A letter to the editor many readers found disturbing

November 15, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

On Saturday, Nov. 1, The Herald-Mail published a letter from Faisal Husseini, which exhorted Muslims to stand against the "Zionist-Crusader invasion of our sacred homelands" and to give allegiance to God and not to any nation.

It was not the first time Husseini has appeared in The Herald-Mail. On April 27, 2002, we published his reply to a letter written by Rabbi Janice Garfunkel about the history of Palestine.

On Oct. 3 of that same year, Husseini was quoted in a story about a Washington County interfaith conference. After the moderator, Pastor Ed Poling of the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, asked the audience to refrain from political questions, Husseini asked how there could be any tolerance when "Zionist propaganda" (Garfunkel's letter) appeared in the local newspaper.

And this past Feb. 13, Husseini was quoted in a "people on the street" feature which asked people whether they were going to the see the film "Gods and General."


No sir, Husseini said, "because it is about an American Civil War, not my civil war(the war between Palestine and Israel.)"

I've talked to Husseini at a few of the interfaith events, and while he's passionate about events in the Mideast, I didn't find him threatening.

But a number of readers were upset by his message and called to say that they felt The Herald-Mail should not have published the letter. As one letter-writer asked, don't you have any standards.

Yes, we do, and if Husseini had called for the overthrow of the government or the slaughter of innocents, it wouldn't have been published. I discussed the issue Thursday with The Herald-Mail's Editorial Advisory Board and most members agreed that it may have been an opinion some didn't want to hear, but there was no reason not to use it. There was agreement that we should have known what the Arabic words used meant prior to publication. I plead guilty to that.

But to me what was more disturbing that the letter was the reaction of some who suggested that Husseini was somehow representative of all American Muslims, and the the Muslim community is in some way responsible for his behavior.

Is every Catholic responsible for the pedophiles who infested the ranks of the priesthood? No thinking person would say that. And yet, because Muslims are unfamiliar to many in this community, and because the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim, they are held to a different standard.

After that attack, members of the Muslim community in Washington County came to The Herald-Mail and talked to us about how they could reach out to the community with information at not every person of their faith if a terrorist.

With the help of former county commissioner Ron Bowers, they formed a group dedicated to promoting tolerance between people of different faiths. It would have been much easier to keep a low profile, but instead they tried to educate, to create an organization that would work to make this a region where, as the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, people will be judged first by the content of their character.

We've already printed one reply to Husseini's letter from a member of the Muslim community and and I'm told another is in the works. Judging from the letters elsewhere on this page, there's still a need for some education.

In truth, many of the members of the Muslim community who are active in the interfaith effort are doctors and other medical professionals. They are healers who many in this community trust with their lives and health. And I am proud to say that after working with them for more than a year, some of them are good friends.

Just like many Americans, they are concerned about the increasing coarseness of American life, the entertainment media's emphasis on sex and the possible unpleasant outcomes of the war in Iraq.

Because of the fellowship that's developed in the interfaith meetings, I fooled myself into believing that the community at large saw them as I do. Now I see the interfaith group's work is not complete.

I do understand my callers' fears. I felt the same way after the 9/11 attacks. But I urge all readers to remember that just as every priest is not a pedophile, every Muslim is not a terrorist.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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