A recent letter in the Readers’ Forum of The Blade prompted me to write this column.
I do not generally address specific letters in my column, but this letter crossed the line between opinion and a smear.
The line between news and editorial comments is well defined. Newspapers and other news media are supposed to report news in an unvarnished way. Generally, they do a commendable job.
Editorials are opinions expressed by the editorial staff, while columns are the personal opinions of individual writers. The editorial section of a newspaper with its commentaries and columns is the bully pulpit from which the newspaper and columnists express their opinions — biased at times — to inform, explain, persuade, and at times cajole their readers.
So where do letters to the editor fit in this landscape? The letters are opinions expressed by readers on subjects that they think are important. Letter writers are asked to be brief and to the point when they comment on news items, editorial opinions, columns, or published letters.
Similar to the writers of editorials and columns, letter writers have wide latitude, as long as they stay within the acceptable boundaries of public discourse. There should be no personal attacks or generalizations.
The letter in question crossed that line.
The letter writer commented on my Feb. 6 column, “Get to know others before you judge them,” in which I emphasized that there are small groups in every religion that give a bad name to the entire religion.
The letter writer disagreed with my opinion, as is his right. But then he went overboard.
“But citing the misdeeds of a few practitioners of Christianity and Judaism,” he wrote, “relative to the atrocities committed by entire Muslim nations in the name of Islamic jihad, promoting global terrorism, suicide bombings, execution of nonbelievers, mass murder, and the constant threat of genocide against their Israeli neighbors, pales by comparison.”
I am sure the writer believes what he wrote, and that is OK. But shouldn’t the newspaper challenge the sweeping generalization that atrocities have been committed by “entire Muslim nations” and edit out the offending sentence? By not exercising that responsibility, the newspaper, in my view, became a de facto endorser of that view.
There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. They are far from homogeneous. Like Christians, they belong to different branches and sects and follow different and varied interpretations of their religion.
Some people have difficulty separating politics from religion. To them, any act of violence or terrorism committed by a Muslim is Islamic violence or Islamic terrorism.
In the limited world view of the letter writer, Muslims apparently live only in the Middle East. The fact is, Arabs constitute but only 15 percent of the world’s Muslims. The rest live in countries with no connection to the conflicts of the Middle East. Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, India, and Pakistan — to name a few — are not engaged in any so-called global jihad.
When an American soldier went on a rampage and gunned down 16 civilians in Afghanistan, the headline read: “U.S. soldier slaughters 16 Afghans.” The story did not identify the killer by religion, and that is the way it should be.
But the same standard should apply across the board. A killer is a killer, whether he or she is a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, or a Muslim. No religious labels should be attached.
I have been writing this column for more than 20 years. I have always advocated amity among religions as an article of personal belief. I consider all major religions to be sacred, noble, and thus worthy of our respect and reverence. To degrade or demean a religion is to degrade and demean yourself.
This letter caused considerable consternation among Muslims in the Toledo area. They are loyal and hardworking members of this community. It does not serve any purpose to insult their religion, even indirectly.
The Blade has a long tradition of fairness, and as a champion of interfaith harmony. This letter failed to meet that standard.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org