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17 May 2005 07:27
Newsweek‘s apology for its controversial Qur’an desecration story was greeted with scepticism and scorn both at home in the United States and across the Muslim world on Monday.
From the White House to remote Afghan hamlets, critics responded furiously to the magazine’s initial admission that it had been wrong to claim US officials discovered that interrogators in GuantÃ¡namo Bay had flushed a copy of the Qur’an down the toilet.
Following criticisms on Monday from the White House and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, Newsweek made a full retraction of the story.
“Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Qur’an abuse at GuantÃ¡namo Bay,” the editor, Mark Whitaker, said in a statement.
In Afghanistan, where the 200-word story sparked riots that left 17 dead and more than 100 injured, many Muslims said the apology smacked of a US government cover-up.
“We will not be deceived by this [retraction],” said Mullah Sadullah Abu Aman, one of a group of clerics that threatened on Sunday to wage a holy war against the US for the alleged abuse.
“This [decision] comes because of American pressure. Even an ordinary illiterate peasant understands that and won’t accept it,” he told Reuters.
A spokesperson for the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, expressed “in the strongest terms our disapproval of Newsweek‘s approach to reporting, which allowed them to run the story without proper examination beforehand”.
Anti-American militants, who gained political capital from the protests, also rejected the mea culpa.
“Newsweek is changing its story because of pressure from the US government,” said a Taliban spokesperson, Abdul Latif Hakimi.
In Pakistan, officials reiterated a call by President Pervez Musharraf for the US to mete out “exemplary” punishment to the alleged culprits.
“We have asked for a thorough investigation conducted by the US administration and we would expect the results of the official investigation to be shared with us,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson.
A powerful Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, said it is going ahead with street protests planned for May 27.
Newsweek said it was let down by an anonymous US government source who falsely claimed an inquiry into abuse at GuantÃ¡namo Bay found that a Muslim holy book was dropped into a toilet.
“We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” wrote Whitaker.
But Newsweek also insisted that the abuse claim was true in substance, citing several former GuantÃ¡namo detainees who say US officials repeatedly dishonoured the Qur’an.
Although the Pentagon insists the story is untrue, the US military in Afghanistan said it will continue a full investigation into the claims.
Rice said the story has harmed American efforts to earn goodwill in the Muslim world.
“It’s appalling that this story got out there,” she said.
“The report has had serious consequences,” said White House spokesperson Scott McClellan. “People have lost their lives. The image of the US abroad has been damaged.”
Imran Khan, the cricket legend who first drew attention to the Qur’an story, said: “This will not die down unless the US isolates itself from these abuses against our religion.”
He told The Guardian: “It’s not good enough to say Islam is a peaceful religion and they are only after terrorists. They must show respect.”
The reaction has highlighted a cultural gap. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, destruction of the Qur’an is seen as blasphemous and punishable by death. In the US, destruction of any religious text is a constitutional right.—Guardian Unlimited Â
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