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The Economist’s Epic Fail: Libels Moderate Muslim Leader, Then Offers Half-Baked Apology

28 October 2011 3 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

The Economist’s Epic Fail: Libels Moderate Muslim Leader, Then Offers Half-Baked Apology

The Economist recently published an article entitled Now is the time on the subject of Tunisia.  In that article, they mentioned Rashid Al-Ghannushi, the leader of Ḥizb al‐Nahḍah, the Tunisian Renaissance Party.  Al-Ghannushi is a well-known Islamic intellectual, so it was somewhat surprising to see The Economist portray him as a fundamentalist; but more outrageously, the article claimed (incorrectly) that Al-Ghannushi threatened to hang a prominent Tunisian feminist!

When they were notified of this horrendous error, the editors of The Economist had the decency to issue a public apology, saying:

An apology to Rachid Ghannouchi

IN OUR briefing last week on women and the Arab awakening (“Now is the time”), we said that Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Nahda party, opposes the country’s liberal code of individual rights, the Code of Personal Status, and its prohibition of polygamy. We also said that he has threatened to hang a prominent Tunisian feminist, Raja bin Salama, in Basij Square in Tunis, because she has called for the country’s new laws to be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We accept that neither of these statements is true: Mr Ghannouchi has expressly said that he accepts the Code of Personal Status; and he never threatened to hang Ms bin Salama. We apologise to him unreservedly.

Did I say you’re a convicted sex offender and that you like to rape little kids?  My bad.  Sorry about that.

Yes, it’s true that everyone makes mistakes, but don’t you think you should be careful before you accuse someone of wanting to hang a woman?  It also indicates that the writer did not know much about Tunisian politics and religious discourse, which begs the question: why does Anglo-American media use “Middle East experts” who don’t know even the basics about the topic?  It’s just a case of the blind leading the blind.  No wonder I actually took it seriously when I first read the headlineJournalist Mistakenly Interviews Bollywood Actor Imran Khan Instead of Pakistani Cricket Legend. (It’s an Indian “Onion” site.)

I mean, dammit, can’t the writers and editors of The Economist even bother to use the resources that a high school student would use to do a social studies report, like Google or Wikipedia?  Here’s what Wikipedia says of Rashid Al-Ghannushi:

Al-Ghannushi claims to represent a progressive strain in Islamic reformism, and continuously stresses the need for innovation against social injustice. He underscores the importance of local culture, and an Islamist movement based in the needs of Tunisians and not in “the obscure theories of Sayyid Qutb“. He has sided with worker’s rightsunionism, and women’s education and rights, though those rights are based in Islam and not Western liberal feminism.[2]

He maintains that women, being one half of the Islamic community, should have full access to education[5] He cites oppressive cultural codes in Islamic cultures as the major force behind women’s choices to turn to Western culture, and believes that Islamic reform, as part of a larger reformist movement, is needed to address women’s education, participation, and respect…[6]

In discussions of plurality within Islamic societies, Rashid Al-Ghannushi believes that non-Muslim citizens should not be barred from positions in government, setting himself against more conservative viewpoints.[7]

On 22 January 2011, in an interview with Al Jazeera TV, Rashid Al-Ghannushi confirmed that he is against an Islamic Caliphate, and supports democracy instead, unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir. In the interview, Al-Ghannushi accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of exporting a distorted understanding of Islam.[8] For expressing moderate views, Rachid Ghanouchi is banned from entering Iran and Saudi Arabia.[9]

Please email the editors of The Economist and tell them of this new thing called Wikipedia.  In the words of Michael Scott: “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”  Even Michael Scott could have done a better job of this.

Anyways, the reason I call The Economist’s apology “half-baked” (I wanted to use another word) is that they didn’t even bother to at least list off Rashid Al-Ghannushi’s religious and political views, especially when it comes to human, civil, and womens’ rights.  Once you’ve defamed his reputation so much, shouldn’t you at least clarify what his real views are on women?  After reading the apology, an average Joe would think “fine, maybe he didn’t say that, but he must still be pretty extreme…”  That is why the apology is wholly insufficient.

Note: This article should not at all be seen as an endorsement of Rashid Al-Ghannushi.  Although I am aware of Rashid Al-Ghannushi and some basics about him, I do not profess to have read his work in detail.  (To be perfectly clear, I am a proponent of secular, liberal democracy.  But alas, that is a discussion for another time…)


  1. Newspaper retractions are usually not even this long. Sure, that’s a problem, but there’s nothing uniquely half-baked about this particular retraction by the Economist. If you’re going to angrily rant about it, you should at least point out that it’s industry custom that’s the problem, and not the Economist in particular.

  2. ZT,
    “you should at least point out that it’s industry custom that’s the problem, and not the Economist in particular.”
    What custom? Custom can mean generally accepted rules. Are you saying it is acceptable to make these mistakes? No! When people discredit someone, people usually never bother to make updated checks to see if the story was a fraud or not. Remember how they were quick to accuse Muslims of terrorism in India? Guess what, they were Hindus. BUT NOT EVERYBODY likes to keep a record of these mistakes. The Spanish American War was started primarily on the false accusation of terrorists blowing up the U.S.S Maine. Guess what? Engine failure. You can’t exactly apologize for starting a war bcuz of a mistake , nuclear weapons in Iraq.

  3. M. Bennett,

    i think s/he means the custom of correction/retractions being half-baked. as in an article that may appear on the front page that needs a correction gets 2 lines on the lower corner of page 17. seemed obvious to me.

    as for “BUT NOT EVERYBODY likes to keep a record of these mistakes”, you’re right there. but your example seem to make no sense. the india’s have admitted they where wrong, especially after the hindu holy man confessed. and “remember the maine, to hell with spain”, i think it was american historians who first put forth the theory of a boiler explosion, or even worst, that the american government blew it up in havana harbor to force us into an upgrade of our navy, and into the fight for empire against the europeans. so who do you think admits to mistakes more readily? the west or the islamic world? the germans admit their holocaust, how about the turks? when clinton was in africa he apologized for slavery. 40 acres and a mule, although that was never delivered. i see some muslims calling for a return of slavery. reagan apologized for interning the japs and gave them each, what, 20k?

    “You can’t exactly apologize for starting a war bcuz of a mistake , nuclear weapons in Iraq.” of course you can. it may not mean much to the dead, but you can all offer an apology. and you can help rebuild, well as long as people aren’t trying to kill you. the afghans and iraqis have shown some great forward thinking with their current tactics.

    you can always say you where or are wrong. well i guess not if you claim “divine writ”.

    Volume 9, Book 84, Number 56:

    Narrated Ibn Mas’ud:

    A man said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Shall we be punished for what we did in the Prelslamic Period of ignorance?” The Prophet said, “Whoever does good in Islam will not be punished for what he did in the Pre-lslamic Period of ignorance and whoever does evil in Islam will be punished for his former and later (bad deeds).”

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