How progressive AlterNet and Salon fell for “gang rape” fatwa peddled by Islamophobes
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Thu, 01/03/2013 - 06:02
This post has been updated since publication.
Progressive news organization AlterNet has fallen for and
disseminated a story, pushed by Zionist, Islamophobic and Iranian
outlets, claiming that a prominent Saudi cleric issed a religious edict
authorizing sex-deprived fighters in Syria to rape women there.
Earlier today, AlterNet claimed:
A prominent Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa (a religious ordinance) that calls for the gang rape of Syrian women. Expressing frustration
that the “warriors of Islam” fighting in Syria may be getting weary for
the lack of sexual pleasure, the religious leader issued a decree that
promotes hours-long “intercourse marriages.”
The story was later updated to include a statement that the cleric,
Muhammad al-Arifi, had issued a denial. But the story has – as of this
writing – not been retracted (see update below), and even worse, it was picked up by Salon.com whose story has not – as of now – been amended with the denial.
Al-Arifi is an ultra-conservative Wahhabi cleric with 3.5 million Twitter followers and more than 1.4 million Facebook fans.
He has been prominent in calling Syrians to join the armed
opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad and demanded
that other countries intervene militarily and send weapons to overthrow
Al-Arifi has openly engaged in sectarian incitement against Shia Muslims, for example in this video from February 2012, which has more than 1.1 million views.
The claim about the “gang rape” fatwa should raise immediate red
flags. It is reminiscent of other recent shocking claims about Muslims
that turned out to be libels disseminated by Islamophobic organizations.
These include a false story – disseminated credulously by LGBT magazine The Advocate – that a Muslim cleric had issued a “fatwa” declaring that sodomy
between men was permissible if it was for the purpose of widening their
anuses for the insertion of explosives to carry out “jihad.”
There was also the libel of a Muslim “rape epidemic” in Norway that The Electronic Intifada debunked a year ago.
الشيخ محمد العريفي يكذّب فتوى زواج المناكحة
A video posted on YouTube on 1 January shows al-Arifi ridiculing the
supposed fatwa, saying such a thing could never be said by any “sane
person” and warning that he knows of at least nine social media pages
that impersonate him and try to attribute words to him that he hasn’t
spoken. He also said that such falsehoods were disseminated by stations – which he did not name – whose goal is to harm the image of Sunni
Al-Arifi also posted a denial on his Facebook page and on Twitter.
Embedded rich on Twitter
د. محمد العريفي
> * ✔@MohamadAlarefe
>تغريدة تحمل فتوى سيئة نُسبت لي،
ولجهل كاذبها زادت عن140حرفاً!
وقد كذّبتها بتويتر وفيس بوك،
ولا تزال تنشرها قنوات بشار!ا pic.twitter.com/l2KUGmmx
> 29 Dec 12
> * Reply
> * Retweet
> * Favorite
The Twitter denial includes an image of a fake tweet al-Arifi said
was circulating online, which was an obvious hoax because it contained
far more than 140 characters.
Genealogy of the lurid story
The claim about the “fatwa” was made on Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed channel (New TV) at least as early as December 29. Al-Jadeed does not provide any evidence of the “fatwa” or say when,
where or by what means it was supposedly issued. As of now, no one has
produced any evidence that the “fatwa” exists, which means that no
responsible news organization should behave as if it does.
News of the “fatwa” was then disseminated widely on social media in
Arabic, particularly by personas eager to discredit opponents of the
What is also interesting is how it traveled through Zionist and American Islamophobic networks to AlterNet and Salon.
Iran’s English-language Press TV carried a report on the alleged fatwa on its website. However it is not the Iranian report that appears to have been the most influential.
Effort to discredit Syrian opposition
On 29 December a Twitter user called @Eretz_Zen tweeted the New TV
video except now with English subtitles and a logo with the words “Eretz Zen” obscuring the New TV logo.
Embedded rich on Twitter
Eretz Zen @Eretz_Zen
>NEW VIDEO: #Saudi #Wahhabi Preacher Issues Fatwa Allowing Jihadis to Rape Syrian Women: youtu.be/6Qvo4_hMrF4 #Syria #RealSyria #FSA
> 29 Dec 12
> * Reply
> * Retweet
> * Favorite
Twitter user @Eretz_Zen’s bio claims to be “A secular Syrian opposed
to having my country turned into a Taliban-like state.” This is of
course completely unverifiable.
Zionist and Islamophobic connections
On 1 January the English-subtitled “Eretz Zen” video was embedded in a report on the website RadicalIslam.org with the headline “Cleric Issues Fatwa Allowing Gang Rape of Syrian Women.”
RadicalIslam.org states that it is supported by the Clarion Fund,
which several years ago distributed tens of millions of copies of a
virulently anti-Muslim film titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.
As Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton reported, Clarion Fund is closely tied to the Israeli organization Aish HaTorah, and the group is at the center of a web of ultra far-right Islamophobic, Zionist and anti-Palestinian organizations. One of its “advisors” has been notorious anti-Islamic and anti-Palestinian agitator Daniel Pipes.
Another key figure in this anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic network is Frank Gaffney, another Clarion Fund advisor. Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy sponsors Latma TV, an Israeli “satirical” show responsible for producing virulently anti-African propaganda and disseminating the Norway “rape epidemic” hoax.
What’s notable is that the RadicalIslam.org report uses the term
“gang rape” which also appeared later on AlterNet and Salon.com. The
term “gang rape” does not appear in the New TV report.
This is a clue that perhaps the story traveled from ultra-right-wing
RadicalIslam.org to “progressive” AlterNet without anyone raising any
Indian website jumps on the bandwagon
Notably the AlterNet report links directly to an Indian website called Daily Bhaskar that also carries the “Eretz Zen” video.
Daily Bhaskar appears to be a website that habitually reports lurid
and dubiously sourced stories of non-Muslim women being raped and
victimized by Muslims.
It’s a telling sign of how deep and common liberal Islamophobia is
that even progressives at AlterNet will believe anything they hear and
not stop to ask a question.
What these repeated episodes show is that it is easy for many people
to believe negative and shocking information about unpopular and
disreputable figures. When the claims are lurid – especially involving
sex and violence – they spread more rapidly. And when they fit multiple
agendas – as in this case – there’s apparently no limit to how far they
AlterNet has posted an apology and analysis of the story’s origins.
On January 2, AlterNet was one of several outlets that published
what turned out to be an article based on a false report. We would like
to apologize to our readers for the error.
Read Exhibit A in How an Islamophobic Meme Can Spread Like Wildfire Across the Internet by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini.
Even after this analysis and AlterNet’s apology and retraction, MSN.com promoted the hoax with the title Saudi cleric calls for gang rapes to soothe weary Syrian fighters. It was published one hour after The Electronic Intifada posted this analysis.
At approximately 15:30 UTC on 3 January 2013, Salon deleted their story which was sourced from AlterNet.
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