The Facts are All We Need

In response to the Chicago Sun-Times article: “Muslim clerics fighting new wave of ‘infidel’ polio” 

The title of Biswajeet Banerjee’s article, “Muslim clerics fighting new wave of ‘infidel’ polio,” initially leads readers to believe that he will delve into a discussion of the efforts to stop the serious outbreak in the Middle East of the viral disease known as polio.

Instead, Banerjee begins with an idiosyncratic depiction of a man named Farzaan Siddaqui, who refused vaccination for his children and “beat up the last health workers who visited his home.” This type of news reporting is sensationalist, at best—trivially generating shock value instead of addressing the more pressing issue.

Of the nine paragraphs in the article, only one mentions the 438 polio cases discovered in India this year, and the arduous campaign to eliminate the virus. The remaining eight paragraphs use the Siddaqui anecdote to absurdly over-generalize the Muslim community’s experience with the devastating effects of polio. With only a small amount of research, Banerjee would find that a majority of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have accepted health officials into their homes to vaccinate their children. Due to the campaign, about ninety percent of India’s districts have eradicated the disease, and the number of those affected in Uttar Pradesh has been on a steady decline since May. The author also fails to offer any explanation as to why Siddaqui and other Muslim residents have “routinely stayed away from polio immunization programs.”

Uttar Pradesh is an impoverished state with over 175 million inhabitants and hospitals that are poorly supplied. Therefore, as a people whose health has been neglected, suspicion of vaccination is to be expected. The vaccine itself is not “a big no for them,” as Banerjee so simplistically asserts. The apprehension is merely a result of their unfamiliarity with a vaccine that is being administered to their children.

Banerjee’s focus should have been on the bands of Islamic activists and leaders who have taken it upon themselves to travel to the region, offering aid in the dispelling of public anxiety about the disease. The community outreach of the Muslim clerics alone is an honorable story, and a more constructive direction for Banerjee’s focus. India’s health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has publicly stated his positive outlook of a healthy future for the entire country, yet the author has instead chosen to dedicate his efforts to the opinions of the negative few.

The job of a good journalist is to provide the reader with facts, and not to use an over-simplistic anecdote as a representation of such a largely diverse group of people.