Why is Newsweek Embracing Anti-Muslim Bigotry?
By Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR National Deputy Director
In the name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. All praise and thanks belong to God, Lord of the Worlds. May peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad and his family.
When Newsweek published an editorial disputing Senator Kamala Harris’ eligibility to serve as vice president, the ensuing public uproar may have marked the very first time that many Americans noticed anything amiss at the once-popular news magazine.
However, reporters and readers who have closely followed Newsweek’s ups-and-downs in recent years were not the least bit surprised by the “birther” attack on Kamala Harris. Why?
Put simply, Newsweek’s opinion section has turned into a mainstream platform for far-right extremists who would normally have to publish their conspiracy theories in Breitbart.
As a Muslim civil rights attorney, I also know that Newsweek has given a particularly warm welcome to anti-Muslim bigots. Members of the racist anti-Muslim hate group Middle East Forum, the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and the radical Christians United for Israel have all published editorials in Newsweek in recent months.
So have anti-Muslim extremists like John Hagee, Caroline Glick, Ben Weingarten (author of a book subtly titled American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party), and Newt Gingrich, whose history of anti-Muslim bigotry needs no introduction.
One of Newsweek’s most popular Islamophobic writers has been Zuhdi Jasser, a Syrian-American embraced by anti-Muslim hate groups for his willingness to criticize Islam and validate conspiracy theories about American Muslims.
True to form, Jasser’s July 24th editorial in Newsweek — titled The World’s Red-Green Axis Has Come to Our Streets — accused Muslim activists of working with so-called socialist politicians and communist Black Lives Matter protesters to destroy America.
A few weeks later, Newsweek published another article written by Jasser titled, The DNC’s Deepening Embrace of Radical Islamists. This time, Jasser attacked American Muslims who participated in the Democratic National Convention.
Point being, the “birther” attack on Kamala Harris represented only the latest and perhaps most blatant example of Newsweek embracing far-right bigotry.
Newsweek’s defenders might point out that the magazine still publishes a wide variety of opinion pieces, including articles written by liberal voices. This is true.
But when it comes to issues related to American Muslims, the outlet has spent the past year publishing almost exclusively one voice: that of anti-Muslim bigots.
All of which begs a question, what’s going on at Newsweek?
Different observers offer different explanations for the shift. Some critics point to Newsweek’s alleged financial ties to a Christian cult in South Korea. Another possibility is that Newsweek wants to remain relevant by stoking controversy, even if it means dabbling in racism and bigotry.
However, the truth may be much simpler. Newsweek recently hired conservative activist Josh Hammer to serve as its Opinion editor. A former writer for Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Caller, Hammer has a history of embracing far-right causes, including anti-Palestinian bigotry.
Guess who publicly congratulated Hammer when Newsweek appointed him to the position? Zuhdi Jasser. Hammer also once praised Jasser as one of the people he most admires.
Tellingly, Newsweek has published some of its worst far-right screeds since Hammer joined Newsweek. Despite outrage over his decision to publish and initially defend the “birther” editorial about Kamala Harris, Hammer still has his job today.
As a private media outlet, Newsweek has every right to hire whoever it wants to serve as its opinion editor. The magazine also has every right to publish whatever opinion pieces it wants, no matter how odious or offensive.
But the rest of us do not have to keep treating Newsweek like a mainstream publication. After all, how would the public react if Newsweek published editorials accusing Jewish-Americans of secretly plotting to destroy America with help from communists, socialists, and mysterious foreign powers?
All of us (well, maybe not all of us) would rightfully condemn Newsweek for publishing such anti-Semitic hatred. We should respond to anti-Muslim bigotry the exact same way.
To its credit, Newsweek finally published an opinion article about Muslim Americans last month that wasn’t hostile to Muslim Americans. However, a single mainstream opinion about Muslims amid a collection of anti-Muslim screeds that remain online is not enough.
Unless and until Newsweek stops trying to mainstream far-right bigotry, readers should stop treating Newsweek like the respected publication it once was.
And anyone who chooses to keep subscribing to Newsweek should read its editorials with a giant helping of salt — especially if the topic has anything to do with Muslims.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell is a civil rights attorney who serves as National Deputy Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR National).