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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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When The New York Times this week published an opinion article, better known as an “op-ed,” by the deputy of the Taliban, the newspaper created a firestorm.
However, the article falls squarely in the tradition of op-ed pages of major American newspapers for decades. Op-eds, including the most polarizing opinion pieces such as the one penned by the Taliban spokesman, serve an important function, if only we are capable of enough critical thinking to make them worthwhile, according to Donna Halper, a media historian, professor, author and former radio broadcaster.
The Times attracted a fair bit of criticism with the publication of the article titled “What We, The Taliban, Want,” including an angry tweet from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)
I have some questions for @nytimes since they decided to give the Taliban a forum to spew garbage, like, “We did not choose our war…We were forced to defend ourselves.”
1. Remember 9/11?
2. The author is a designated global terrorist. Did you pay him for this piece?
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) February 20, 2020
These sorts of op-eds can serve an important purpose and are not meant merely to inflame the sensibilities of readers, Halper said.
The point is to read the opinion with a critical–but not cynical–eye.
“But what if the Taliban really are trying to be more modern? What if they really are interested in trying to come to some compromises?” Halper asked. “How should we in the West respond, or is it in fact not our business what Afghan citizens do in their country?
“I see opinion pieces as opportunities for debate and discussion, and I believe a piece like this provides both,” she added.
Halper said that she is skeptical about the Taliban still being good for women’s rights, and is dubious about their reading of Islam being the only acceptable reading.
Halper adds, however, that these sorts of articles won’t be helpful if they’re “just going to be weaponized to generate social media outrage.
“But if they can be the beginning of a serious and potentially productive discussion, if they can provide some possible solutions for contentious issues, and if they can lead to a conversation grounded in ethics rather than anger, then perhaps they can serve a good purpose–whether we agree with each piece or not.”
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