Some three weeks ago (Oct. 22), the Saudi Gazette published an article on its front page about a “former enemy of Islam”, a Dutchman who had become a Muslim and was now aiming to establish the first Islamic political party in Europe. The man, Arnoud van Doorn, who also performed Haj this year, had been on the front page of several Saudi papers before, when he converted to Islam and made his first journey to Makkah and Madinah about six months ago. He had been cordially received by the head of the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, as well as other presidency officials.
While he is certainly not the only Westerner who converted to Islam, what made his case special is that he used to be a leading member of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and even took part in the controversial film “Fitna”.
Not surprisingly, in the Dutch media, Van Doorn was mocked at and depicted as a psycho. His reversion was described as hilarious and his VIP trip to Saudi Arabia a farce, while several journalists criticized him for allowing Islamists to use him as a puppet for their propaganda.
Now, one might question why Saudis or Muslims in general need these kinds of “reversions” to prove that Islam is the right path, as if the judgment of a former Islamophobe and criminal – currently being prosecuted in the Netherlands for illegal cannabis trade, violating professional secrecy, possessing an alarm gun, and robbery – weights heavier than those of millions of humble, anonymous pilgrims who visit the Holy Sites day after day, but that is not the point here.
A few days before that, I received a Dutch newspaper from my neighbor who had just come back from a holiday in the Netherlands. While browsing the paper, a story about a Dutch-Moroccan ex-Muslim caught my eye. The woman was not even that negative about Islam, but this story was not the only one I read about cases like hers. Every now and then, articles about Muslims who converted to Christianity or anonymous records of ex-Muslims who are being expelled or even threatened by their communities appear in Dutch – and other Western – media. I rarely find the opposite – either a sincere and positive story about a Westerner who embraced Islam in Western media or an account of a Muslim disappointed in this religion in a Saudi newspaper or TV channel.
No one will be surprised about the absence of the latter. Saudi Arabia often gets accused of not allowing free press and newspapers are generally seen as propaganda journals of the authorities. The Kingdom ranked 163 out of 179 countries in the latest Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The Netherlands, on the other hand, is the second country on the list that most respects media freedom, right after Finland. Then why do the media there not give a more balanced picture of the world? We all know how biased the media are, but this example clearly illustrates that it matters little if you follow the news in a “media free” country or one that is supposedly “severely oppressed”. You will certainly not get an objective picture of the world.
In the same Dutch newspaper, I saw a small article about the Kingdom: “Saudi Arabia does not want [the UN] Security Council seat”, the title read. The reason the country rejected the seat, according to the report, was that the United States had “established diplomatic relations with Iran”. While the States’ recent advances to Iran may have played a role in Saudi Arabia’s rejection, the paper failed to mention the UN Council’s inaction over the Syrian civil war due to vetoes from permanent Council members Russia and China, as well as its failure to end the suffering of the Palestinian people and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as major reasons the Kingdom thanked for the seat.
I am definitely not advocating a world without press freedom, but I wonder what is its worth when journalists fail to project a nuanced image of what is going on in the world? Instead of pointing fingers to so-called “oppressed societies”, a debate on the role of the media in those “free” countries would be in place. I believe it should be every journalist’s aim to strive for objectivity and report as unbiased as a human possibly can. It is our task to inform the community and do so honestly.
And now it’s time to enjoy my coffee with macaroon.