How do you bring out the prejudices in a person when writing a news article? Simple, you write a very general introductory paragraph which many people will automatically associate with a specific area or group of people.
And so it is with this opening paragraph:
In the summer of 2012, thousands of people took to the streets to protest a perceived assault on their religion. Traditional values were under attack, the protestors claimed, thanks to the meddling antics of Westerners seeking to disparage conservative views. But in this deeply divided and staunchly sectarian part of the world, it was not long before a counter-protest emerged. Activists picketed the sites of the original demonstrations, condemning the first group’s actions as backward and inhumane. Media pundits from both sides spurred on the controversy, which dragged on for weeks, while politicians exploited it to their own advantage. Meanwhile, people from outside the region looked on in disdain. How could so much outrage be generated over something so trivial?
It has everything: religion; politics; freedoms, Rights and controversy. But where do you think it plays out?
Looking at recent news I don’t doubt that many will automatically start thinking of the Middle East, of Pakistan, of the controversy over freedom of speech and freedom to practice a religion in the Western world compared to that elsewhere. They will think about Koran and Bible burning, about peaceful protests which lead to deaths, about extremists.
And, to a certain extent, they would be right. It has all of those things. It has a lack of open-mindedness, it has religion, it has prejudice, it has a refusal to accept that the rights we are enjoy are the same rights our neighbors should be allowed to enjoy.
And where does the prejudice in the reader come out?
Think for a few moments about your first impression from this opening paragraph. What is it about and where does it take place? Specifically, which country is being referred to here, or which region? Be honest with yourself, did you go for Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran or Egypt? Perhaps Syria or Iran?
Of course, because those are the countries where such things happen. Those are the countries where prejudice against religion is at its greatest, where there is no freedom of speech or freedom to practice religion. It could well be referring to the recent burning of a Bible by Ahmed Abdallah, a television preacher from Egypt who burned a copy of the Bible in retaliation for The Innocence of Muslims, for the burning of copies of the Koran by American soldiers. But it isn’t.
These other countries, those I’ve listed above, don’t have the same rules and ideas as we, in the West, do. They are more than happy to condemn anyone who burns the Bible, but freely and without fear of retribution. They expect an apology from the President himself, but continue to abuse the Christian religion without a second thought, without even a hint of shame and, because of the laws of their countries, they get away with it every single time.
Now, let’s look at it a little bit closer.
It’s true that Ahmed Abdallah burned a Bible, but it isn’t true that he has not been brought to book for his actions. Perhaps you haven’t read all the news sources, perhaps you just concentrate on the Western papers and agencies because they have all the facts? Try something new: Ahmed Abdallah is to be prosecuted for blasphemy for his actions, in Egypt. And the country being referred to in that opening paragraph? That should be clear too, if you think about it. Of course, it’s the United States of America.
Sometimes you need to step out of the box to see the whole picture, read other sources regardless of whether you believe they have a different opinion to your own. If you don’t know what other people think, how can you comment on them, how can you condemn them? How, above all, can you understand their point of view, their way of life?
- Viktoria Michaelis.