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The Bachmann dilemma

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 …

Managing editor Rana Allam
Rana Allam

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.

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  • Kelley Christian

    OMG …. please don’t publish what the nut job said …. it was bad enough the last time her insane ass went to Egypt. Please don’t hold the American public at fault for her comments. She is a Tea Party extremist and a total idiot. Her and Shara Palin are in a class of their own … what class that is no one knows.

  • Sharon12345

    The problem is that people believe what she says. She makes the entire United States look bigoted, asinine, racist, and down right stupid. Yes, people are free to say what they want. But she interprets the Bible her own way which leaves no room for compassion, love. She has a responsibility when she visits another country to represent the entire United States, not just her view. Radical Christianity is just as bad as radical Islam. The Tea Party is extremist and only out for themselves. There are enough bad opinions of us around the world without sending a bigot to make it worse. Free speech is beautiful, inflammatory speech is not. She believes in inflammatory speech, People from other countries who do not understand who and what Bachmann is will listen to her and believe her. It’s the belief part I’m afraid of.

  • AskandTell

    Wonderful op-ed Ms Allam. Democracy is free speech and you’ve laid out exactly what we want and need from journalists. Showing us different sides of the issues vs a partisan viewpoint.

    As with the other posters however, I hope your readers understand that Bachmann herself is a religious extremist and does not represent the majority of Americans.

  • Excellent article. I say publish her. And I despise her. I just read the honest opinion of two Americans below. They demonstrate what sane and informed Americans think about this insane woman. They demonstrate that to anyone who comes to read here. And that is the value of publishing the wingnut Queen, Michele Bachmann.

  • sam enslow

    Please note the comments on Backman’s article as well as the article itself. Most comments are not flattering, but no one will be charged with “insulting a congresswoman”. It is far better to have ideas openly expressed and challenged than to have them buried and any infection they cause hidden from view. Far too often in Egypt people of influence want to make statements that are unchallenged. It is the vetting of ideas that prevents many bad policies from being adopted. Far too often in Egypt the government announces a plan without advanced public comment or criticism. Alternative ideas are not even considered (recall Morsy’s shutting down Cairo businesses at 10 PM as one example of a problem that is not limited to The Brothers). It seems it is still, “We are the bosses, and you should not question us.” Even today in the media, I hear commentators say we cannot criticize the army or the courts. Why not? As the old saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

  • MaximusBoomaye

    “Crazy” People are the best. They don’t care what you think, and they say out loud what others whisper.

    Michele Bacchmann merely “cut and pasted” what YOUR main stream media has been saying for the past year. But now she is crazy, Islamphoebe? Ironically she became a self appointed Lobbyist for the restoration of US aid to Egypt. She is also a very intelligent woman (may even become the first woman president in the US), and does represent a very large number of conservatives in the US. You guys should be grateful to the Daily News for publishing her article, which appeared on her official house.gov (http://bachmann.house.gov/) she is the voice of all these Republicans in the Congress, and we let them say whatever the hell they want. It is just what we do here, all crazies are welcome to speak out their minds we’d much rather hear it.

  • robertm2000

    Ms. Allam has the right idea. Let ideas be put out in the open, in the full glare of public scrutiny. That is what will allow ideas to be considered and judged as to their merit.

    I will have to say, Ms. Bachmann does not represent the American majority. You who live in Egypt have tried several kinds of government. If you can find good people to represent you, elect them. We in America hope that you are able to achieve a real democracy that is suited to your needs.

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