By Tim Whyte
About eight or nine years ago, I served as the team manager of my son’s youth hockey team. By then, I was beyond the “dad is the coach” years — this was serious travel hockey, with professional coaches and assistants, so I volunteered for the next best thing: team manager.
The job involved booking flights and hotel rooms, driving the team van to games at road tournaments, and making sure the players — at that point, 15 and 16 years old — behaved themselves in the hotel on road trips.
And, it was my job to order the food at the team pizza party at the end of the season.
That’s when one of my son’s teammates came up to me and said, “Make sure you order a pizza without meat.”
My brain hiccuped.
These were hockey players. Not really a vegan bunch. Most of them wanted meat. And more meat.
“Remember?” he said. “I’m Muslim.”
Ah. Look up the meat toppings on pizzas. It’s all pork-based. Pepperoni. Sausage. Canadian bacon.
Observant Muslims don’t eat pork. Unsettled by my own ignorance and forgetfulness, I made sure to order a large pie with no meat.
Frankly, I hadn’t thought of the kid as a Muslim. I’d thought of him as a defenseman, and a damn good one. And a nice kid to boot.
The kid’s in his third year of college now. He’s not a terrorist. Never will be.
I bring this up now because I’m still kind of reeling from the social media fallout from a story we ran a week ago on our Faith page. It was a short feature on the local Muslim community observing Ramadan.
It should have been a harmless, non-controversial story. But along comes the friggin’ internet.
When we posted a link to the story on our Facebook page, one of the first reactions was from someone who wanted to know why we were writing about Ramadan and not the recent Christian events like Easter and Lent.
This, despite numerous previous stories about those things — and Passover — in recent weeks. I can count half a dozen such stories just off the top of my head — but because we ran ONE story on Ramadan, we offended a Christian who thought that meant we were giving short shrift to her faith.
Then the piling-on began. Some of the posts were blatantly bigoted — equating all Muslims with the terrorist actions of a small minority.
Look. I’m right there with you if you say many terrorists — particularly the perpetrators of 9/11 — are motivated by Muslim extremism. And like many of us I took no small degree of satisfaction when Navy SEALs brought Osama Bin Laden to justice.
But there are millions upon millions of peaceful, good people on this Earth who happen to be of the Muslim faith. And just as there are terrorists and oppressors who adhere to an extremist version of that faith, so too are there extremists of many other stripes who commit atrocities around the globe and here at home.
Timothy McVeigh wasn’t a Muslim. He was raised Catholic, and although he waffled on what his religious orientation was, at one point saying he was agnostic, he received Catholic last rites before he was executed for bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Almost all school shooters aren’t Muslim. Do we condemn everyone who shares the same religious beliefs that they do? Of course not. Yet, there are those among us who want to paint all Muslims with the broad brush of terrorism and oppression.
Back to Facebook. Last weekend, I was in the midst of a family commitment down in L.A. and I noticed that our seemingly innocuous story about Ramadan, from the Saturday Faith page, had caused a bit of a stir on The Signal’s Facebook page.
So, I tapped out a post on my phone, thanking those who understood that our Faith page is intended to be a welcoming space for all faith communities to share their news and information.
Then someone said, “Why don’t you delete the offensive posts?” And that was a fair question. I’d been on the fly that weekend, so I wasn’t on the computer much, but I firmly understand this is a 24/7/365 job and we have to be responsible for monitoring such things every day. So, I went in and deleted the most offensive posts — those that went beyond the boundaries we try to set for taste and decency while still allowing the most robust discussion possible.
Then it became a game of social media whack-a-mole.
You delete one offensive, bigoted post, and another one pops up.
So how about this for a lose-lose situation? You try to do something nice by including a story on the local Muslim community in your faith coverage (heck, that’s really just us doing our job), then you catch hell from the religious right because they think you’re now ignoring Christian stories — which you’re not — and you also catch hell from the left because you weren’t waiting with a hair trigger to IMMEDIATELY delete the offensive posts on a Sunday morning. And then, when you start deleting bigotry, more bigotry pops up in its place. Ugh.
So what did we do? Early Sunday afternoon, we punted. Deleted the whole damn thread. It had just become a cycle of delete a post, a new one pops up, delete a post, a new one pops up.
Almost wore out my mole-whacker.
It’s an awful shame that it came to that. And, just like terrorism, the real problem was the actions of the few, not the many.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.