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July 25, 2016 1:26 pm

The New York Times Touts Mecca as a ‘City of the Future’

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Women in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Wikipedia.

Women in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Wikipedia.

The New York Times has finally found a religion it likes: Islam!

Sure enough, today’s newspaper features a full-page color advertisement for “Pilgrimage: A new virtual-reality film from The New York Times Magazine.”

The breathless promotional copy touts: “Be transported by virtual-reality technology to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city and pilgrimage destination to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Rarely seen by non-Muslim eyes, the Mecca of today is not only a place of faith — it is a city of the future.”

The Times video does indeed feature “virtual-reality technology,” but the “reality” it depicts is a kind of airbrushed, promotional, tourism ministry-type piece of propaganda.

The Times reports that “Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars” to improve the city’s infrastructure. But it doesn’t mention the stampedes that killed thousands of pilgrims in 2004, 2006, and 2015. Nor does it mention where these billions of dollars came from — almost certainly oil revenue that contributes to global warming of the sort that is usually of immense concern to the Times when its source is offshore drilling or hydraulic fracturing in America, rather than pumping from the sands of Saudi Arabia.

Instead, there’s a kind of gee-whiz tone that suffuses the Times video. Mecca features “impressive architecture,” and “ice cream trucks.” The Muslims are stuck with ice cream because they can’t grab a cold beer — it’s banned in Saudi Arabia, and if you are caught drinking one, the penalty is flogging. No word in this Times video about flogging or any of the other more colorful punishments in Saudi Arabia, such as beheading. No word, either, about women’s rights — or, more accurately, the lack of them — in the kingdom. All that might get in the way of the Times’ depiction of Mecca as a “city of the future,” making it sound more like a city of the past. Maybe that’s the difference between “virtual” reality and just plain old-fashioned real reality.

Instead, the Times serves up middle school social studies obviousness, like a statement that: “Millions of people travel to Mecca every year from all over the world.” The same could be said of New York City, or Washington, DC, but at least in those places a woman can drive a car or drink a beer without risking a public whipping.

The video is narrated by one Sarah Almukhtar, whose background seems to be in urban planning and architecture, not journalism or religion. Her CV describes her as having been a freelance graphics editor at the New York Times since May 2014, though she told me she’s now on staff.

Another individual involved in making the video, photographer Luca Locatelli, “was raised Catholic” but “gained entry to Mecca through his marriage to an Indonesian Muslim, which included a ceremonial conversion and gave him a feeling of sympathy for his wife’s religion,” a separate Times article discloses. That Times article quotes Mr. Locatelli reporting, “Mecca was truly peaceful.”

The video includes not only a visit to Mecca, but a side trip to Mount Arafat, where, the Times explains, “Prophet Mohammad gave his final sermon calling for Muslim unity.” Left unsaid is that the lack of Muslim unity is one reason that the religion’s adherents are viciously slaughtering each other in Syria and Iraq to this day.

I’m not someone who believes Islam is all bad, or that every article or video about it or Saudi Arabia should be all negative. But this video goes so far afield from normal journalistic values that it’s downright strange.

A New York Times look at Judaism or even Christianity with this level of reverence, with this degree of absence of any reportorial skepticism, is totally unimaginable.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. 

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Bart Blua

    I understand that in their black market, (redundant phrase) you can get quite a tasty ham sandwich. It cost an arm and a leg however, Or a head. They also sell ‘head cheese’.

  • rd

    Witness the suicidal idiocy of the Left exemplified by the NY Slimes

  • Diane B.

    I will gladly start a fund to charter a plane to fly all NY Times employees and the NY Times Editorial Board to PERMANENTLY MOVE to this wonderful, advanced and inclusive country – Saudi Arabia. Anybody want to chip in?

  • Ariel

    It reminds me of the time I saw from movies when whites had one public drinking fountain and blacks had a different one… or when Jews couldn’t seat on a bench where Christians could… yet no UNESCO, Human Rights, black movements, religious tolerance movements or ACLU groups are condemning this apartheid style system.

  • sheldon hersh

    Isn’t it ironic that the New York Times sings the praises of development and modernity in Saudi Arabia, a country that does not permit free press or the free and open expression of ideas or beliefs.

  • nat cheiman

    The future concrete dump after a nuke

  • Only Moslems are allowed in Mecca. The city will hardly be a global tourist destination if the only tourists are Moslems on religious pilgrimages.

  • Franklin Delano Paskutnik

    I couldn’t help chuckling after reading this article – the New York Times seems to get sillier by the day. As is well-known non-Muslims are strictly forbidden from entering Mecca. The penalty is instant deportation from Saudi-Arabia – or worse – if caught. That’s an “improvement” on the former practice of beheading of infidels found in Mecca;although beheading of political opponents of the ruling Saudi family mafia and “criminals” (as defined by sharia law) still regularly take place.Imagine the outcry if non-Catholics are prohibited from visiting the Vatican or non-Jews from visiting the Jewish holy shrines in Jerusalem!In fact the Jordanian regime which ruled in east Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967,where most of the Jewish holy places are,cruelly barred all Jews from accessing these sites during that time.Perhaps the editor and non-Muslim staff of the New York Times should be sent on an extended vacation to their beloved Saudi-Arabia,including Mecca of course.Just remember to supply them with one-way tickets!

