I have quite a number of friends who like or repost stories with shouting headlines and containing claims apparently designed to feed fears. What amounts to fear-mongering propaganda is wrapped in the trappings of legitimate “conservative” news sources. Unfortunately, most of it, while at some level based in a true story, is so badly blown out of proportion and hyperbolic that it is a dishonest representation.
Now, these purveyors of hysterics and half-truths may or may not be intentionally distorting the reality. But I suspect there could be a bit of an ‘ends justify the means’ mentality and an idea that their twisted versions of a story represent a greater truth or reality. I think every journalist does pick and choose what facts are relevant and how they present a story does reveal their personal bias. However, to me, there is a level of this that is unintentional or within reason and a level that is inexcusable.
Woman Has Opinion; Sparks Controversy
One of these specters repeatedly raised is that of Sharia law and the suggestion it will be imposed on Americans. A particular story about a sign advertising bacon in a Vermont town caught my eye today after a friend commented. Here is the screenshot of my news feed:
As one could imagine, the response in comments was one of the outrage of thousands of freedom (and bacon) loving Americans who don’t want religion imposed on them. I realize there is reason to be aware of religious extremism, but what is the reason for this particular furor and do the actual facts support such a dramatic response? According to the conservativetribune.com story this is the issue:
“Should a restaurant that serves bacon be allowed to display signs and/or advertisements that mention bacon? The U.S. Constitution says that it should, but Muslims in Vermont apparently disagree.”
From that opening paragraph one could assume there is a direct threat to freedom of speech posed by a group of people. The article goes on to discuss a solitary example of a business owner who took down a sign because “an outraged Muslim woman” complained about it. There are no further examples given and no evidence that this woman speaks for a plurality of Muslims.
The complaint of one woman does not seem to match the “Muslims in Vermont” description above it and that is quite an over-statement. What’s the problem? Well, if one woman can speak for “Muslims in Vermont,” then I suppose Westboro Baptist speaks for Christians in Kansas, right?
Concern for Safety or Fear of Violence?
Anyhow, there’s an article on the Washington Post website that takes a more detailed look and provides the full text of the woman’s complaint. She describes herself as “a vegan and a member of a Muslim household” then goes on to say the sign is both insensitive to those who don’t eat pork and this:
“Second, it clutters an already dangerous crosswalk. This signage for a business’ food distracts from the purpose of that area: for pedestrians to safely cross and for drivers to safely enter the circle. What is the additive safety factor of this sign being there? I fail to see what benefit it affords people in that intersection and why the city put it up. The only appropriate signage would be standardized official road signs pertaining to the crosswalk and circle.”
I would guess that is why the restaurant owner mentions safety in his response. However that apparently isn’t as obvious to everyone as it seems to me and leads to this speculation in the conservativetribune.com article about the owners response:
“Notice how he mentioned “safety” concerns. This made it sound as if he feared the Muslims in Winooski would have taken violent action had he not removed the sign”
I cannot fathom how one could make that leap based in the known facts. It doesn’t “make it sound” as if he feared violence from Muslims to me. No, it makes it sound as if the restaurant owner read the woman’s letter and was responding to the excerpt of her letter I posted above. The concern for safety she mentioned was having a business sign creating a distraction.
Right to Free Speech and Threats Thereof
So basically we have a woman with an opinion and a business owner willing to accommodate her preferences. It hardly seems like a crisis of Constitutional freedom when a woman exercises that her right to express a controversial opinion. But it does seem a case of journalistic malpractice to make one woman into a representative of Muslims or categorize her as an “acolyte of Shariah law” because she expressed a concern.
The real threat to liberty is those who abuse it. I am more concerned over reckless surmises and the feeding of irrational fears than I am of one woman exercising her freedom of speech. Her opinion, while I disagreed with it, was reasonably explained and it is her right to express it. The response was a distortion at best, slanderous at worse and one of many similar stories.
Unfortunately I cannot respond to every internet hoax or propaganda piece and even if I did the chances of my words reaching through the mess and changing minds already made up seems slim. Still I do try to make a difference.