A group of journalists from Asia with an interest in Islam came through today, courtesy of the East-West Center in Honolulu. We told them there was a small but growing group of Islamic residents here, that we do cover them, and have an occasional Islamic columnist on the Saturday Values page, and that this area has a long history of religious tolerance and cooperation.
I also mentioned that I’d heard some voices on talk radio that were hostile towards Islam, and use of terms such as “Islamofascism.” To them it was an odd word.
One of us asked why there haven’t been more voices from Islam denouncing suicide bombers. “Which Islam?” replied Mazlena Mazlan, deputy editor of Mediacorp News, Singpore. “There is still a debate within the religion as to who speaks for Islam.” Moderate leaders have denounced terrorism but have not been covered by the foreign press, she said.
These folks, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India and Bangladesh, seemed all to be moderates. Some wrote for strictly secular papers. A man from Bangladesh said that since 9-11 his paper had to add an occasional anti-American piece from the Arab press to satisfy its more zealous readers that it was not anti-Islamic. This paper also runs the British journalist Robert Fisk, who has been a critic of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A woman from Malaysia said that her Malay-language paper is specifically Islamic, but that most of the corporate stock is controlled by the ruling political party, which is Islamic but moderate. Her paper strives to be Islamic but not so radical that it is identified with the political opposition. Another paper, the Star of Kuala Lumpur, operates under this same Islamic government, but it is in English and its readers are mostly non-Muslims. That paper has to be careful not to be exclusively secular.
We American newspaper writers also have our taboos: We write about religion as it relates to politics, and on the religion page we write about certain things as practices. For example, some weeks ago we ran a story about how a public swimming pool in Seattle had arranged a special swim for Muslim women in which the women covered the windows with paper. But most American newspapers would never have a long, descriptive story about what Islam says about the nature of God, or the immortality of the soul, or any number of things that very religious people care about. In 30 years in newspapers I’ve never seen a rule against doing this, but it just isn’t done.
Respond to Bruce.