Thursday, January 20, 2005

Plus ca change

Back in the summer of 2003, Mecca was a city of intolerance. A city where non-Muslims were not even allowed to enter the city limits.

Journalist Jonathan V. Last described Mecca as a city which, "by national and religious law, is only accessible to visitors of the Muslim Religion." Writing for the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, Last reported that infidels were forbidden from entering the city of 1.2 million people. He matter-of-factly called the system one of religious apartheid and detailed the reasons why.

Fast forward to January 2005. Oh, how times have changed. Today a New York Times headline trumpets the "Cosmopolitan Air" of Mecca in an article about the city's openness and diversity. To prove the point, the article quotes a Meccan sociology professor:
"This city is a stage where people from all over the world can come and find an audience to listen to them," says Dr. Bagader, a Meccan native. "There is an acceptance of being different here."
The Times journalist echoes the sentiment:
But what really makes Mecca so open is its diversity....

The average Meccan is just as likely to be Asian as Arab, just as likely to be light-skinned as dark-skinned, just as likely to speak English as Arabic, and almost everyone who lives here is bilingual or better. [...]

"Other cities claim to be melting pots, but this is the original melting pot," says Salah Abdel Jalil, an educator who heads a program for gifted students. "You feel a certain level of peace and openness here that you won't find elsewhere."


All that has resulted in an unlikely liberalism--not quite a Berkeley-style liberalism, but still a striking oasis of open thought and discussion in a world of hardened politics and interests.
So what has changed in the past two and a half years to transform Mecca from a city of intolerant religious apartheid to a cosmopolitan melting pot characterized by diversity and openness?

Nothing has changed. Nothing at all. As it happens, Mecca still practices religious apartheid and still will not let a non-Muslim so much as enter the city limits.

The Times just chooses not to stress that. Doesn't fit the image of a cosmopolitan melting pot. Sure they mention it. In passing. In the twelfth paragraph. In the last sentence of the paragraph. In parentheses. If the paper's style book allowed for smaller fonts, one has the sense the caveat would have appeared like this: (No non-Muslims are allowed in the city.)

There was a time when I thought the Times was the best source of news available. Over time I began to see the Times as a valuable source of news which was at times tainted by inadvertently tripping on its own bias. With each week that passes, however, I am having an increasingly hard time taking the paper seriously at all.

(Hat tip: Taranto.)