Saudi King Abdullah (right) with NewsCorp stakeholder Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (behind Abdullah in red head dress), King's brother Prince Talal (on left) and Abdullah's eldest son Prince Mutaib (behind Talal, resplendent in white). October 17, 2011.Image from Firstpost.com.
This week's syndicated column:
Have you heard about the 23-year-old Saudi journalist who tweeted an imaginary conversation with Muhammad? It went something like this: He loved Muhammad, he hated Muhammad, he couldn't understand Muhammad, he wasn't going to pray for Muhammad. If this isn't exactly a disquisition on faith and doubt a la "The Brothers Karamazov," remember, we're just talking Twitter.
If you haven't heard of this young man, whose name is Hamza Kashgari, it could be because you're watching too much Fox News. As of this writing, almost a week after the Kashgari story broke, I haven't found a single story about it at the Fox News website. (You try.) Meanwhile, CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC and CNN have all reported the Kashgari story, clueing in their viewers on how far totalitarian Islam, Saudi style, will go to exert its control over the human spirit. But not Fox.
Say -- you don't suppose the fact that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns the second-largest block of stock (7 percent) in News Corp., Fox News' parent company, not to mention a new $300 million stake in Twitter (almost 4 percent), has anything to do with Fox's silence on this Saudi black eye of a story? After all, it was Saudi dictator King Abdullah -- Alwaleed's uncle -- whom press accounts credit with ordering the tweeting journalist's hot pursuit and imprisonment. And it is Saudi Arabia's adherence to Islamic limits on free speech that is driving Kashgari's ordeal.
Maybe it has become institutional Fox thinking to let such news slide for fear of offending the Saudi prince -- or for fear of risking the kind of exposure that might remind viewers of Fox's connections to Saudi regime interests via Alwaleed.
As I've argued in the past, it is these connections that make it incumbent upon News Corp. to register as a foreign agent. (So, too, should universities that accept Saudi and other Islamic millions to open departments of Islamic studies.) Fox's silence on this bell-ringer of a story reinforces the sneaking suspicion that, conscious or not, there may be an Alwaleed effect on Fox coverage which, in a conflict of interest, actually serves the House of Saud before Fox viewers.
Prediction: I don't believe Hamza Kashgari will be executed or even face hard time for his Twitter "blasphemy." Despite widespread enthusiasm for his demise among his fellow Saudis -- at last count, a Facebook page titled "The Saudi People Demand Hamza Kashgari's Execution" had a whopping 23,000 members -- I'm guessing Kashgari's already publicized repentance will be accepted by Saudi poobahs. The crisis will likely end in a gesture of royal magnanimousness. The new "moderation" of the Kingdom -- see, they don't kill you for tweeting! -- will become the story of the day, maybe even "fair and balanced" enough for Fox News to cover it.
That would make it a win-win situation, at least when it comes to Islamic law enforcement: Saudi Arabia gets international "modernization" brownie points, and no one dares break Shariah inside the country anyway, particularly given the bloodthirsty scorn of the Saudi public. (Remember that Facebook community of execution-for-"blasphemy" enthusiasts.) No "blasphemy," no "defamation," no problem.
This same issue is part of a much larger story, a terrifying point of parley between the Islamic world, as represented by the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Free World, as led, still, by the USA. Why terrifying? Any accommodation of Islamic so-called blasphemy law is an unconstitutional erosion of American free speech.
I'm mortified to report that the USA, as represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is working itself into sync with the Saudi, OIC and, apparently, Fox position that silence on Islam is golden. Last summer, Clinton, while meeting with the OIC in Turkey (where they throw journalists who cross the state in jail) to discuss "defamation" of Islam, promoted a de facto censorship of Islam's critics by calling for "some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don't feel that they have the support to do what we abhor."
Funny, but I don't think Fox covered the secretary of state's menacing comments about free speech. Not even a tweet's worth.