First, it was offensive and insensitive to build an Islamic center two blocks away from Ground Zero. Now it’s offensive and insensitive to publish photos of American Muslims peacefully praying, on or around 9/11.
The Portland Press Herald has apologized to its readers for publishing images of Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan, which this year coincided with the 9/11 anniversary. Among the outrageous statements that the accompanying article made: that Portland-era Muslims met to mark the end of the month-long holy fast, that they made a traditional call for charity, and that children played soccer.
Noting that thousands of local Muslims marked a holy day peacefully near the anniversary of a day when a few Muslims committed a mass murder (whose victims included other Muslims) was apparently beyond the pale. The paper’s editor and publisher wrote: “We erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.”
Here’s where we are in America, 2010: There is now one group of Americans whose peaceful religious observance cannot be noted by decent people, unless it is “balanced” by the mention of a vile crime committed in 2001 by people, with a perverted idea of the same religion, from the other side of the world.
This is a depressing statement about the state of dialogue in America. Nine years after 9/11, there is now a widespread belief that, for one religious group of law-abiding Americans, the boundaries of acceptable behavior are narrower than for everyone else. Yes, you have the right to worship. But it would be decent of you to do it somewhere else. Or on another day. Or in such a way that the rest of us don’t have to know about it. So now we have a newspaper kowtowing to a national freakout, apologizing for the most innocuous kind of soft feature, because acknowledging that there are decent Muslims in America is offensive. (From the comments on the article: “I don’t want to here [sic] how caring the Muslim religion is on 9/11.” But hey: it’s only for a few days a year!)
But it’s equally depressing for the state of journalism. This is an extreme instance, but a too-common, craven attitude: if anything you do offends a lot of readers—whatever their reasons, regardless of the merit of the coverage—it is a mistake. If enough people make a loud enough stink—well, it was your job to make sure that never happened. For any reason. This business is in bad enough shape. Just fix it. Make it go away. Apologize.
If there’s one silver lining, it’s that the apology drew its own storm of complaints. From one: “These people and their faith had nothing whatsoever to do with the horrific attack of nine years ago. Our state needs to be more tolerant, not less. Your apology implies that it is in some way OK to connect everyday Muslims and the attackers. I abhor such thinking.”
Well said. The paper owed no one an apology. But it does now.
(h/t to Jay Rosen and Henry Blodget)