'Western media is failing to correct errors about Islam'

The Western media is failing to correct serious factual errors about Islam and the Middle East, according to an Al Jazeera English anchor.

Sami Zeidan used the example of Pope Benedict XI’s controversial speech in September 2006, in which he appeared to say that violence and bloodshed were used to spread Islam.

Zeidan said that Pope Benedict erred in his version of Islamic history in the speech when he referred to a sura, or chapter from the Qur’an, which read: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’as being an early sura when Muhammad was ‘powerless and threatened”.

The sura was in fact from later revelations when Muhammad was in control and with a full army – a key point because it undermines the Pope’s inference that Islam’s spread could be attributed to violence.

On the media’s reporting, Zeidan said: ‘One of the things that struck me as a journalist [was that] none of the other news media or networks that I was able to monitor pointed out some serious factual errors in his speech, which I thought was just stunning.”

He added: ‘Anyone who knows the basics of Muslim or Islamic history would know this is factually incorrect. If this was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking in New York and making some serious factual errors about European history, the Bible or leading names in the Reformation, he would have been torn to pieces.”

Speaking to Press Gazette, Zeidan said it was one of many examples of why Al Jazeera International was necessary, coming from the southern hemisphere perspective.

Similarly, Western news outlets concentrated on President Bush’s intent to reach a peace agreement in the Middle East on his visit to Jerusalem in January. But Zeidan says Bush made comments of crucial importance to a Middle Eastern audience, neglected by Western press.

Zeidan contended that Bush also said that some sort of redress like compensation should be available for Palestinian refugees. ‘If you read between the lines, he was saying the US will not support the Palestinians return to their land.’

It was also the first time a US President put on record his position that a return to the 1948 armistice lines would be ‘subject to realities on the ground”, said Ziedan.

Zeidan, who was the first person to speak on Al Jazeera English’s launch on 15 November 2007, also said that rumours of a staff crisis at the fledging channel were ‘just that”. He said that changes were to be expected at a new channel that was being incorporated into the larger Al Jazeera network.

‘Changes are not always bad. That’s the key thing. You have to wait and see what emerges before you jump the gun. I’m quite hopeful these changes will be more positive than negative,’he said.

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