 93(7): 2095-104) article Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence.
Meanwhile in Yemen…
I usually like to have an intriguing graphic at the head of my posts, but the appropriate graphic for this one is striking enough that I thought it better to present it here, well into the body of the post. It comes from MEMRI TV:
It depicts that crucifixion in Yemen. And I’d say it represents a man who has been hung on a cross to die in the excruciating heat, rather than someone crucified in the Roman manner. Either way, the death would be a horrible one — and such things happen.
It appears there was indeed a crucifixion — indeed, there may have been three — in Yemen.
But note well: this is not the Muslim Brotherhood, this is not Egypt, this is not anything happening directly in front of Morsi’s Presidential Palace. This is Yemen, and this is allegedly the work of Ansar al-Shariah.
Gregory Johnsen described the relationship between Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Shariah a few months ago in this Frontline piece:
We know that Nasir al-Wuhayshi heads both AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia. We know that the different emirs for Ansar al-Sharia accept the bay‘a or oath of allegiance on behalf of Wuhayshi. And we know that members claimed by Ansar al-Sharia are also claimed by AQAP. … What we don’t know is whether everyone who self-identifies as Ansar al-Sharia would also identify as a member of AQAP.
Okay, the exact, appropriate use of the term Al-Qaeda and the relations of AQAP and Ansar are topic of discussion among scholars. But whether you think, Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, they’re all the same, or Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, so very different, likely depends on how much you know about the respective organizations and their history.
Here’s a fairly nuanced assessment from CFR:
Since 9/11, prominent members of the Brotherhood have renounced violence publicly and tried to distance themselves from al-Qaeda’s violent practices. The Brotherhood’s foray into electoral politics has also widened the schism between them and groups like al-Qaeda. Zawahiri had been openly critical of the Brotherhood’s participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections.
But like other mass social movements, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is hardly a monolith; it comprises hardliners, reformers, and centrists, notes terrorism expert Lydia Khalil. And some hardline leaders have voiced support for al-Qaeda or use of violent jihad…
By way of religious context:
The Qur’an endorses crucifixion as a penalty at 5.33-4:T
Those who wage war against God and His Messenger and strive to spread corruption in the land should be punished by death, crucifixion, the amputation of an alternate hand and foot or banishment from the land: a disgrace for them in this world, and then a terrible punishment in the Hereafter, unless they repent before you overpower them: in that case bear in mind that God is forgiving and merciful.
Similarly, the Torah in Deuteronomy 21.18-21 endorses death by stoning for disobedient sons:
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Jesus in the Gospel of John 8.7 comments on the punishment by stoning of an adulteress with a clever rabbinic shift of emphasis — not denying earlier scripture (Deuteronomy 17.7) which called for the first stone to be cast by a witness, but rendering the punishment itself effectively impossible to carry out:
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
From stoning, crucifixion and beheading, we the human race have by and large progressed in our use of capital punishment to such more recent devices as the guillotine, gas chamber, electric chair, and lethal injection.
Someone named Starling Carlton was executed in South Carolina in 1859 for aiding a runaway slave.
According to the Innocence Project:
Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row.
And so the wheel turns.