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We must all be more sensitive
By Mark Steyn
(Filed: 14/09/2002)

To be honest, I'd had enough of the American networks' 9/11 anniversary coverage after about 10 minutes. I think it was the piano accompaniment to the victim profiles. Also there's the ironclad rule that every news story, no matter how unprecedented, eventually becomes a story about how the media cover the story.

On the radio, CBS's star anchor, Dan Rather, revealed that, as the anniversary approached, he had to struggle to remind himself that "this story isn't about me". Any other newsmen similarly wrestling with themselves evidently found it easier just to give in.

Pretty much anywhere you looked you could find media folk interviewing media folk about how courageous network reporters reacted to the news that fateful morning, how brave journalists battled to come up with an opening sentence. I switched over to the CBC in Canada, only to find it interviewing the New Yorker's heroic picture editor about how she'd coped with the trauma of having to commission a new cover.

And, of course, every local news show, every newspaper has its in-depth feature on how Muslims here have adjusted to the post-9/11 "backlash". This story is now as firmly ensconced in the news bulletins as the weather and the traffic update, though, to be frank, it lacks something of their drama.

Still, I for one never tire of seeing headscarved women in Midwestern towns giving interviews about how in the past year they can tell people are looking at them "differently". I expect the French, German and Belgian television shows are full of features about how European Jews have spent the past year coping with savage assaults, synagogue torchings, schoolbus burnings, etc.

They're not? My, you do surprise me. It's probably just as well. Best not to clog up the airwaves with a lot of whining Jews moaning about being attacked by Muslim gangs, lest it provoke another anti-Muslim "backlash", eh?

Among the more interesting Muslim items this past year was a story that appeared last October 11 in the Journal News, a suburban New York newspaper. It concerned a student in a Brooklyn high school, who, on September 6, 2001, stared out of the window and told his teacher: "See those two buildings? They won't be standing there next week."

Many of us heard similar stories - supposedly "urban legends" - in the weeks after September 11, but only one reporter did anything about them. Jeffrey Scott Shapiro interviewed the teacher, Antoinette DiLorenzo, and the boy's brother - they're Palestinian immigrants. The Journal News ran the piece on page seven, lest it provoke - all together now - "a backlash". The story held up, which is more than Shapiro's career did. By the end of the day, he was no longer the Journal News crime reporter.

On September 10, 2001, a sixth-grade student of Middle Eastern origin at a Jersey City school warned his teacher to stay away from Lower Manhattan because "something bad was going to happen". Teachers at schools within sight of the World Trade Centre report that, as the towers burned, a lot of Muslim pupils were taking pictures: it seemed odd that so many of them happened to have brought their cameras to school on that particular day.

But don't worry. In the interests of "sensitivity", no one's covering any of these curious tales and their alarming implications. NBC News had known about the Brooklyn schoolboy before Shapiro did. "No one wanted to follow up on it," a producer said. "They figured it either wasn't true or it would be too hard." Too hard? Dan Rather's right in a way: the longer this war goes on, the more it's about him and his media pals, and their curious priorities.

In Montreal this week, I went to see a very good friend become a Canadian citizen. Beforehand, the judge did the usual multiculti thing and boasted about all the countries these new citizens had come from. She began listing them in alphabetical order, in French: "Afghanistan, Algerie, Arabie Saudi." At the end, she asked if anybody's native land had been omitted. A hand shot up: "Iran."

Everyone took the oath of allegiance to the Queen and then the judge said that, to welcome everyone into "the Canadian family", we should all turn and shake hands with our neighbours. I turned to the headscarved lady behind me and carelessly extended my right arm. She recoiled in horror, but fortunately her quick-thinking husband intercepted my hand and deflected it off to the side. Otherwise, he might have had to kill her.

My mistake, I suppose. Gotta be more "sensitive". The trouble is we're all being so sensitive about Muslims that pretty much everything that goes on within the isolated Islamic communities of the West is presumed to be a "cultural tradition" that we chaps can't understand and should just leave alone - like taking your camera to school on the morning of September 11.

That wacky London imam has a point: it'll all be a lot easier once we're living under Islamic law. And, if his predictions are as remarkably accurate as some of those psychic New York schoolkids, we won't have long to wait.