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ISSUE 119 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/24/2006

Letter to the Editor

By Letter to the Editor
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 24, 2006

According to the mission statement of the Counterweight, the conservative student newspaper “seeks to provide a balance in the media at St. Olaf College.” The last issue of the Counterweight, however, goes beyond acceptable civil discourse and is an embarrassment to real conservatives. I am writing to the Manitou Messenger rather than to the editors of the Counterweight because I’d like to express my concerns to the wider St. Olaf community.

The heading of Ben McDonald’s column, “On the Muslim Response to the Danish Cartoons,” immediately raises the questions how anyone could generalize about “the” Muslim response to the Danish cartoons satirizing Muhammed. Muslims are as diverse a group as Christians are, but his column does not recognize such nuance.

“The followers of Islam worldwide,” McDonald writes, “have taken to the streets in violent protests, which cost more than a hundred lives.” Yet in the very next paragraph he quotes Mustafa Dualeh, president of St. Olaf’s Muslim Student Association (MSA), who wrote in the Manitou Messenger that MSA “does not believe that harming people or vandalizing people’s offices and houses is an Islamic response.” MSA’s position, McDonald tells us, shows “an uncommon level of civility.” Indeed, “the more universal Muslim response has been quite different,” because “Muslims choose to protest their illustrated connection to violence [sic] by burning innocent people alive” and “the violence perpetrated almost universally by Muslims poses a serious challenge to the claim that Islam is a religion of peace.”

“Almost the entire Muslim world has erupted into a deadly rage that has killed scores of innocent people,” McDonald writes. Presumably he knows that a score is twenty. Every one of these deaths was a tragedy. (Most of the victims, incidentally, were Muslim.)

It’s important to keep a sense of scale. There are over a billion Muslims in the world, and few had any responsibility for the hundred some deaths that occurred. Nearly all Muslims, like the members of MSA, had nothing to do with these violent protests. More than a billion Muslims went on peacefully with their lives and never made it into newspaper headlines. But they are much more representatives of Muslims worldwide than the infinitesimally tiny minority who protested “by burning innocent people alive.” McDonald’s generalizations about Muslims are inflammatory and indefensible.

It is true that some Muslims are narrow-minded and intolerant, holding simplistic and hateful stereotypes about people who are different. The same holds true of some non-Muslims, as this column of the Counterweight demonstrates.

– Robert Entenmann, Professor of History and Asian Studies

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