The Times Gets Tough: A New Public Editor! Meet Ali bin-Zabar

Dear Readers of The New York Times:

Recently, The Times— along with virtually every other American news organization—decided to show “sensitivity to Islam” by declining to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. At the time, some of you wondered: “What kind of slippery slope are we on here?”

With this column, I am prepared to provide the answer.

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Ali bin-Zabar, the new public editor of The New York Times.

Reporting to no one but the Prophet himself, my goal here is not to defend “All the News That Fits,” but to make sure The Times publishes only “All the News That’s Halal.”

In short, there’s a new imam in town. And with no further ado, let us proceed down the path to righteousness.

Dear Ali bin-Zabar:

All praise to Allah. Peace be upon him. My question is threefold: 1) Wasn’t it just a little hypocritical of The Times to illustrate the story of the Danish cartoons by using a portrait of the Madonna painted with elephant dung? 2) What happened to their so-called “journalistic integrity”—their vaunted “freedom of speech” and cherished “First Amendment rights”? 3) Would you agree they capitulated and (pardon the pun) “caved” into political correctness here? Akbar Z, Brooklyn

Dear Brother Akbar:

Indeed, you raise interesting issues. So allow me to preface my answer by quoting from The San Francisco Chronicle, whose editors declared “Islam is not a violent religion.”

On the one hand, you’re right: If The Times were really interested in not wanting to incite violence, they probably wouldn’t have published the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib prison. (Fortunately for us, they ran them.) Likewise the tank photographs from Tiananmen Square. (Fortunately for them, this kind of censorship is now being outsourced to Google. It’s the American way.)

From a theological standpoint, however, I would remind you: There are no “puns” in the Koran. There are no “Amendments,” first or otherwise. And to those who would disagree, I reply: Death to the infidels. A fatwa upon your house. May your embassies go up in flames, your flags burn in hell, and may your S.U.V.’s meet their fate at the hands of an I.E.D. on the Grand Central Parkway.

P.S.: Starting next week, the Escapes section will be renamed Hostages.

Dear Brother bin-Zabar:

Salamu Alaikum. Peace be with you. What about the sports pages? Any changes in the offing? S.L., Jersey City, N.J.

Dear S.L.:

American football is grotesque; basketball, debauched. Hockey is dominated by gamblers. American baseball is drug-riddled, and the so-called “World Series” is imperialistic. The Koran teaches us that there shall be no false idols. Thus, no sports section. It is banished.

Dear Ali:

Shalom! I just adore Thursday and Sunday Styles. You’re not planning any changes, are you? Debbie T., Murray Hill

Dear Ms. T:

Allow me to be blunt. Allah does not countenance conspicuous consumption. He is not amused by “lifestyle porn,” or the acquisitions of the “rich and well-married.” Thus, it is all banished.

Dear Ali:

Wait a minute. What about the fashion coverage? Debbie

Dear Ms. T:

Allah has peered inside the tents at your Bryant Park and found nothing but decadence, depravity and semi-naked women whose dress contravenes Sharia law. To paraphrase the Prophet: “I’m not loving it.” Thus, this too is banished.

Dear Ali:

Oh my God. What about the Op-Ed columnists? Debbie

Dear Ms. T:

Tom Friedman is most amusing when he channels conversations with Arab leaders; we’ve enjoyed Maureen Dowd’s skewering of Rummy, Scooter and Shooter. But try as we might, we can find nowhere in the Koran where it says that women are entitled to “opinions.” Thus, Maureen is banished.

Ali:

This is awful. Horrible. What about the gay wedding announcements? Debbie

Dear Ms. T:

As you’re no doubt aware of the Koran’s position on homosexuality, let me be clear here: In the future, there will be no more pictures of Bruce and Seth—nor Beth and Beth—unless they appear under a headline “New Trends in Public Stoning.”

Dear Brother Ali:

Excuse me—if I can just get a word in here, I’d like to change the subject. What did you think of the Washington Post cartoon that depicted Donald Rumsfeld at a military hospital, telling a quadruple amputee: “I’m listing your condition as battle-hardened”? B.W., Georgetown

Dear B.W.:

This is what I love about America: You get your knickers in a twist because the Joint Chiefs sent a letter to The Washington Post, whereas we would have sent an entire army division, with howitzers. Peace be upon you.

Dear Ali bin-Zabar:

Why do you think there’s never been a violent reaction to The Times publishing Piss Christ and the elephant-dung Madonna? F.X.R., Vatican City

Dear F.X.R.:

In 1944, Josef Stalin sneered: “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?” The answer, then as now, is obviously zero.

Dear Brother Ali:

Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau said he would never use images of the Prophet, and that when a newspaper drops one of his cartoons, it’s not censorship but editing. What say you? L.C., Chicago

Dear L.C.:

He sounds sort of like George Orwell channeling Voltaire: “You may not like what I draw, but I’ll defend your right to censor it.” Spineless? I’ll let you be the judge. Mr. Trudeau has always been willing to take shots at people who don’t shoot back. But we will.

Dear Ali:

It’s me again, Debbie. O.K., you’re killing the style sections, Maureen, and sports. But it’s spring, and I still need a new wardrobe. Got any tips? Debbie T., Murray Hill

Dear Debbie:

In all of America, only a handful of newspapers had the courage to publish the Muhammad cartoons. And only one—The Boston Phoenix—admitted that their decision not to publish them was based on the fear of violent reprisals. So, in the spirit of The Times, here’s my spring fashion statement: Yellow is the new black.