Muslims and the GOP: Charlotte Observer shuns real questions for public relations

Good hustle, Charlotte Observer. You knew Rose Hamid staged a one-woman protest at Donald Trump's rally in South Carolina. So when she showed up in a hijab in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, you  pounced with a profile and indepth on Muslim-American relations

But why the lame, propagandistic headline -- "Charlotte Muslim leader brings message of love to Republican convention"? You could have written "Triteness Alert!" in fewer words.

And the top of the story ain't no model of fresh reporting either:

Red flower pen in hand, Charlotte’s Rose Hamid spoke in Cleveland’s Public Square Monday, delivering the message she hopes to bring to a larger audience at this week’s Republican National Convention: that Islam is not a violent religion to be feared.
"It doesn’t have to be us versus them," she told a few dozen listeners. "These terrorist groups are not following the Islamic doctrine."

Hamid may be telegenic and articulate, as when she talked to the BBC after being tossed out of the rally in Rock Hill, S.C. But that doesn't make it a good idea to recycle clichés that could have been written by, say, Nihad Awad.

Especially because in this story, we heard directly from Awad, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He was in Cleveland the same day, saying, "We all have the same love for and commitment to America." Triteness by association, I guess.

Only in paragraph four does the Observer spell out its thesis: the contrast between loving, patriotic American Muslims and a political party that is turning against them:

But their message is likely to face skepticism from many of the delegates at a convention poised to nominate a candidate who has called for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, at least from countries with a history of terrorism.

The Observer then ticks off the signs of GOP opposition. They include Trump's calls to limit immigration; Newt Gingrich wanting to deport every Muslim who believes in Shariah, Islamic law; a new poll shows that most Republicans support a temporary ban on Muslims coming to America; and the newly voted party platform that calls for "special scrutiny" of people entering the  U.S. from "regions associated with Islamic terrorism."

The amount of florid quotes in the Observer article is surprisingly slight, considering how radioactive this topic has become. One delegate tells the newspaper, "There have been no little old white-haired ladies blowing up Americans," as if no Muslim women grow white hair. But most of Trump's allies sound more intelligent than that.

Two seem to be in positions to know what they're talking about. One is Rion Choate, a Charlotte delegate and financial adviser to Middle East clients: "He’s not against Muslims; all he was trying to say is there’s a better way to vet ‘sleeper’ Muslims that can cause harm."

The other is Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, and a member of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. His reply, though, is a bit more cryptic: "The biggest issue right now is our Arab friends and allies who think (President Barack Obama) just doesn’t get it." Doesn't get what? And what should Arab friends understand about the U.S.? The Observer should have clarified.

Also would have helped to talk a bit to Newt. We might have gotten a better lock on what parts of Shariah he'd want to ask of Muslims. And has he -- or Trump, for that matter -- accounted for the doctrine of taqiyyah, or "dissimulation," that allows Muslims to lie about aspects of their faith if they face persecution? If a Muslim felt he might be deported -- losing his house and livelihood, uprooting his family -- might he feel the need to apply taqiyyah?

But the quotes and polling data are better than the material on Hamid herself -- the initial focus, you recall, of this article. 

The Observer says she's a flight attendant, but doesn't say for which airline. It says she is president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas, but it doesn't say how many members are in that group. It says she converted from Catholicism when she married; but it doesn't interview her husband, her former pastor, or any of her relatives.

And remember when she said that terrorist groups don’t follow Islamic doctrine? Well, why not ask further about that? Well, they just might. Let me dip into my reference from last Friday on Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens for The Telegraph:

It is important to understand that what we are facing here is an interpretation of Islam which, while it could be argued follows a flawed reading of the religion, nonetheless has its own rich scholarly tradition, having been developed by formally trained and knowledgeable Sunni Sheikhs.

Rather than simply write down the denials by Hamid and Awad, news media need to try questioning more closely. If terrorists are not drawing from mainline sources, how do they defend their killings? And why do online pitches radicalize some Muslims so quickly, and so decisively, that they’ll gladly kill themselves along with their victims?

This is the kind of reporting that will take reading and talking to experts -- like Prof. Omid Safi of Duke University, right in North Carolina.  Closer questioning would yield fuller explanations. And people like Rose Hamid just might welcome the chance.

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