E-mail is a wonderful thing. Quick and easy to use, its an economical, paperless way to communicate with friends, family and colleagues. Who today would choose snail mail over the efficiency and speed of a T-1 line?
E-mail is a terrible thing. Far too quick and easy to use, it can easily stir up bad feelings when a note is misread, or sent to the wrong person by mistake. Oh, for the days of snail mail, when letters were properly reflected upon before being mailed.
E-mail has been around for quite a while now, and it is hard to imagine how we ever got along without it. Yet time has shown that it is an imperfect medium, too easily abused by capricious users. In office settings, e-mail can work like a contagion, carrying rumors and spreading resentment with lightning speed. Even among friends, the absence of tone in most e-mails can cause a reader to wonder: Now what did she mean by that?
What to do? According to David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, authors of Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail Use for Office and Home, e-mail should not be used in all situations. Got a problem with your boss? Set up an appointment. Need to explain something complicated to a friend? Pick up the phone. Shipley and Schwalbe also suggest peppering your e-mails with exclamation marks, to assure your correspondent of your genuine enthusiasm.
Of course, a simple punctuation mark cannot obscure the fact that e-mail users are human, vulnerable to anxiety and anger. We have tried to fashion technology to make our lives easier, yet too often it has made our flaws more apparent.
The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, has spoken out strongly once again to the youth of the kingdom, warning them not to go abroad to engage in jihad. In a message to his followers on Oct. 1, he deplored the manner in which the young have been exploited for shameful goals, saying that they are enthusiastic about their religion but lack the necessary level of knowledge to distinguish right from wrong. He said that by going abroad for jihad, youths commit a number of violations of Islamic rules and teachings, including disobedience to our rulers. They fall to the attraction of deviant elements, using their enthusiasm to achieve political and military gains on behalf of suspicious groups.
Just as important as his advice to the young were his words of caution to those with financial means, that they not allow their money to hurt Muslims. We hope his words, coming as they did at the almsgiving period at the end of Ramadan, will be taken seriously. It would be easy for Westerners to dismiss this message, seeing it as political, supporting the Saudi rulers, or as too little too late. In fact, the mufti has long been critical of terrorism and those who support it. And in his message one sees a genuine concern for the well-being of his young people, who for the terrorists are no more than a commodity to be bought and sold.
We in the West have a responsibility to acknowledge initiatives, like the grand muftis message and the recent letter of 133 Muslim leaders to Christian church leaders, as antidotes to the Islamophobia that has become commonplace.
Dont Rock the Boat
Newspapers in St. Paul, Minn., recently discovered that the University of St. Thomas had rescinded an invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to speak at the university about making friends out of your enemies. The rationale: In a 2002 talk at Boston University entitled Occupation Is Oppression, Tutu attacked Israels treatment of Palestinians, saying that in its ongoing humiliation of Palestinians Israel is like Hitler and apartheid. Doug Hennes, St. Thomass vice president for university and government relations, explained: We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy. Later, when the director of the universitys peace and justice program revealed to Archbishop Tutu himself her reservations about the decision to withdraw the invitation, she was demoted.
One wonders about the state of conversation at universities today. Have we gotten to a point where the free and civil discussion of ideas essential to a universitys mission has become beholden to the views of its benefactors or the policy of special interests? Are universities today basically clubs where like-minded adults come together to reinforce the validity of their own positions and teach young people to think like them? If these are the traits we model, what sort of world can we expect in the future?
The president of St. Thomas, the Rev. Dennis Dease, has since apologized for the decision and expressed a desire that the university might be involved in fostering thoughtful conversation around difficult and highly charged issues. Such leadership is sorely needed. As matters stand at many institutions, Catholic and otherwise, it is unclear whether Jesus himself could make the cut.