Readers eager to define Islam — in unkind terms

Paul Russell: the Letter Editor, The National Post:

All major religions have dark chapters in their histories, and also modern-day adherents who pervert their faith’s message. Which is why it’s a general policy of this page not to print letters accusing any religion of being untrustworthy or evil.

That policy was put to the test this week, as protests erupted across the Middle East, seemingly sparked by a film that made crude jokes about the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The headline of a Thursday editorial read: “Don’t let murders define Islam.” Referencing the death of four diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, it advised, “Libya’s murderers do not represent Islam.”

Some readers disagreed, and many of their notes tested the protocol set out in the opening paragraph. To give readers a taste of what is being sent in, here are snippets from their notes, plus rebuttals from other readers.

“How disappointing that the National Post has drunk the Kool-Aid of cultural equivalence,” wrote Philip Carl Salzman. “From almost the first moment in the mid-seventh century, Islam was an imperial, expansionist project …. [T]o conquer the world for Allah is seen as a supreme accomplishment. In this editorial, the Post falls victim to political correctness in its denial of serious cultural differences.”

“Islam can, and is, interpreted to bring out the finest or the most barbaric of human practices,” added Francis Patrick Jordan. “It is now being used in its barbaric form by a smaller group of active practitioners. Without doubt, this is a war of civilizations. I expect the National Post to use its customary clarity in the future.”

Many readers asked regular Muslims to speak out against the riots.

“Until the great mass of decent peaceful Muslims unite in condemnation of those who pervert their religion with violence and hatred, Islam will continue to be defined by its murderous practitioners,” wrote Donald McKay.

In fact, notes from two Muslim-Canadians were printed on Friday, each denouncing the violence, with many more also arriving. Here is an excerpt from one of them.

“As a Muslim, I am ashamed at the reaction to the anti-Islam film; it cannot be justified,” wrote Maidah Ahmad. “However, those who justify the insulting depictions of a religious leader considered holy by more than a billion people around the world as exercising their freedom of speech, should be informed that when Western philosophers advocated freedom of speech, they believed that this freedom would lead to truth and morality … today, freedom of speech has been used to mock and insult.”

– For readers interested in the exploits of explorers, Monday was a double bonus day.

“I read with great excitement this morning two articles about two very different expeditions,” wrote Sydney Presto. “The first was the search for the Franklin Expedition [‘Tooth and bones found from Franklin Expedition’], which was exploring the possibility of a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. The other was about Voyager 1 [‘Bon voyager; A spacecraft prepares to leave the solar system — with a message from humanity in tow’] and its search for life outside our solar system. The juxtaposition of the two explorations in time was extreme, but the imagination and daring were so beautifully human in their similarities. It was riveting reading. Thank you, National Post.”

– Letter writers are often generous with their advice on how to improve this newspaper, especially about what should be on the front page. Here are two such notes.

“I often wonder who decides what will grace the front page of the National Post,” wrote M. Blainey. “Wednesday’s sausage picture was no exception. Would it not have been much more captivating to have a complimentary photograph of Stephen Harper, along with a positive article on his award as 2012 World Statesman of the Year? I think he deserves a bit of positive spin from a media that is all-too-quick to tell us that he has offended some group or other and is not ‘charismatic,’ etc. He’s got every other world leader beat by a long shot.”

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