Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Philadelphia Inquirer shows SF the way

Let's compile a list of the local media outlets that have failed to even mention, let alone formulate an intelligent opinion about, the Moslem riots over the Danish cartoons: The SF Examiner, The SF Bay Guardian, The SF Weekly, BeyondChron, The SF Sentinel, The Usual Suspects, and Left in SF. Only the SF Bulldog's H. Brown and District 5 Diary have circulated a web address where the actual cartoons can be viewed[This link is now to a D5 Diary post with the drawings]. Only the SF Chronicle published an editorial on the issue back on Feb. 5.

It's easy to do the media thing when you're talking to the like-minded and dealing with uncontroversial material. The Philadelphia Inquirer may be the only major daily in the US to actually reprint one of the cartoons and then deal forthrightly with the inevitable protests (see below). The Inquirer found that the sky did not fall; the editor even went out to talk to the demonstrators. No buildings were burned, and no one was killed. This is how it should be done if you're in the media business, whether in print journalism or online. If you're going to talk the free speech talk, you have to walk the walk. The folks on my list are doing neither, which is a disservice to both free speech and local Moslems, since this approach implies both that they don't have the spine to be in the media business and that the area's Moslem community is not mature enough to handle the controversy in a civil manner.

The online political forum, The Wall deserves special mention for their lively exchange---including web sites where the drawings can be seen---on the Danish cartoon riots last month. This is the kind of discussion that could never happen in the mainstream print media---including the SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian---or even, alas, on the "progressive" blogs in SF.

Protesters set a democratic tone
Posted on Tue, Feb. 14, 2006
By John Grogan
Philadephia Inquirer Columnist

Hundreds of Muslims from around the region descended on the Inquirer-Daily News Building Saturday to protest The Inquirer's decision to reprint a caricature of the prophet Muhammad with a bomb protruding from his turban.

I would just like to say to the protesters: I'm with you 100 percent.
It's not that I agree with your point of view. I respect your right to say it.

I think The Inquirer made the right call to run the controversial cartoon, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and has sparked Muslim furor, outrage and, in some instances, violence. It was a good decision, journalistically sound and morally responsible. Intelligent, thinking people, if they are to make informed decisions, have a right to information. All information.

Most Americans cannot fathom how a fairly innocuous caricature, by Western standards, could spur rioting and violence around the globe. How can we begin to understand without being able to examine the offending image as part of the coverage? That said, I cheered Saturday's protesters for the way they conducted themselves. That is, peacefully.

There is a right and a wrong way to express outrage and disgust. And those protesting along North Broad Street over the weekend stood as a model for the rest of the world.

Freedom to engage
No one got hurt. No one lashed out physically. No one made threats. No bombs went off. No fires were set. No cars overturned. The protesters spoke their minds - loudly and forcibly - and made their disgust known.

Elsewhere in the world, Danish embassies have been burned, and riots have turned bloody. And that is hugely ironic, considering the whole point of the cartoon is that Islam has been hijacked by a minority of violent extremists who act inconsistently with the religion's tenets. What better way to sustain post-9/11 stereotypes of Muslims as prone to religious violence than to protest an image by... turning violent?

Fortunately, that did not happen in Philadelphia. Not even close. While there was some hostility in the crowd, everyone behaved. There were some who shouted ugly things and distributed unsavory images, but they were in the minority. And even the worst of it fell well within the bounds of a cherished democratic tradition: the right to free speech and open assembly. The right to disagree and be heard.

Some protesters called for a boycott of the newspaper, and for readers to cancel their subscriptions. It's all fair game, and a rich part of that crazy, messy, not always pretty institution known as democracy.

Let's hope the rest of the world was watching Saturday and taking notes.
Outrage can be expressed without outrageous behavior. Dissent can be registered without descending into incivility and inhumanity.

Bridging the gulf
Bombs don't bridge cultural divides; dialogue does. Violence doesn't breed peace; understanding does. On a gray stretch of pavement Saturday, the talk got under way.Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett walked among the protesters Saturday, and told me that after talking with them she came away with a largely positive impression. "This was a great opportunity for some dialogue," she said. "We're planning on following through. We're having other, richer discussions" with area Muslims.

"We ran the cartoon for a purpose, and it was the same purpose newspapers fulfill, or ought to fulfill, in every circumstance, which is giving people the information they need," Bennett said.

Indeed, had The Inquirer not run the image, area Muslims would have stayed home. The paper's publisher and top editors would have stayed home, too. The gulf would still have been there, only quietly out of sight.

In Philadelphia on Saturday, a bridge, however small and tentative, was opened across that gulf. In this complicated time, we can't have too many bridges.
At the other end lies understanding.

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