It's always one of those awful, yet compelling car-crash moments when anyone on Oldham Hall Street attempts to comment on topics other than the latest football gossip, more interminable Beatle nostalgia, "Scottie Road in the good old days", z-list celebrities seen putting one foot in front of the other anywhere around Grosvenor-pool, or complaining about the "critics" (I think that means the likes of Wayne & me) who spell out the truth about the waterfront's desecration.
Give any one of them an international story to opine on & the result is akin to Basil Fawlty's "don't mention the war" sketch.
Yes, when not suppressing stories which reflect badly on the Oldham Echo Arena, or sitting on David Fleming's charming observations, their columnists (& I use that appellation advisedly) occasionally venture forth their, erm, thoughts on weighty issues normally the preserve of Newsnight or The World Tonight.
Take Joe Riley (Alastair Machray almost did, to the nearest Job Centre after Jimmy McGovern saw him asleep in the Empire Theatre at a performance of his play about the slave trade a couple of years' ago & demanded his head). It seems that Riley considers himself an expert on the current controversy in New York over the proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. He penned a piece yesterday which would delight your average Daily Mail reader; lazy, crude, simplistic, all the attributes you'd find in a Mail hate piece were impressively served up by Riley (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/liverpool-columnists/joe-riley/2010/08/19/joe-riley-obama-s-lack-of-political-judgement-over-new-york-mosque-100252-27091746/ ).
Consider this puerile passage from Riley's pen:
"There has been rightful international condemnation of the New York mosque plan, part of a £100m dollar [SIC] Islamic community project, near to Ground Zero.
"For the world at large has yet to be convinced that the Islamic faith is wholly divorced from the atrocities committed by its fundamentalists, in the same way as the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches originally faced suspicion in Northern Ireland.
"Eradicating those connections has taken time: more than 30 years.
"But in ignoring all this, and barely a decade on, Barack Obama is putting political correctness ahead of any sort of human sensitivity."
Aside from Riley's less than reliable reading of Irish history, the piece displays a cavernous hole where you would normally expect to find research, context, reason &, yes, tolerance. In playing the guilt by association card with regard to Muslims generally, Riley is allying himself with the fanatical far-Right in the US. Think that's over the top? Think again, as you peruse the New York Times editorial on the subject earlier this month (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/opinion/04/wed1.html ):
"It was not surprising that Republican ideologues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin came out against the mosque. A Congressional candidate in North Carolina has found it to be a good way to get attention and, yes, stoke prejudice against Muslims. We expect this sortof behavior from these kinds of Republicans. They have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11."
Alas, given the generally craven state of reporting in the US media (something the Oldham Echo could well emulate, actually), it's been left to the likes of Jon Stewart to provide some much-needed context & balance (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart/4od#3111606 ).
I presume Riley subscribes to the argument advanced by the Fox News claque that the site of the attacks (never mind the fact that the proposed mosque is two blocks away) is "hallowed ground". That being so, Riley may care to acquaint himself with Manhattan's history. During the slave trade the Port of New York, like Liverpool, witnessed the arrival of countless slaves from West Africa. Once their enforced labours & deprivations were of no further use to the slave owners, they were left to their own devices &, eventually, were buried in mass, unmarked graves around the island of Manhattan. Hailing from West Africa (modern-day Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, etc.), their religion was, yes, Muslim. Moreover, one such grave was on the site of, again, yes, the World Trade Center. Hallowed ground, indeed.
I make no apology for quoting at some length the comments of that infamous Al-Qaeda supporter, Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, a few weeks' ago:
"The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves --and who are we as New Yorkers and Americans-- if we said 'no' to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.
"Let us not forget that Muslims were among the murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbours grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values --and play into our enemies' hands-- if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists--and we should not stand for that.
"For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime --as important a test-- and it is critically important that we get it right.
"On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending their rights--and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked."
Compare & contrast Mayor Bloomberg's measured & thoughtful words with Riley's subterranean political-correctness-gone-mad scrawl; it's like the difference between principle & puerility. In fact, come to think of it, it is.
23.00 UPDATE: The link for the New York Times editorial doesn't appear to be working. If you Google: New York Times editorial: A Monument to Tolerance, the correct link should be at the top of the links page.