A deep and frightening financial crisis dominates news coverage. A flood of layoffs, tumbling stock prices and a battle over government's role in stemming the tide rightly leads newscasts and the front pages of America's ever-shrinking newspapers.
Important stories can get lost in the mix. But sometimes, it seems the stories are ignored due to uncomfortable facts associated with them. Andrew Sullivan, one of the most prolific news junkies in the blogosphere, made that point last week. He expressed dismay at missing the news of the beheading of Buffalo resident Aasiya Hassan Feb 12. Muzzammil Hassan, founder of Bridges Television – a cable network created to enhance the image of Muslims - is charged with killing his wife.
"I learned of the case for the first time on Bill Maher, which means the MSM [mainstream media] must have been doing a very good job suppressing it," he wrote.
It's just one of several stories about Islamist extremism that has been ignored by U.S. news outlets in the past month. The Israeli military has declared that its investigation has found the number of civilian casualties from its recent fighting in Gaza has been grossly exaggerated. Those inflated figures are helping drive divestment efforts and protests at universities in the U.S. and abroad. Those protests are growing increasingly hostile and threatening.
So far, only Time magazine's Scott MacLeod has noted a Jerusalem Post report on the IDF investigation. In doing so, MacLeod cast its findings in doubt without ever addressing its methodology. In short, the Post reported Feb. 16 that the world had been "duped" by claims that well over half the 1,300 Palestinian casualties in Gaza were civilians.
Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), led an effort to positively identify all the dead. So far, "580 of these 1,200 [known dead] had been conclusively 'incriminated' as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups," the newspaper reported. Another 320 casualties haven't been identified, but were all men. The IDF estimates "two-thirds of them were terror operatives."
The investigation has positively identified 300 women and children as civilian casualties. That's a large number, but a far smaller proportion than offered by Palestinian sources and accepted by the media during the fighting.
MacLeod defended media casualty reports, noting that they were accepted by the United Nations, the Red Cross and Israeli human rights groups, some of which had people in Gaza. But, he argued figures can be manipulated:
"One problem is the conflicting definitions of combatant. Are you a combatant if you are a member of Hamas but do not carry arms? Are you a terrorist if you are not a member of Hamas but still went into the streets to defend your neighborhood against Israel's incursion?"
Never mind whether the figures are accurate. Besides, those questions can be inverted. Are you a civilian if your husband or father is a senior Hamas terrorist and he refuses to let you leave your home even after Israeli officials warn you in advance it is about to be targeted?
That's what happened to Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas military commander, who ignored Israeli warnings to evacuate his home because it was about to be bombed. Rayyan died in the blast, along with at least two wives and up to 10 of his own children.
Are you a civilian if you are a Hamas member with this image in your life, but you are listed in casualty counts as a medic? Anas Naim is listed among the civilian dead. His uncle is a Hamas government minister.
No one expects the media to accept the IDF report on its face. But it certainly warrants more attention and even challenge. The debate over Israel's response to incessant Hamas rocket fire has focused on civilian pain – whether Israel inflicted too much or whether Hamas deliberately placed its own people in harm's way. If the civilian count in one of the world's most densely populated regions against an enemy that seeks out human shields is actually lower – much lower -- than conventionally cited, it's an important distinction.
There's no indication major media outlets are trying to examine the CLA report. Instead, the original casualty figures remain the accepted standard and groups like the Muslim American Society (MAS) use them to push a suspension of American military aid to Israel.
Precisely nailing down casualty counts is not easy. But any trust placed in initial estimates from a terrorist-governed region ignores the lessons of recent history. The "massacre" in the West Bank town of Jenin, then-dominated by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, turned out to be a total of 52 people, almost all terrorists. The original estimated death toll, in excess of 1,000 people, has been forgotten.
Something similar may have happened in the infamous Israeli bombing of a United Nations school building in Jabaliya. According to reports at the time, dozens of civilians huddled there for safety, but 42 were killed when the building was hit.
Now even the United Nations admits that's not true. No shell directly hit the school building. After UN officials insisted no rocket fire was coming from the school, it turns out two members of a Hamas mortar crew were among the dead.
According to the CLA investigation, a total of 12 people died at the school, nine of whom have been identified as Hamas operatives. According to the Post:
"From the beginning, Hamas claimed that 42 people were killed, but we could see from our surveillance that only a few stretchers were brought in to evacuate people," said Levi, adding that the CLA contacted the PA Health Ministry and asked for the names of the dead. "We were told that Hamas was hiding the number of dead."
