The U.S. may have wanted to highlight its respect for Islam—“the United States is not . . . at war with Islam,” the president stressed again on Sunday night—but it appears that the niceties that attended to the burial at sea of Osama bin Laden have not been greeted with acclaim by those whom the administration wished to mollify. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser consulted with “Islamic experts” to make sure that bin Laden’s corpse was handled in accord with Islamic law, but according to the New York Times, the reaction to this in the Muslim world is mixed. In a story that appeared on Wednesday under the headline, “Islamic Scholars Split Over Sea Burial for Bin Laden,” the paper claims that several such scholars and clerics whom it consulted were of the opinion that the burial at sea “was an insult to Muslims.” The right thing to do, they believed, was for the United States to bury him “on land in a simple grave.”
But the paper doesn’t elaborate on the religious reasons why this was an insult. Were Muslim sailors never buried at sea? Other than the desire on the part of his apostles to have a shrine to visit, what is the theological objection to Osama’s sleeping with the fishes? If there is one, the Grey Lady hasn’t managed to get anyone to explain what it might be. The Times also appears to have struck out in coaxing an Islamic scholar who objected to the burial to speak on the record. Although the whole point of the piece was to explore Muslim reactions to bin Laden’s death rites, in fact, the only source quoted by name was Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University, who didn’t express an opinion about this alleged insult but only explained the dangers of a land burial.
Despite the sexy headline, in other words, the Times went hunting for Muslims who were insulted by the burial, but found no one who would do so on the record. That they went ahead and published the story anyway speaks volumes about the agenda of the editors who assigned this bogus piece and pushed it through to publication despite the paper’s failure to prove its case.