If there’s one place at the University that you need to stop by every day – if only for a couple of minutes – it’s the Diag. From crazy homophobic preachers to the occasional seesaw over the “M,” the Diag is a wonderful place to people-watch, read, catch a breath of fresh air or engage in meaningful and polite discussion.
Except during last week Wednesday’s Solidarity Day. Various student groups representing Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese students came together to protest and hand out information on American and Israeli foreign policy in the Middle East. Pro-Israel students came over to discuss the content and theme of the protest. When I arrived, students on one side were yelling at students on the other side, who answered such “discussion” with even more yelling.
When it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, normal Diag dialogue etiquette flies out the window. Not only do members of both sides scream at each other, but rarely does meaningful dialogue actually take place. There’s plenty of historical precedent for this. As I noted in a column last summer (The repetition of history, 7/31/2006), tensions flared between both sides on the Diag during the Six Day War in 1967. It’s a near guarantee that any event, either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, is going to elicit strong feelings from the opposite side.
My views on the Arab-Israeli conflict, depending on whom you ask, range from moderate to left-wing. I see errors and legitimate claims on both sides, and I’m not ashamed to call out the appropriate governments when I think they’re wrong.
But my views are irrelevant: No matter what you believe, standing on the Diag yelling at someone is not productive, though it can be amusing at times. If there’s one thing that can steal the spotlight from homophobic ministers preaching nearby, it’s this.
This has been true throughout my time at the University. And barring a peace treaty between Israel and the surrounding Arab states, including the Palestinian Authority, this is how it will remain. Don’t get me wrong: I salute student activists on both sides. Any time a student becomes politically active in a cause they believe in, that’s nine times more admirable than their classmates’ apathy.
When I read Cherine Foty’s letter (News article misrepresents Solidarity Day’s purpose, 10/03/2006), criticizing the Daily’s coverage of the day, I was a bit perplexed. It wasn’t the criticism on the actual reporting that bothered me. What I found so troublesome and not so surprising was that she attributed the “errors” of the Daily staffers not only to bad reporting, but also biased reporting. She wrote: “Furthermore, the continuous need to have the pro-Israeli view represented in every single article where any mention is made of Palestinians is a reflection of the biased nature of this newspaper, which needs to end as it is discrediting the legitimacy of this newspaper’s journalistic credibility.”
As I wrote last summer (Media bias and the worst president ever, 05/15/2006), allegations like Foty’s are not only baseless, but reflect a troubling trend in what people expect from a newspaper. Many people mistakenly feel that any reporting or viewpoint that strays from their own opinions indicates bias, while things they do agree with are proof of impartiality.
Many conservatives on this campus hold such a view. It should be no wonder that there are currently two Facebook groups devoted to trashing the Daily: “I Wipe My Ass With The Michigan Daily” and “The Michigan Daily Is Liberal Propaganda.”
It is people like these who grow up to be Ann Coulter: ridiculously na’ve and dangerously narrow-minded.
In the end, the best thing the Daily can do is contribute to on-campus dialogue. Such dialogue becomes meaningless if people spend their time out on the Diag screaming at each other. And when the very forum designed to give voice to divisive positions is deemed biased simply because it does just that, it demonstrates a far deeper problem on this campus than media bias. That problem is the lack of openness to ideas that differ from our own. While conservatives have been predominantly guilty of this, many liberals also need to learn to respectfully and politely disagree with their counterparts. And everyone needs to learn to tolerate that in this paper.
The Daily has made its mistakes; I’ll be the first to admit that. The MSA election profiles last year, which portrayed two female presidential candidates in a sexist manner, were atrocious. The infamous 1989 editorials on Israel and the Lockerbie bombing were some of the worst in the Daily’s history.
But our time here is limited, even for those of us doing the “victory lap.” If we spend our undergraduate education shutting out opposing viewpoints, how are we going to be prepared for the real world?
Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.