Likewise, the fallout from Gaza is contributing to a threat of a different kind that appears to be escalating on college campuses in North America and, again, it is generating little attention. Anti-Israel demonstrations grow increasingly hostile, leading some to fear for the safety of counter-demonstrators.
At San Francisco State University, two students were arrested in January after a fracas during an anti-Hamas rally by the College Republicans. See video here. The students were soliciting signatures on an anti-Hamas petition and encouraging people to throw shoes at a Hamas flag. According to Boston University researcher Richard L. Cravatts, the assaulted students actually face school sanction:
"[T]he College Republicans must be punished or sanctioned for throwing shoes at the Hamas flag; pending charges should be dropped against the two protestors who assaulted the College Republicans and seized the Hamas flag; and, most ominously for defenders of free expression on campus, a forum should be created to 'educate' students about what forms of speech the 'offended' students deem acceptable or unacceptable, including what the Left regularly tries to proscribe as 'hate speech.'"
As bad as that is, it pales in comparison to the intimidation at Toronto's York University and the inexplicable response by school administrators.
On Feb. 11, campus police had to escort dozens of Jewish students out of the campus Hillel office after an angry mob gathered outside. It's a confusing situation, one that seems to stem as much from a student group's support of a lengthy faculty strike as it does with the battle in Gaza.
Regardless of why it happened, the school's anemic response to the incident prompted Kings College Professor of Computational Linguistics Shalom Lappin, a York alumnus and critic of some Israeli actions, to cancel a planned talk at York later this month.
"Given that the incident took place two weeks ago, I find it odd that the administration has been unable to come to any conclusions on what took place. It is particularly remarkable that it felt no need to release at least a general statement specifying that violence and abuse of any kind will not be tolerated on campus, and confirming that all students have the right to express their views without fear of intimidation.
The fact that the University has not taken up this assault with the students who launched it, nor acted to reassure the students who they targeted indicates a severe failure on the part of the administration to fulfill its responsibility to sustain a campus free of physical violence and harassment."
Since Lappin wrote, York officials have followed the lead set by San Francisco State, indicating that they intend to suspend and fine the students who had to call police for protection as much as the students who seemed to be threatening them. According the National Post:
"This past Thursday, the school announced it was fining and suspending four groups for protesting too loudly on Feb. 12, a series of demonstrations that disrupted classes.
Mr. Cappadocia said the groups Hasbara Fellowship at York, Hillel@ York, Students Against Israeli Apartheid and the Tamil Students' Association broke promises to hold demonstrations that would respect the rights of students in nearby classes. Now all face fines from $250 to $1,000 and potential suspensions from 10 days to a year. The groups, however, will be granted a hearing to plead their case."
Thank goodness no one is blaming the victim in the Hassan murder case. Recent reporting shows Hassan had a history of spousal abuse that may have been known by some of his associates. Because of the nature of her murder – a beheading – there has been debate over whether this is an "honor killing," or whether it is simply an ugly manifestation of domestic violence, which affects all communities.
Aasiya Hassan filed for divorce from her husband a week before her death and secured a protective order against him. Whether this classified as an honor killing really doesn't matter, Andrew Sullivan wrote:
"Attempts to deny any connection between this kind of behavior and the brutal misogyny of much Islamic culture seem bizarre to me. Obviously, the abuse of women is no community's or religion's exclusive sin. Chris Brown, anyone? My own church maintains a completely irrational and blanket discrimination against women in the priesthood. But the cultural and religious norms that facilitate brutal and often violent patriarchy in Islam make it easier for men to abuse and harder for women to resist. And the woman was beheaded." [Emphasis original].
Muslim reform advocate and former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani told the Associated Press that Muslims should avoid a reflexive denial the murder was linked to Islamic teaching.
"It's sort of like the typical reaction to terrorism in the community, where people want to say, 'This had nothing to do with Islam,'" Nomani said. "Well, it doesn't have anything to do with your interpretation of Islam that teaches you can't kill innocent people. But terrorism, violence, honor killing — they are all part of ideological problems we have in the community we need to eradicate."
Since then, Nomani has spoken with relatives and associates of Hassan and his former wives. Their story indicates that his actions may be rooted as much in mental illness as anything.
The failure of many media outlets to report these stories in detail is disturbing, at the very least. Many might argue that too many reporters emphasize the claims by some Muslim groups of profiling and targeting, while avoiding stories that may offend these same groups. Whatever the reason, these stories require more attention. Lives and policies can be changed as a result.