In production: Mormon faith, Islamic radicalism

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - 8:30 am

In production: Mormon faith, Islamic radicalism

We’re currently wrapping up production on our upcoming show called Inside Mormon Faith, which will be available for download as of January 24. Our new shows are always available by the end of the day on Thursday (depending on how crazy it is here to get the show out the door).
We’re also in the midst of editing a show in which Krista interviewed Ed Husain, a British Muslim who wrote a hugely controversial book in the UK called The Islamist (which I’ll get to in a second, too, because that’s generated some interesting discussions among us).
The actual radio program for the “Mormon show” (as we refer to it) is done. That means that the process that begins with the research for Krista’s interview and ends with the final mixing of all the different audio elements, is all wrapped up. The website, another huge production, is nearing the final stages of completion.
The topic of Mormonism has already generated some response from listeners, before the show has even made it to air. What Krista looked for in her interview with Mormon scholar Robert Millet was a deeper understanding of the spirituality that draws people into the faith, rather than the controversies that keep the rest of the world from understanding the practitioners of that faith better. What lies beyond the controversy? What the media chooses to focus on, usually, is not what informs a person’s daily experience.
One of the touchstones in the interview was an experience she shared with Dr. Millet about her experiences in East Germany. As many of you may know, Krista lived in Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and had the chance to cover the opening of a Mormon temple.
Mormon Temple Freiburg
Image ©2006 Henry Gottschald
The East German secret police, suspicious of everyone, had the temple under surveillance. Expecting to find some kind of anti-Communist sleeper cell, all they ultimately found there was a group of fairly ordinary, if religious, people.
Our discussions during the editing process were at times heated. We struggled to strike the right tone in our approach to a topic that has so many preconceptions attached to it already. This filtered into conversations from everything including what music to use to which of Krista’s questions to leave in and which to take out.
We’re naturally drawn to the human stories, the personal experiences. How much of that should be left in the final cut? Should it be trimmed at the expense of information that can radically change our view of a faith, but which can end up sounding dry without the lived reality of our guests? Do we have the right to question someone’s theology, when our own—taken out of the context of lived reality—can sound equally strange? The personal and the informational frame each other, but it’s never a clean 50/50 split.
Similar questions emerged in the editorial discussions around the Ed Husain show. Ed Husain spent six years in radical (though not directly violent) Islamist student groups in the UK in the mid-1990s. The memoir he wrote of those experiences has been debated and dissected in the UK, by every segment of the political spectrum, left, right, Muslim, non-Muslim, and everyone in between.
Immigration and integration have been problematic issues there for decades, and when the issue of so-called “homegrown terror” emerged after the July 7, 2005, bombings in London, the issue only became that much more pronounced. Issues of labels and semantics, the use of some words over others (Islamist, radical, etc.), are hugely important in Western Islamic intelligentsia today. That discussion, in turn, filters down to the mainstream that regularly sees itself portrayed, labelled and categorized by media reports and investigations.
But we have to get past all that, or try to, and mine the personal experience once again. If we can find and share a compelling human story, that is something anyone can relate to regardless of their cultural background.
As is the case with the Mormon show, it’s become an issue of balancing not just Ed Husain’s personal story and the information we can draw out of that, but the (pre)conceptions we bring with us after reading his book, which we got from the UK as it’s not yet available to US booksellers.
His story makes for a compelling read. For some, though, the book creates expectations for how the final show should sound. For others, the book is a fine starting point, but something that needs to be moved beyond in our hour of radio. For others still, not having read the book leaves questions that might not have been addressed in the initial interview or the later edits.
What we aim to do is address these concerns in the narration Krista writes and reads between interview segments. Is the narration providing the right context or is it giving too much tangential information? Do we need a reading from the book? Do we just want to get back to the guest, already?
These two shows touch upon charged themes in our public discourse that we ourselves—as participants in that discourse—can’t help but get caught up in. What we struggle with is maintaining journalistic fairness (as opposed to strict objectivity) and the balance between one person’s tale and the larger story they themselves are part of. I think most people are surprised to know that it takes 8 people to put out a one-hour weekly program. Maybe it’s because we’re so busy wrestling with these issues day after day. Even after nearly four years of weekly production, the production is anything but cut-and-dried.

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