When I got into the newsroom Tuesday morning, a heated discussion between my colleagues was ongoing about whether or not to publish Michele Bachmann’s piece (which was sent to us by her office). Most of the young democracy-passionate reporters were vehemently against publishing her, very few were for it, and our Opinion editor was quite wary about doing so. “We will be attacked for this,” I was told. “She is an extremist, racist woman, and we should not give her space in our paper,” some declared. “We might as well give space to Tawfiq Okasha,” a voice shouted.
But then, do we only publish what we will not be “attacked” for? Is the media’s role to only show opinions of those who people will agree with, and disregard the others? Is it not the media’s role to show the truth about events… and people? And what better way to show the truth about people than by publishing their opinions? Is Bachmann not a member of the US congress, and are those extremist ideas not put forward in the congress of the most powerful country in the world? Is she not in Egypt having meetings with the country’s leaders?
We have been fighting with our leaders to open the door for dialogue. We have been screaming at the top of our lungs to fight Islamist extremist ideas with education and dialogue and not by oppression or simply by casting them aside and ignoring they exist. Boycotting ideas does not make them go away, but dialogue and showing how ridiculous they are might do the trick, in my opinion
I had expected response pieces from those who advocate dialogue and democracy. I had expected practicing what we continue to preach: fight ideas with ideas, not by sticking our heads in the sand and just ignoring those who hate us. This method could be acceptable had the woman been insignificant in the course of events… but she is a US congresswoman, she is part (albeit a tiny part) of the decision making process in the most important country in the world… is she not?
In the past, we have published interviews with Okasha, the military spokesman, the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman and some of its leaders, and interviews with Salafi leaders; this does not mean we agree with any or all of them. Besides, comparing giving space to Okasha to publishing Bachmann’s piece is equating a US Congresswoman with a mediocre sensationalist TV show hosts, and that is just naïve, to say the least!
Islamists, who are insulting the Daily News Egypt for publishing Bachmann, seem to disregard the fact that they are doing with her exactly what is being done to them: rejection and boycott. Hard-line Egyptian Islamists are labeled exactly what Bachmann is labeled: racist, extremist, and with promoting a phobia (hers is Islamophobia, theirs is a phobia of secularism). Should we then not publish their opinions? If yes, then we should agree with shutting down their channels and newspapers, and agree with boycotting them in the media. We should then be happy with our TV channels for only presenting one point of view, which will lead us to also agree with shutting down Bassem Youssef’s show. There is no comparison of course between both, but a principle is a principle in the end.
If we are to fight other people’s methods of fighting extremism, I suppose we should not act like them. They fight extremism by boycotting extremists, and what is the result of that? No one is there to refute their ideas, attack their racism or ridicule their rhetoric, which has resulted in many accepting their perspective. We tend to forget that hardliners lose much of their popularity when we let them speak, when we present viable calm arguments to their absurd ideas.
The time of Morsi’ reign seems to have faded from our memories. The more they had air time and media space, the more the replies and counter-arguments flew their way, and the less popular they became. But alas, it seems we are in a time where we can only either kill or boycott our opponents – make them “not exist” or act as if they don’t. And what good would come from acting as if this woman doesn’t exist in Congress, elected by many, supported by many? Isn’t the correct thing to do to publish her, argue against her ideas, and bring her down through dialogue? Again, she is not an Okasha or Beck, she is a US congresswoman who is meeting with our de facto leader Al Sisi, and our interim president in an official capacity.
Free speech is an intricate part of freedom, and publishing opinions that stand for everything we abhor maybe an unpopular choice but it is how we choose to contribute to the dialogue in this country.