USA: Twittersphere Debates Kristof Column on Islam

A column by long-time New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has riled the Twittersphere today. The column, entitled, “Is Islam the Problem?“, mulls over various factors which may have led to what Kristof refers to as “backwardness” in the Arab world.

The column has sparked outrage on Twitter, where individuals from around the world are expressing anger at Kristof and the New York Times generally. @avinunu sums up the problem:

Columnist @NickKristof uses words like “backward” to describe Arabs that he would not dare use for others.

He continues:

Health, education, wealth statistics for blacks are well behind whites in America, @NickKristof. Is that because blacks are “backward”?

Then, alluding to Kristof's extensive experience reporting on Africa, he adds:

Let me ask you a question, @NickKristof, have you ever specifically used the word “backward” to describe Africa?

After Kristof himself tweeted, “Sorry to those I've offended with my Islam column title–but it's what is on people's minds & we have new evidence,” @sickjew asks:

Do you think @NickKristof would write a column titled, “Is Judaism the Problem?” It's “on people's minds.”

Other Symptoms

Others on Twitter raise concerns about the column's title (which asks if Islam is the problem), suggesting that there are other factors at hand. @cellabiao points to US support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East:

@NickKristof the world knows only too well that US funded these murderous dictators & everyone cheers these revolutions. Take a hint already

In response to another Kristof tweet (“@Soraal Of course the Middle East is backward. Look at literacy rates, female labor force participation, political systems. Question is why”), @DianaValerie argues:

@NickKristof @soraal this is a very ignorant comment that discounts our support of dictators who impede citizens’ progress.

Is the New York Times the problem?

Some have noted that the Times itself is often exclusionary toward other voices. @techsoc remarks:

@jilliancyork Don't mind it Kristof joins sincere discussion on ME as long as *we* can also join a discussion about what is wrong w/ West.

@humanprovince seems fed up with the paper's writers:

America really deserves better than the sophomoric barstool faux intellectualism of Brooks, Friedman & @NickKristof:

@krmaher sees the problem as being in the hands of the editors:

To be fair, rest of the new @NickKristof column isn't terrible, but title is neon example of unequal standards. Editors should know better.

But @emjacobi points out:

@krmaher editors should know better, and it's compounded by the fact that NYT columnists write their own headlines!

Agreeing with Kristof

Although much of the conversation on Twitter was in disagreement with Kristof, there are a few who believe his column hit the mark. @walidbey states:

@NickKristof your article about Islam is courageous. I see Islamic legal system doesn't fit modern age. #Islam should reinvent itself

@franyafranya takes a balanced approach:

@NickKristof the arguments r fairly substantiated up til “psychological problem” -no support given; also, “backwardness” is a relative term

@JeSuisBelEsprit thinks Kristof's column has a point:

@NickKristof Critical analysis is good for the soul. Islam itself is an human endeavor and like all human endeavors “things do fall apart.”


  • Jon Garfunkel

    Kristof asks a similar question to the the one that framed Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, & Steel” — why did he, the product of European civilization, have the resources to go to the other side of the world and study in the Papua New Guinea society, and not the way around?

    For better or worse, that is the arrow of anthropology. A crude measure of an advanced society is that it can pass judgment on another one– and that judgment is felt.

    I have read Al-Ahram on at times over the years, and probably came across some columns asserting the inferiority of American or Western civilization. But nobody in the West would ever bat an eye at such a column.

    Yes, I suppose it is a bit patronizing when he concludes:” the break is over, there are no excuses, and it’s time to move forward again.” But would you rather have him asked the question “Is Islam the Problem” and concluded in the affirmative?

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