It always pays to check one's facts.
Lexcen had a post on the issue of Muslim prayer rooms. This was triggered by the apparent failure of an Australian university to agree to the creation of such a room.
Lexcen's concern lay in what he saw as unreasonable demands that were in fact part of a world wide trend.I responded in a quick comment taking an opposite perspective.
I was in fact surprised at the original story because it seemed to me that the university in question, RMIT in Melbourne, was behaving in a way that was at variance with Australian university traditions.
When I made the comment, my knowledge of the incident was very limited - I had in fact only seen reference to it via Neil's Google reader series. I saw it as a clear cut matter - a university refusing a prayer room. I might have known that it was more complicated than that.
I did a Google search to check my facts on this issue. I did not realise how big a story it had become. I only browsed the first three pages, but that was enough to reveal a complicated situation.
The RMIT Muslim Society considers that the university has reneged on a previous promise.
In late 2007, construction work on the building that contained a dedicated Muslim prayer room meant the facility was demolished. The RMIT Muslim Society believes the university reneged on its promise to replace that with another room.
The mass protests organised by the Society have been backed by other religious groups and attracted considerable publicity.
For its part, the university is obviously quite upset, describing the Society's actions as "unfortunate and unnecessary". To quote from a 22 March 2009 report in the Australian:
There are already eight Muslim prayer rooms across the university's three campuses, Dr Maddy McMaster, Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students) said.
"The university's policy is that prayer rooms in its spiritual centre are multi-faith, open to bookings by members of all faiths," she said.
Muslims get preferential access to two of those rooms.
"With space at a premium on our city campus, we have bent over backwards to find an amicable solution," she said.
Gestures of good faith have been rejected, she insisted.
"Multi-faith spaces are commonly accepted as supporting a range of religious practices, including those of the Muslim faith.
"It is disappointing that the RMIT Islamic Society chooses to reject established multi-faith principles," she said.
The Society denies that it is opposed to multi-faith principles, a position that seems to be supported by others.
From other reports, the university obviously spent a lot of money fitting out the multi-faith centre at the main campus to meet Muslim requirements. However, it also seems clear that the university's approach has created on-ground practical problems.
It is very hard in all this to disentangle the issues involved. However, there are a few points that I want to make.
To begin with, while the case does raise broader issues, it is first and foremost a local issue.
We are not dealing, as I first thought, with a point blank refusal by RMIT to meet a specific student need, nor is this a case of discrimination. The requirement to accommodate Muslim needs has been agreed on both sides. The dispute is all about and only about the adequacy of the university's solution.
Why then, if it is a local issue, has it attracted so much attention? Simply, it plays to a number of the fault lines in current attitudes in Australia and overseas.
I said during the week in Problems with language and definition in public policy that life was too short to always subject things people say to semantic analysis. Yet we need to.
The problem is that we have all become too good for our own good at casting arguments designed to support a case. The concept of truth as a good in its own right becomes lost in the process.
I must say I do despair sometimes.
At least in Australia we are lucky to still have a newspaper industry. Yes, I have been very critical of newspaper reporting because it too is affected by the distortion process. Yet the continued existence of the print media with its core of experienced journalists allows for depth in reporting not possible in the on-line world.
As a writer and commentator I use both the print and on-line editions. Because of my interests, I look not just at the metro media but also regional papers.
As an aside, and this is something that I mean to write about, I have been monitoring the roll-out of the Commonwealth Government's various stimulus packages at local level.
I said early on that the way our Government systems operate meant that you had to add six months to official dates before the capital spend items kicked in. I was about right.
They are now starting to kick in, and the effects are going to be significant.
Returning to my main theme, there is a depth to the print media that is simply not possible in the on-line world. It's not just that there are many stories in the print media that do not make the on-line editions. It's also, and this is especially true for the regional more localised press, the various advertisements.
This is partly how I have been judging the effects of the stimulus packages.
NSW has around $2 billion to spend on the construction of new social housing as a specific stimulus measure. There is also more money for back-log maintenance. Local papers are full of Housing NSW advertisements looking for, among other things, ready to go development projects.
It will still be a little while before the impact will be felt, but you can see it coming.
I seem to be musing in a new direction. I will finish by saying that I regard the survival of the Australian print media as absolutely critical to the survival of real, informed, discussion in this country.