Dangers of "Mishistory"

The editorial page is my favorite section of the paper. One can read the editorial opinion of the newspaper on a wide range of issues. One can see the editorial cartoons that satirize and lampoon issues and people in creative ways. And you can read the letters-to-the-editor. Some people write in once in a lifetime; others write in more frequently. Many are political: lauding Bush or attacking Bush. Condemning or defending the American presence in Iraq…

There is nothing wrong with civil disagreement of opinion. It’s both interesting and entertaining to watch (and maybe be involved with) the back and forth in the paper. However, I am increasingly concerned with the ease in which people get “mishistory” into print.

In less than a one week period (November 8-13), there were three letters-to-the-editor that misrepresented the facts in order to disseminate the authors’ opinions. To have an opinion based upon fact is respectable. To twist history or omit history to achieve a subjective agenda is harmful. When “mishistory” is disseminated, it gives credence to the letters’ contents. After all, if it’s in the paper, then it must be true, right? The editorial staff of any paper receives so many letters, that many cannot be printed. This I know. Unfortunately, when “mishistory” is printed and is left unchallenged –then some may be swayed. When such letters involve xenophobia, people can be hurt.

For example, Patrick Clark (“French wages of sin,” 11/13/05) suggests that the rioters in France are “the same groups that we have been engaged within Iraq for the last several years.” Point of fact: the rioters are Algerian-French citizens who are complaining about unemployment and racism. Yes, many are Muslim, but no they are not Iraqi-Sunni nationalists fighting against a government that they believe to be imposed and nor are they radical fundamentalists who purport to support a religion whose very teachings they violate.

Luckily, after I began writing this piece, Naomi Herzfeld had a letter printed in the paper which corrected Clark’s ignorance:
French riots about poverty, not religion
01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Did Patrick Clark consult anything except his prejudices when he claimed, in his Nov. 13 letter (“French wages of sin”), that the French rioters are fanatic Muslim terrorists, “the same groups” as those in Iraq? Does he also believe that every Irish Catholic who commits violence is a member of the IRA?

Read your newspaper, Mr. Clark. The rioters are native French citizens, angry at a government that keeps them living in slums, lacking educational and employment opportunities, treated like second-class citizens because of their immigrant descent.

I don’t condone their violence, but these men are no more religious terrorists than the African-Americans who rioted in Watts and Los Angeles under similar conditions.
The only thing the French rioters have in common with Islamic extremists is that they call God by the same name — as do a billion peaceful, hard-working people throughout the world.

Let’s go with the facts, not bigoted stereotypes.

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