To the people who were upset by Saturday’s front-page report on local Muslims celebrating the end of the Islamic holy month, I have a question:

Were you upset about what you saw on Page 1, or about what you didn’t see?

Because if your complaint was that the newspaper should have had a 9/11 commemoration story, and any other story in its place would have been inappropriate, you have an argument.

But if your complaint is that the Eid al-Fitr celebration piece shouldn’t have been there at all in a Sept. 11 newspaper, then we have a problem.

Because what you are really saying is that the men, women and children who were celebrating the end of Ramadan in the Portland Expo have some share of the blame for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

And that means that you have bought into the Osama bin Laden view of 9/11, which is that it was an opening salvo in a war between Islam and the West.

That’s a point of view, by the way, which is rejected by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, who see bin Laden as a dangerous kook.

But as the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, it has become clear that many non-Muslims in America are holding all Muslims partly responsible for the lives and sense of security that were stolen from us that day.

In Maine, it came up last weekend, when the Sept. 11 front page of this newspaper had a story about the Eid celebration, but none about 9/11.

In response to a flood of complaints, Editor and Publisher Richard L. Connor wrote a front-page apology, promising more balance in the future.

That unleashed another wave of protest – much of it misguided. Connor did not, as some critics said, apologize for running the Eid story, which he rightly identified as news. But he did say he was sorry for the 9/11 story that the newspaper didn’t run.

If the first round of complaints had been just about the omission, that would have been fine. But that’s not what they were complaining about.

Here’s a test: How many online complaints about propriety were posted under the Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse story, which also ran above the fold on Page 1 Saturday?

That would be zero.

It appears this was an issue of content, not just placement.

I don’t speak for this newspaper, and nobody asks me what story should run or where. I work at a different end of the machine.

But I thought the Eid story and photo were exceptional when I saw the newspaper Saturday, and the negative reaction just reinforces that opinion.

The fact that so many see Islam as the religion of al-Qaida is the reason that there should be more coverage like this.

It wasn’t a religion that produced bin Laden.

In his book “Beyond Fundamentalism,” religious scholar Reza Aslan points out that bin Laden never studied in an Islamic seminary and has “only rudimentary knowledge of Islamic law and theology” and no religious credentials.

When recruiting followers, bin Laden tells them to stay away from mosques and schools, shunning centuries of interpretation of the religion’s tenets. He calls the Muslim leaders who preach peace “hypocrites” and considers them to be as great an enemy as he does the rest of us.

Bin Laden hoped the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would inspire Muslims around the world to join his cause. For the most part, on that score, he failed. Whether we should choose to fight him and a few thousand renegade jihadists or 1.5 billion Muslims is a strategic question with an obvious answer.

But there’s more to this than that. This is really a question of what kind of community we want to be.

On Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the twin towers fell, about 500 people stood on the steps of Portland’s City Hall, in solidarity with members of Maine’s small and potentially vulnerable Muslim community. Representatives of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish communities all spoke.

Then-Mayor Cheryl Leeman urged people to support their Muslim neighbors.

“They are a highly important part of our community,” Leeman said. “If we don’t embrace them, we are no better than the terrorists.”

I was standing in the back of the crowd that day, outside the old Press Herald building on Congress Street.

Our emotions were raw. I remember that people were crying. We’d never been through anything like this before, and we were looking to each other to know how to react.

That’s why it was so important to have politicians, ministers, priests and rabbis putting blame in the right place.

The events of the last few weeks show that our emotions are still raw.

Nine years after the attack, people are still angry and frustrated by how much we have had to pay and how little success we have achieved.

Since 9/11, there have been a number of smaller acts of terrorism, often committed by people who were brought up in Western culture, but who have rejected both Western values and traditional Islam’s to join the jihadists.

Now it’s time to hear from our leaders again, religious and secular. We need to focus on who our enemies really are, and who they are not.


Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]