Friday, September 16, 2011

Headlines, Cultural Context, and Meaning

Today I saw this tweet from my old friend Dima Khatib, who is now the South American correspondent for Al Jazeera, and it immediately caught me:

Dima Khatib أنا ديمة
Many ask why protests in Syria always come out of mosques. The answer is that assembly is forbidden and impossible anywhere else in

It made me think of my childhood, when I heard about things happening in mosques or temples in countries I was unfamiliar with, and wondered what place mosques and temples really had in those people's lives. News stories are by necessity limited in length. That means that they cannot include all the necessary underpinnings, and are quite easily skewed by our own underlying assumptions about how life works. "Protest at a mosque" - what does it mean? Does it mean that religious people get angry, for instance? Does it mean that people are protesting somehow against the mosque? Or does it mean - and as Dima points out, it does - that this is the only place people can gather in large enough numbers to protest anything?

I think it would be easy to throw up my hands and despair if I always took headlines at face value. I've seen many posts recently about how Fox News headlines quite differently from CNN, for example. What I take away from it all is that no matter what you hear, if it's important to you, then it should be worth looking into more of the details than you can get in six words, or even 200.