The Week in Commentary
American students in North Africa wait and watch to see if conflict will spread
Karis Hustad, a college student from Minnesota now studying in Morocco, tells what it's like to be in a North African Muslim country while anti-American sentiment in the region is running high.
"Throughout the day we watched as the Arab world exploded into protests over an American-made film mocking Islam, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. Each hour seemed to include a new country. Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait, creeping closer by the minute to Morocco, where we are studying abroad this semester.
"Finally, we saw it: a retweet of a TwitPic showing hundreds gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca, about an hour south of the capital city of Rabat, where we live. Further news slowly spread: first the numbers (300-400), then quotes of chants ('Allah! Allah!'), and finally a video of several young men setting fire to an American flag in the middle of the crowd.
"This is an image I had seen many times on the news before: nameless Arab faces yelling things in large crowds, usually waving a burning American flag. But suddenly that clip was thousands of miles closer to where I am, and had the potential to jump off the computer screen and occur outside my window. ...
"Many of my fellow students received worried emails and phone calls from parents and friends back home the next day as the news spread to the United States. Everyone assured his or her loved ones that everything is OK, but the immediate concern isn't surprising: News about the Arab world has never been overwhelmingly positive. Rarely do we even have the chance to develop a nuanced view of a place like Morocco. The only time it makes our media is when Moroccans protest against America."
"In Morocco you can get burned only by eating a couscous too fast ... Enjoy your studies in Morocco, you are in good hands ... and visit the South ! It's gorgeous around this time of the year." -- Omar Benmaazouz, Casablanca
"My wife, two kids and I, all Americans, lived in Morocco for 10 years, and we never had any unpleasant experiences (well, once a taxi driver tried to take the long way the airport). We were living there on 9/11, and for days afterward people would say to us in shops and offices how sad they were about the events in New York. My elderly father phoned the evening of 9/11, suggesting that we might want to return to the United States. I mentioned this to our landlord, who said that it would make more sense for my father to move to Morocco, since it appeared that the United States was under attack." -- Charles Law, Aiken, S.C.
"As a parent who sent a worried email and made expensive phone calls, I thank you for your perspective. You and your group are the world's hope for bridging countries and religions." -- Ellen Megson-Dyer, Oregon
Uproar over video offers a warning about what happens when fundamentalism wins
The Rev. Gordon Stewart, a Presbyterian pastor, ponders the role of fundamentalism in the conflict surrounding an anti-Muslim video made in the United States.
"As a boy I would spend hours lost in the magnificence of the tide pools that dotted the coast of Rockport, Mass. ... The tide pools are filled with fresh seawater. They are the temporary homes that give shelter to the starfish, crabs, periwinkles and sea anemones that are left there for a few hours at low tide.
"Perhaps religion is like a tide pool, a small pool of ocean water that points us to the vast mystery of the ocean on which its life depends. The tide pools hold a few drops of a vast sea. They are filled with the ocean, but they are not the ocean itself. Their health depends on the eternal rolling of the tides to refresh them.
"Wading in a tide pool, it's easy to lose track of time.
"But there are other tide pools, far back from the water's edge, created by the unusually high waves of a storm. Unreachable by the normal daily tides that would refresh them, they are cut off from the ocean that gave them life. They are without oxygen, yellow, and covered by green-yellow slime. Their original beauty has left them to the flies. ...
"As a Christian pastor, I can only take responsibility from within the tide pool of my faith tradition. ... Every Christian pastor is called to do the same in the wake of the viral film that poisoned the ocean from a yellow tide pool in the United States."
"Great analogy! ... Tide pool waters are nature being apostolic; even if the ocean isn't within eyesight, people are instinctively drawn to the marvel of and connection to it, and at the core are likely to believe the tide pool is evidence that there is something greater beyond. There should be simple joy and peace in such a marvelous place ... however, a turtle without good motive, without talent or merit, can make itself king of a pond, can control and oppress other turtles to elevate itself." -- Dan Brunner
Shouldn't we be a little concerned about how Romney's comments came to light?
Commentary editor Eric Ringham considers the ethics of news gathering in light of leaked recordings of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
"Four years ago it was another presidential fundraiser and another secret recording. Candidate Barack Obama thought he was speaking privately to a group of Democratic funders at a function that was closed to the press. And he was. But one of those funders was a double.
"Her name was Mayhill Fowler, and although she had given thousands of dollars to the Obama campaign, she was also a citizen blogger working for the Huffington Post. When she heard Obama say that people under stress tended to cling to their religion and their guns, she had a big story. Soon, Obama's comments at a private fundraiser in San Francisco were being flashed around the world.
"His words became a story because Fowler was able to enter that room as a funder but leave it as a journalist. The distinction troubled a few people at the time, but not many and not for long. Obama's campaign didn't try to deny what he'd said or raise a stink about the state of journalistic ethics at the Huffington Post. So the coverage focused on Obama's comments and not on how the media got their hands on them.
