“Isn’t religious intolerance by your company the bottom line in this matter?” was the question posed by KRON-TV’s (San Francisco Channel 4) Ysabel Duron to me as the Director of Corporate Public Relations for LSI Logic. http://www.kron.com/News/ArticleView/tabid/298/smid/1126/ArticleID/3200/reftab/515/t/Ysabel%20Duron/Default.aspx

I looked at Ysabel and secretly wished her a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and responded that the “bottom line is the safety of children and whether it is a good idea to put 250 small children within 200 feet of a semiconductor facility that handles and transports hazardous, corrosive and flammable chemicals on a daily basis.”

duron

My on-camera quote was included in her story that evening as well as a statement by the Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara http://www.mcabayarea.org/ accusing LSI Logic www.lsi.com of blatant religious intolerance against those who practice Islam.

The time period was 1993 to 1998. The World Trade Center stood proudly at the tip of Manhattan, Shanksville was just another town in Western Pennsylvania and the numerals “9-11” sounded like a convenience store chain. And yet passions were still high then even without the vivid mental images of hijacked jetliners hitting skyscrapers, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 3,000 Americans.

What is prompting me to regurgitate this dispute is the massive coverage of the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque” within blocks of the World Trade Center and the emotions that this zoning dispute has unleashed. The opponents of the Cordoba Mosque have been accused on “racism,” “bigotry” and “hatred of Muslims.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote about this response in a recent column: “The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration’s pretense that we are at war with nothing more than ‘violent extremists’ of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour. “http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/26/AR2010082605233.html

Whether you agree or disagree with Krauthammer’s prose, PR representatives should contemplate what they would do to protect the reputation and safeguard the brand of their company or organization that is falsely branded as bigoted, racist or intolerant in a contentious dispute. The Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara said point blank in a news release: “These facts make us wonder: What is the real reason for LSI Logic’s hard-line stance against our community?” http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Muslim+Community+Association+to+Appear+Before+Santa+Clara+Superior…-a020011843

Former Santa Clara Mayor Eddie Souza said: “LSI Logic’s legal actions appear to be based solely on intolerance and stand to burden our city and residents with unnecessary expenses and troublesome lawsuits.” And Herb Schmidt, a Stanford University Lutheran pastor was quoted: “If this (Islamic Center) was a synagogue or a Roman Catholic parochial school, this would not be happening.”

santaclara

The real reason for our opposition was centered on the fact that a light industrial zone is just that, a light industrial zone intended for manufacturing … not small school children. The Santa Clara City Planning Commission denied the permit twice for the Granada Islamic School, but was overturned twice by the City Council. I will dispense with the entire history, other to note that LSI Logic no longer has a manufacturing facility or any other presence in Santa Clara, but the school is still there.

The charges of racism, bigotry and intolerance hurt and threatened the good name of the company. Our business colleagues were privately very concerned and supportive, but there was no reason for them to be splattered by the same rhetorical mud.

Our strategy was to deflect the intolerance charges and to refuse to engage into a name-calling exchange with the Muslim Community Association. Our beef was with the Santa Clara City Council that was overruling the Planning Commission and putting small school children in potential harm’s way.

We also endeavored to keep this story out of the major national publications (e.g. Wall Street Journal, NY Times, USA Today) or business wires (e.g. AP, Bloomberg, Reuters, MarketWatch), even using the eye-glazing-over term, “zoning dispute” to describe the situation. (If this caper had actually followed 9-11, this strategy would not have succeeded and most likely would have found its way to Al Jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/)

We were also placed in a tricky PR predicament: If our Santa Clara manufacturing facility was unsafe for children wasn’t it unsafe for other people? And were we through our actions and pronouncements undermining the safety claims of the entire $200 billion-plus semiconductor industry.

In response, we pointed out to reporters that our facility had never been fined, never subjected to an administrative order and that we maintained a very strict regime of controls for the nasty chemicals used to make microchips. Having said that, we dared to question the wisdom of bringing small school children directly across the street from our facility.

If you are scoring at home, it would be very easy to declare that the Muslim Community Association won and LSI Logic lost the battle. If the charges of racism, bigotry and intolerance had permanently adhered themselves to the company’s reputation and brand, we would have lost the war as well.

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