Who will condemn media stereotyping?

Amy de Kanter

Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

Everyone has their own set of values, dictated by religion, upbringing or conscience. It would be impossible to publish any newspaper of substance which offends no one. And yet, a couple of cartoons have provoked as much reaction from non-Muslims as from Muslims, as world leaders trip over themselves to assure Muslim nations that they condemn such irreverence. An oxymoron like 'limited (press) freedom' is the heralded catchphrase of the day.

I have a hard time believing that anyone is fooled by such apologies as a sincere concern over hurt feelings. Feelings, and worse, are hurt everyday. In this country we sell and eat pork in front of Muslims, beef in front of Hindus and meat in front of vegetarian Buddhists. And most of us let such 'insults' slide. We acknowledge that what is important to us may not be important to everyone, and in this way, most of the time, we live in peaceful tolerance of one another.

When I first heard about the cartoons I had a reaction I am deeply ashamed of now. With a sinking heart, I thought, "Oh, no, we're in for some more violence now."

Which tells me I've bought into the same stereotypes I'm convinced are behind the apologies from the non-Muslim world. It's just like the tip-toeing around the African American community after the LA riots. We try hard not to ruffle feathers, not because we've gained respect for a religion different than ours, but because this world, very unjustly, equates Islam with violence.

We condemn the press for running a series of cartoons, but where is the condemnation of a media which so far has shown nearly exclusively footage of Muslim people on violent rampages, burning embassies and flags, threatening and boycotting this and that? Assaulted by these images, deprived of peaceful, moderate or indifferent reactions from Muslims, it's no wonder so much of the Western world has such a distorted image of Islam.

And it's this same stereotype which has us nervously trying to shut up anyone who might provoke the wrath of Muslims. There are countless articles and reports written in such a skewed manner that they promote ignorance, fear and even violence against women, legal and illegal workers, poor people, gays and lesbians, and dozens of smaller groups, yet this irresponsible reporting never gets close to provoking the worldwide condemnation sparked by the cartoons. Could it be because there is no stereotype associated with these groups that suggests we have to fear terrible vengeance?

The world needs more dialogue, not less. Freedom of the press is a value. It may not be described in those words in any holy book (although there are several parallels), but it is deeply held as sacred by a great many people.

I, for one, grit my teeth through skewed stories because I know that what allows these irresponsible writers and editors to exist allows the real journalists the story breakers and the whistle-blowers, the heroic eyes to what is really happening, the ones who give voice to the moderate and the peaceful to exist.

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