"Today's story is similar. The candidate is Mitt Romney instead of Obama, the funders are Republicans instead of Democrats, the media organization is Mother Jones instead of the Huffington Post. And instead of Mayhill Fowler, we have ... who? Mother Jones won't say who leaked the video, but it appears to have been shot by someone who needed to keep his head down and couldn't afford to be picky about camera angles. ...
"But what about the rest of us? Are we willing to accept the responsibility for what we're helping to create?"
"Mitt said what many people have been thinking. ... Obama needs to stop dividing the country. So much for the audacity of hope. Let's do some tax reform and cut spending so we can ensure our children a chance at the prosperity we had." -- F Hsu, St. Paul
"Yes, we should be concerned about how the Romney comments surfaced. (Even though he was stupid, in the digital age, to have said something that his campaign wouldn't be comfortable appearing on YouTube.) In my case, the Obama campaign people whom I knew in California were happy that I would be reporting about the event. I had reported on Obama fundraisers previously. How could any of us have known that he would say something so different from what he had been saying on the campaign trail days before, in Pennsylvania, where I had been reporting?" -- Mayhill Fowler, Monte Sereno, Calif.
"If this is another example of 'citizen journalism,' then one of the big problems is we have no clue who the citizen or the journalist is. We only know who the distributor is. Is that a problem?" -- Bob Collins, St. Paul
"In today's 24/7 wired world, anyone running for elected office should simply operate on the assumption that anything you say anywhere can — and will — be used against you in the Court of Public Opinion. One would think the folks that run these campaigns would have figured this out by now." -- John O.
"Perhaps there's been a rise in citizen journalists in part because we feel the major media outlets have been doing less and less real reporting." -- Ralf Wyman, Minnesota
"No, we don't need to be particularly concerned about how this video surfaced. Voters have a right to know when a candidate tells his or her donors something different than what he or she tells potential voters. That was true with Obama's comments in 2008 and is true for Romney's comments now." -- Brian Simon, Minneapolis
"I find all A-OK with reporting what happens in a large meeting of any candidate's donors. You have to assume that the donors are going to be talking about what the candidate said. That makes it fair for reporting — if reporters can learn what was said." -- Lewis Cope, Bloomington
How can gambling be bad for citizens but good for the state?
Brandon Ferdig, a writer and blogger, argues that the public budget shouldn't rely on income from undesirable activities.
"Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about the moral hazard of using traffic tickets and other citations for use in the budgets of different levels of government. We shouldn't need lawbreakers in order to meet our public budgets. But neither should we need people to gamble.
"Gambling once was judged as sinful. And though the fire and brimstone has gone out of fashion, it's odd that we've come so far as to advocate gambling. It isn't as direct as any one person telling another to gamble. We hope that those we care about don't go and waste money on lotto tickets, but we encourage everyone else to. ...
"It seems obvious that people are better off not gambling, but our reliance is so high, and the state lottery is so embedded in our lives, that we lose track of this and promote it. (And now we do so to an even higher level because of the new Vikings stadium.)
"Though the state would miss the money, the lottery is a big hit on the personal incomes and savings of countless individuals. And these citizens — a k a the taxpayers — of Minnesota, and thus the state of Minnesota, would be more prosperous if they used this money to spend and invest on truly worthwhile (and economy-building) activities. Without the lottery money pit, the economic pie could be a lot bigger."
"In terms of the Vikings stadium, this use of gambling dollars is simply redistribution of wealth to the wealthy. Period." -- Bob K
"Buying lottery tickets is about the only way the taxpayer can get back some of the money we give to the poor. They are going to spend it all somewhere. Any amount that is returned to the state through ticket buying is better than it being spent on a street corner." -- Steve Austin, Minnesota
The key to getting along in the world is to show respect
Jose Leonardo Santos, anthropologist and professor of social science, explains why a perceived insult to one's religion carries so much power to offend.
"Imagine a newborn baby. Your baby. The most precious thing in the world. Now imagine the neighborhood bully. He walks up to this precious baby. He leans in close over the stroller. He spills a soda on your baby. He laughs, then walks away. Would you be angry? ...
"The scene is upsetting because it is rude. Because babies are precious. Because we know the spill was an insult. We know the laugh mocks us. The spilt soda, the laugh: They alone are not insulting. Their meaning is. Why did he do it to the baby and not to you? Because he knows the baby means so much. The soda, the laugh, the baby have powerful symbolic meaning. ...
"Have you ever seen an old veteran cry before a flag? Same thing. She's not crying because she likes cloth. She's crying because the flag is a precious symbol. ...
"Many in our culture don't 'get' religion. And of those who do, many don't get Islam. But all religions hold something sacred. Religion, to many, is as precious as a newborn child. You don't need to get religion to understand that. ...
"Want peace? Learn the other guy's symbols. Learn what is precious to him.
"It's something we call cultural competence. You want to be respected? Figure out how others show respect. Then show them that respect. Then they might feel you are worthy of respect, too."
"In our society, common respect and decency are dying out. I firmly believe it is one thing that the older generations must teach the younger ones if it is to continue, and for that, we must live in a way worthy of at least some respect." - JB, Minnesota