'Sorry' was the wrong word

By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  September 16, 2010

I’ve waited a long damn time for this state to become less white. Not as long as some, I admit, but long enough. I’ve been pretty patient, too, even though I felt uncomfortable at times as one of the rare people of color here. Now, I can see at least a few every day without breaking a sweat, when nearly nine years ago I could go days upon days without seeing a single non-white face.

So let me tell you that I’m glad we have enough diversity now, with enough people celebrating Muslim holy days, that the daily newspapers around here can cover such events.

In my hometown of Chicago, celebrating Ramadan in a community might not warrant news coverage, given all the shady politics, crime, and social blights to deal with. But here, in Maine, my heart is often warmed by how normal people doing normal things can make the news regularly.

As such, I’m not very happy when a bunch of Muslims celebrate their holy day, and the news covers it, and the biggest newspaper in the state then apologizes for its coverage of the event because of some thin-skinned commenters, callers, e-mailers, and letter writers.

On September 11, the Portland Press Herald wrote a great story talking about how local Muslims marked the end of Ramadan with an Eid celebration. As a non-Muslim, I enjoyed reading the piece very much. However, some of my fellow Mainers felt the piece was ill-timed.

After all, it ran on September 11 and as we all know well, 911 isn’t just the emergency services number you call; it’s also the date we remember the deaths of nearly 3000 people and the injury of thousands more, as well as the toppling of the World Trade Center towers. On the day we mark one of the worst tragedies to ever happen on American soil, some commenters online made it clear they found the story to be ill-timed and insensitive. Some of the more ignorant folks actually felt the paper was pandering to terrorists.

Apparently unable to find his testicles, the newspaper’s publisher, Richard Connor, printed an apology the next day expressing his dismay for offending folks.

As America becomes more diverse — and darker — in recent generations and into the future, it is both inevitable and desirable that our wide-ranging lives, histories, cultures, and traditions will overlap and be shared.

Saying “sorry” for being part of that smacks of cowardice.

Maybe I am biased, since I am the wife of a professional journalist, but apologizing for covering the news seems silly at best and dangerous at worst.

Just because a small number Muslim terrorists wreaked havoc on America doesn’t mean you demonize all of Islam’s millions of adherents. Lumping them all together as terrorists, terrorist supporters, terrorist sympathizers, or future terrorists borders on a level of hate and stupidity unbecoming of the “Land of the Free.”

Last time I checked, one of the worst terrorist acts before 9/11 was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, a crazy white guy who blew up a federal building that had not only federal workers in it but also a daycare center. But we don’t fear or target people who look like him. Frankly, the list of crazy white men who have done hateful things just in my 37 years on the planet is long, but still white men are given the benefit of the doubt.

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