Posted at 11:30 AM on January 26, 2007
by Andrew Haeg
In a lot of ways, we're trying to demolish the "fourth wall" of media by bringing our audience into the newsgathering/production process.
On Monday, we invited between 15 and 20 Muslims from around the Twin Cities to MPR to discuss their hopes and concerns, what we're missing, what stories we ought to do, etc. Several of us from the newsroom participated.
There was the predictable but needed "Muslims are misunderstood ... we're not all terrorists" talk ... and some very on-point discussion of the word "Islamist" (what does that even mean? We don't say Jewish-ist or Christian-ist). One of our attendees said she hoped more Muslims would be included as regular sources for stories that have nothing to do with Muslims (I don't want to be contacted because I'm a Muslim attorney ... but instead because I'm a good attorney.)
What intrigued me was how at home our Muslim guests seemed. I did not sense any degree, really, of alienation or estrangement. Now this was just an hour-and-a-half conversation ... and we have yet to explore many deeper threads of conversation.
But, for people who are the focal point for so much fear and loathing, living in a once lily-white state, their tone and demeanor did not bely so much frustration or anger ... as a desire to let people know that they like it here, and that they want to be treated like regular old Minnesotans.
It was a great opportunity for our newsroom to get past the obvious story lines, and start thinking about other angles for approaching this community that will reflect its complexity, and the challenges Muslims face integrating with a skeptical, fearful culture.
This is a little off topic.
A service station that was run by a Hindu couple, which is on my way to work, closed a couple of years ago. Their business never recovered after 9-11. Basically, they were dark skinned and spoke broken English. But somehow, that was close enough to "Islamic terrorist" for them to be boycotted out of business.
Are there other groups that should be included in this discussion? Is the problem that we cannot tell our friends from our enemies.