Andy Ngo is a graduate student at Portland State University who has written for the school’s paper, the Vanguard, about religion. Just last October, he wrote a fantastic piece about atheist students who had come to PSU from Saudi Arabia.
For his own curiosity (and not on any official assignment), he attended an interfaith panel last month that was all about “Unpacking Misconceptions.” The panel included students who were Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and atheist, and they all spoke about the unfair ways they’re portrayed in the media and how it impacts their lives.
At one point, during the Q&A, an audience member asked the Muslim panelist if the Qur’an really called for the deaths of non-Muslims.
The Muslim’s response? That only applied in countries governed by Islamic law, but in those countries, “you’re given the liberty to leave the country.”
Ngo felt that was an interesting enough answer to share on social media, which is exactly what he did, including a 40-second sound bite:
— Andy C. Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) April 27, 2017
He later tweeted a longer video clip. This one offered more context and included another audience member pointing out that it was “perfectly okay for non-Muslims to live in Muslim lands.”
To recap: Ngo summarized and shared exactly what was said on the panel.
And for that, four days later, he was fired from the school paper, where he had been a multimedia editor.
My editor, whom I deeply respected at the time, called me “predatory” and “reckless,” telling me I had put the life and well-being of the Muslim student and his family at risk. She said that my tweets implied the student advocated the killing of atheists. Another person in the meeting said I should have taken into account the plight of victimized groups in the “current political climate.” The editor claimed I had “violated the paper’s ethical standards” by not “minimizing harm” toward the speaker.
It’s not Ngo’s fault that he quoted someone accurately — by sharing video, no less. He was a reporter reporting, not someone with an agenda trying to make Muslims look bad.
Ngo says the editor didn’t raise any concerns when he actually tweeted the video. It was only after conservative sites like Breitbart posted about it that she was bothered by it.
In my defense, I told the two editors that I had simply been relating the speaker’s words. While dozens of Muslim states do not consider apostasy or blasphemy a crime, 13 Muslim-majority countries punish these actions with death. The speaker was admitting as much, and as someone who has covered the persecution of atheists and apostates in Muslim countries, I considered that newsworthy.
I have a hard time understanding what mistake Ngo made. The problem wasn’t that the Muslim student was advocating for the execution of atheists, or that Ngo suggested he did, but that the Islamic holy book includes verses to that effect and Islamic theocracies take those verses seriously.
If Muslims are offended by that, they should take it up with their imams or admit the Qur’an shouldn’t be taken literally. It makes no sense to go after the messenger for relaying what millions and millions of Muslims actually believe.