Free Ali Al-Timimi

September 14, 2008

A Clerical Error

Filed under: Labels and Libel — sandboxarea @ 2:08 am

It's not my fault... it's the typewriter


They call Ali names– slurs really– in the guise of accurate reporting. In the first blog post of the category “Labels and Libel”, I discussed how some writers wanted to lend credence to the government’s absurd claim that Ali had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). And what’s worse, they published it from the house that Woodward and Bernstein built. 

So that’s how some writers portray Ali’s home. What about Ali, the man… Ali, the person?

It’s been the practice of the Wall Street Journal– for a good many years– to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” when referencing just about everyone… Wall Street CEOs, movie stars, Joe Q. Public man on the street… even thugs and dictators.

So, does anyone reference Ali as Dr. Al-Timimi? I haven’t see it. You might think that they rather use “Mr. Al-Timimi”… I haven’t seen that either.

So which title do a lot of reporters use? Cleric.

The word “cleric” carries a lot of baggage with it. And since Islam does not have a priest caste as is found in Christianity or Hinduism; “cleric” is used by Western writers as a catch-all for the professional religious man. And if you take a moment to think about it, you’ll realize that there are never any good connotations to the words: Muslim cleric. I’m sure you’ve read stories about the Shiite cleric named Muqtada Al-Sadr. 


More importantly, the real harm in describing Ali as a cleric is that it perpetuates one of government’s myths: that Ali ran a mosque and had a bunch of followers.


Ali wasn’t in charge of Dar Al-Arqam. Though he did give lectures there, he also gave religious talks at other places as most knowledgeable Muslims do. So was Ali at the mosque everyday? No. In fact, he had moved away from the area of Dar Al-Arqam about a year or so after its founding. So during the years 2000-2005, Ali rarely worshipped there. 

Dar Al-Arqam was founded in 1999– with Ali’s participation. And while he lived near that office space turned part-time mosque, he might have prayed there for the evening prayer… that’s 1 prayer out of the 5 daily prayers that most Muslims pray. 

So if Ali wasn’t a “professional religious man”, then what did he do during his 9-to-5? Ali worked on curing cancer and other gene related diseases while working full-time at the university and earning his PhD… more like 6am-to-midnite.


I guess that it’s harder to sell newspapers when the title of an article is “Cancer Researcher Indicted” or “Knowledgeable Muslim Convicted” rather than “Muslim Cleric Convicted”.


August 31, 2008

Labels and Libel

Filed under: Labels and Libel — sandboxarea @ 12:54 pm



211 and 187 are just numbers. But make sure you never joke with a California Highway Patrol officer about a “one-eight-seven” during a traffic stop. You probably won’t make it home in one piece. Words have power and words can sometimes have a hidden meaning.

The government lawyers frequently employ a set of code words to describe Ali. Even a year prior to his indictment the government started a smear campaign against Ali by planting stories in the media about him. Unfortunately, members of the press were all too willing to parrot the government’s descriptions.

I wanted to highlight how the use of certain words can prejudice the listener. As I discussed in “Judge Me, Judge Me Not“, the Magistrate who authorized Ali’s search warrant could only rely on the government’s characterization of Ali. To secure the warrant, the government used the special words: Islamic group, military training, and WMD (weapons of mass destruction).

As none of those descriptions were truthful, we should perhaps label them as Words of Malicious Deception. The goal was to not only to secure a Magistrate’s signature… but to begin Ali’s trial in the media. Irrespective of your opinion of any specific newspaper or journalist, the fact remains that democracies need journalist to tell the truth. In fact, Congress enacted laws to ensure that the US press would not be manipulated by the CIA. And the much discussed reporter shield law might further strengthen our democracy.


In this post, I wanted to focus on the use of cul-de-sac which was used by the Washington Post to describe the location of Ali’s house. If we look at the other description used to characterize Ali’s home, the reporter described it as a “brick townhouse”, located on “Meadow Field Court”, which is “near” a huge shopping center called “Fair Oaks Mall”, which is located “in Fairfax” which is one of the wealthiest suburbs in America. 


So, the use of cul-de-sac provides no additional clarification to the reader. You might say that the reporter was just being thorough. Hummm. That’s sooo… September 10 thinking. The intent was to slyly communicate that Ali had a siege mentality much like various American militia members who build bunkers in their homes.

Ali lived in a residential community which contained over 100 townhouses. You know, with the typical layout were you’re sandwiched by your neighbors… the type where the neighbor’s cat hops over the adjacent deck… because you treat it better.


So did Ali live in the cul-de-sac area of the property… no. Ali lived at the corner before you get to the cul-de-sac. Why? Dislike of French words? Maybe that’s why he never lived in New Orleans with all those Rues. Does it mater? Only if you’re trying to lend credence to the government’s “WMD” absurdities.


So did the reporter intentionally mislead the readers be weaving the cul-de-sac lie into the WMD story line? What do you think? If so, it was masterfully done. Perhaps I should renew my Washington Post subscription if not for the truth then at least for the fiction writing.

Woodward and Bernstein preserve us!

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