Sunday, March 18, 2007

Joe Soucheray takes the local paper to task

A well known talk radio host and columnist in Minnesota slams one home with his column this week...his last paragraph probably being one of my favorites.

Bringing home the bacon-controversy explanation

My very own newspaper is asking for feedback regarding the refusal by certain Muslim cashiers to handle pork. This latest development, coupled with the problem of certain Muslim cabdrivers at the airport refusing to take passengers who have alcohol, was apparently too much for the newspaper to understand.

As an institution, we must have gotten into a room and scratched our heads.

In asking for help, the newspaper printed an anonymous e-mail from a reader, a cruel and thoughtless e-mail that featured the word "savages," which suggested to me that the newspaper not only doesn't understand the depth of the controversy but presumes it to be just another "talk radio" conversation held by the Greek chorus of the great unwashed.

That's the impression I got. The newspaper — I don't know who feedback@pioneer is — seems to take a not very thinly veiled position that here again is a poor minority immigrant community victimized by an unfeeling majority and why don't you all tell us about it and maybe we can help enlighten you.

By the way, the paper said there were recent stories of Muslim cabdrivers who refused to take drunk passengers, again, seemingly offered as an admonishment to a public that the newspaper believes would be so demanding. I am unaware of any stories about cabdrivers, including Muslims, refusing to take drunk passengers. Any cabdriver, including a Muslim cabdriver, has the right to safety and if that means refusing to carry a slobbering drunk, then more power to the cabdriver.

In any event, as long as the newspaper is asking for feedback, I might as well weigh in.

Actually, who might best weigh in is a spokesman for Muslims, which is part of the problem. There are many. As I understand it, there are many imams, just as there are many priests or rabbis. And while it is true that pork is forbidden in the diet, it is my understanding as well that there is no prohibition against touching pork.

That's problem No. 1. If there is no directive against touching pork, then why in the world is a Muslim cashier refusing to scan a package of bacon? And if he or she is practicing a tributary branch of the faith that prevents touching pork, then most of us have the same question we have about the cabdrivers. Why did you take a job where you might have to touch pork or be in the same car with a bottle of vacation rum?

Besides which, when you get a package of bacon home, you practically need a garden shears to open it. We spend billions of dollars a year in this country marketing and packaging products. Handle the package of bacon by the shrink-wrapped, double-sealed, triple-glazed hermetically encapsulated cardboard corner and slide it across the scanner. There. The price gets registered, and you haven't touched any pork.

Or, as ridiculous as we might wish to get, keep a pencil handy and poke or guide the bacon across the scanner.

This is America. We get inventive. And we get inventive in order to keep things moving along. That's the way we do business. Please join us.

That might touch at the heart of our shared frustration. We are basically a large blob of 300 million or so people who conduct our commerce in a secular fashion while practicing, pretty much in private, an astounding variety of religious obligations. Great. Worship grasshoppers for all I care, but when I am standing at the counter with a dollar in my hand, reach behind you and get me that O-ring I need for my lawnmower.

As wave after wave of immigrants arrived in, say, the Twin Cities, I can find no historical evidence that they demanded that America accommodate them. On the contrary, they assimilated, worked hard and benefited from America. I can find no historical evidence that other immigrant groups wished to have such a religious presence in the material marketplace, or, to put it another way, we have not previously been this expected to accommodate such a public component of one particular faith.

That's what stuck in the craws of most of us, and most of us are weary of being thought intolerant by the likes of newspapers.

Joe Soucheray can be reached at or 651-228-5474. Soucheray is heard from 2 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays on KSTP-AM 1500.

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