As surely as Easter brings news stories questioning the Resurrection, the arrival of Ramadan can be expected to bring exactly the opposite -- news reports that are essentially pro-Muslim marketing. And a new four-story package in The Miami Herald returns to that stale script:
Muslims are nice people and good Americans. Muslims are just like the rest of us. Terrorists are not really Muslims. Muslims are persecuted.
Let me stress: Not that any of those points are invalid.
As a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I interviewed a lot of Muslims who were happy as Americans and horrified at what was being done in the name of their faith. But to take essentially the same angle featured in so many newspapers for so many years is, by definition not news -- it's more like PR or image management.
We should have gotten better after that the Herald spent several months with four families on this package, resulting in a total of 3,435 words and three videos (which, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with GetReligion's software platform).
What appears to be the mainbar bears all the above clichés, leading with the persecution:
Yasemin Saib was filling bags with rice for a Feed My Starving Children event when she rolled out a mat and began to pray. A man interrupted her, asking her what she was doing.
"I’m praying," Saib said.
"To Jesus?" he demanded.
A few weeks earlier, the Cooper City school of her 7-year-old son was vandalized, with the words "F--- Muslims" splayed across a wall in bright red letters. "We live in frightening times in the United States," Saib said. "I can say that as an American Muslim."
Schools defaced. Stares on airplanes. Shouts of "Go Home’’ -- this is life in 2016 for many American Muslims. An anti-Muslim mood fueled by 9/11 has reached a throbbing crescendo after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called for a "total and complete shutdown" of U.S. borders to Muslims in the wake of December’s San Bernardino terrorist attack.
"Throbbing crescendo." How did that phrase get past the editor? That might work for the New York Post, but not for a once-world class daily.
Here's a capsule of the other three stories:
* Munira Motorwala wears T-shirts and jeans; she has mementos from New York; she holds a degree from Florida International University in Miami. Her daughter Sana is a straight-A student, loves Star Wars and classic rock. "We are as normal as everybody else," she says. "We may dress a little differently or maybe we look a little different, but we are just as them."
* For his 10th wedding anniversary last year, Yasir Billoo took his wife and daughter on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas. And they send their daughter to public school so that "her friends would realize she is just like them."
* "He has a level of positivity about him that I think is contagious," says Mudassar Waqar's boss at a travel agency. "He’s probably one of the best people I know, inside or outside of work." The Herald adds that he grew up celebrating Halloween, watching movies and going to Friday prayers at a mosque.
And all the stories prominently mention persecution. Besides the lede item about Yasemin Saib, we read:
* "Go back to India. You guys are pigs. You don’t belong over here," someone shouted at Munira's husband and son.
* Billoo was questioned before boarding a plane to Paris, then pulled off and questioned again, before being allowed to fly.
* Emaan Waqar "burst into the backseat of her mom’s SUV and began sobbing" after a boy shouted that she was a member of ISIS.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations adds: "It’s become a litmus test, almost, for being a ‘true American’ that you have to express hostility toward Islam and Muslims." That doesn't help, Ibrahim.
Despite Hooper's hyperbole, the Herald doesn't prove that anti-Muslim persecution is on the rise. The most it says is that in the month after the Paris attacks in November, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States tripled. Sounds ominous until you learn that the count rose from an average of 12.6 attacks per month to 37. New England saw more anti-Semitic incidents than that just so far this year, reports the Anti-Defamation League.
Now, I have no doubt that all the incidents the South Floridians cite did happen. Some Americans are bigoted toward Muslims, and some are afraid. But if you're going to ride so hard on the bigoted, it's only fair to cite an incident or two that made them feel that way.
One might be the story of Adnan El Shukrijumah, who grew up in Miramar, between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. He vanished in 2001, then resurfaced as a major commander for Al-Qaida -- then was killed in Pakistan two years ago. The story came up in a story by McClatchy -- the newspaper chain that owns the Herald.
The four-story package, as long as it is, doesn't even follow up on some angles it could have explored. Remember Feed My Starving Children, the charity Yasemin Saib was helping? Well, the group describes itself as a Christian nonprofit. That detail would illustrated her feelings for non-Muslims. But the Herald doesn't report it, although it linked to the group's website.
And remember Emaan Waqar, who sobbed when a boy called her a member of ISIS? Well, the newspaper says she made cookies for Eid al-Adha:
The cookies were decorated in shapes like stars and mosques, boxed up with a note that explains Islam and delivered to neighbors and non-Muslim friends. Emaan gave two of the boxes to the boy, for him and his father. Emman said she and the boy are now friends.
What a great idea for a story. Get him and Emaan together. Have him say how his attitude has changed. See if the two kids have any common interests. But the Herald seemed too locked into the template to consider that.
Now, don’t mistake my drift. I have never condemned all Muslims or Islam, and I never will. American Muslims deserve a life of respect and opportunity, free of slurs and discrimination. They also need decent coverage, not p.r. thinly masked as coverage. That means balance, context, creativity, verifiable facts and a hard question or two.
After all, as the people in the Herald stories kept saying, they're just like the rest of us.
Photo: Muslim prayer beads and handmade pouch. Freeimages.com/Ugur Yilmaz.
Correction: I originally said that the Herald didn’t specify that Eid al-Adha marks the end of Ramadan. Well, I got my Eids mixed up. Ramadan ends with Eid Al-Fitr, the Breaking of the Fast, as GR friend M.Z. Hemingway said by email. Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, is set for Sept. 12 this year. I've deleted the error above.