  • rm

    It neglected to warn women visitors of all the institutionalised strictions and prohibition under SA strict sharia laws placed on women ie: Driving, “exposing” your face; walking in public placed alone and unaccompanied by a man relative, are all forbidden by law and breaking these rules severely punished. How can the NYT can claim to be “progressive” while turning blind eye to these appalling misogynistic laws? Shame

  • dante

    any photos of the road signs diverting non-Muslims from the entrances to the city? a city only for Muslims. the nyt approves. (btw: what happens to a non-Muslim found in the city? just asking…go look it up.)

    it should go without saying that the dishonest and hateful drones of the nyt would become hysterical if there were even a rumor of a city that slaughtered any non-Christian or a town that massacred any non-Jew; it would be the subject of sustained, angry, self-righteous condemnations from the first page through the editorial pages. but, in the morally corrupt world of the nyt, a different rule applies to Muslims.

    another question: what happened to the Jews who lived in Mecca & Medinah centuries before there was an Islam, before Muhammad was born? I’ll give you the answer to this one: the Muslims slaughtered them because the Jews didn’t want to convert or accept subjugation.

  • When I first read the title I thought what the hell! Crazy, crazy, WHY!? Then I read your truthful and humorous article and thought good I am not losing my mind. The future city! oh my good God in heaven I pray for that never to happen. Seriously what is wrong with some people why do they glamorize evil just because they cannot get past the wealth.

  • gregg solomon

    After 9/11 and the Iraq invasion I realized I knew next to nothing about Islam and studied it, studied it fairly well. Studied Mohamed, the theology, the first Caliph then the Caliphates, the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the granddaddy of Islamic Fundamentalist Violent Jihad founded by Hassan al-Banna (sp)in the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman’s and the end of WWI, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Koran, the “Mecca Koran” and the “Medina Koran,” the Hadith(s), Sunnah, Ummah, Submission, Sharia, Infidel, Jihad (personal and expansionist), Sunni, Shia, Wahhabi, Sufi. I even met with a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    It is not complicated. Mohamed believed his Abrahamic religion was God’s final instructions. As far as the Jews he wanted them to anoint his theology as the ultimate Abrahamic faith and even directed his followers to face toward Jerusalem to win favor with the Jews. The Jews said thanks but no thanks we believe in Judaism you believe in what you want. Mohammed then directed his followers to pray facing Mecca and thereafter the Koran is full of demonizing and de-legitimizing the Jews because there couldn’t be “two people of the book.” A servant of God made of Jews “descendants of apes and pigs” for not following Islam is in the Koran. The Hadith has a well-known passage which says “…Abdullah come and kill him (the Jew).” All non-Muslims must either convert and submit (Islam means submit) or not practice their own religion and submit to Sharia. When all submit to Sharia God’s Judgement Day will come. One is either a Muslim or an Infidel, expansionist Jihad is what it is, only by the sword will all be made to submit (the Saudi Flag and several Arab Muslim flags have a sword in them.
    That’s Islam and like all religions there are those that are fundamentalists and those that are moderate and those that are secular leaning. After WWI, Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that the reason the Arab-Muslim world had fallen behind the “West” was not because they hadn’t modernized but because they had become too much like the West and had to return to fundamental Islam. He wrote an essay “The Industry if Death” in which he called for Muslims to stop cherishing life. Like the West, but cherish martyrdom for Islam.
    As far as Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia as the birthplace and home of Mohamed, of Mecca and Medina, and because of the rise of the puritanical Wahhabi sect the Saud family made a deal with the Wahhabi’s a couple of hundred years ago- we’ll support pure Islam if you let us control to be rule– both sides got what they wanted- Fundamental Islam in Mohamed’s home and the Saud’s got money and power. What’s not none is if the Saud family at this point are truly Fundamentalist Muslims or just maintaining their end of the bargain.
    Subjugation, abuse, rape of women, female genital mutilation, honor killings, expansionist Jihad, stoning’s, amputations, executing gays, which Islam believes is for good reason not to be brutal, is Islam. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali has written and said, the hope is that Islam undergoes a Reformation like what occurred in Christianity and Judaism. Sulzberger and the NY Times Sulzberger are either ignorant or wishful thinkers. They are doing a dis-service to the world. What they should do is publish the history and theology of Islam- Submission, Sharia, Infidel, Jihad, The day of Judgment; as far as Saudi Arabia publish the history of Mohammed/Arabia/ Mecca/Medina, the Saud family and the Wahhabis (spa); as far as the greater Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Spain they should publish the history of the Muslim Conquests and the concept of Ummah; and they should publish a call for a reformation, define it, rally moderate and secular Muslims to join with moderate and secular non-Muslims and crowd out Fundamentalism and Jihad.

  • John Burruto

    The New York Times has still not found it’s mind lost in the late 1920’s.

  • Whan are Jews going to wake-up and STOP BUYING The New York Times?

    • Diane B.

      Good point! Also, when will Jews wake up and STOP VOTING for DEMOCRATS?

  • Ira,

    Great analysis and very well written. Thank you for your commentary on the NY Times farce.

  • Yaakov

    Communications people — news media, PR, marketing, advertising — all come from the same mold these days. The “pro-Israel” crowd are not above this, either.

    • Franklin Delano Paskutnik

      I would really hope that many more PR,marketing and advertising professionals would join the ” ‘pro-Israel’ crowd”,as you call them. That’s exactly what pro-Israel and pro-Jewish supporters need to counteract the continual vicious attacks on Israel and Jews – not just in the Muslim-controlled media but,sadly,in the majority of the Western media as well.