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A study released last year showed the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the New York Times was more negative than cancer, alcohol, and cocaine. The New York Times, which many consider to be very “left,” only had 8% of their headlines about Islam and Muslims carry a positive connotation while 17% of headlines carried a positive connotation around cancer. For Muslims, this confirmed something many of them had been living for a long time. No matter what they do, no matter what they say, it never seems to break the connotation about their community.
We watched this discrepancy in coverage this weekend. On Thursday, news broke that a man plowed into pedestrians in New York injuring 22 and killing 1. As coverage picked up, pundits wondered if this was another Nice, France attack where a man had driven his truck into pedestrians. Once the attacker was identified as Richard Rojas, an ex-navyman, it was like the attack never happened. It actually took some time to find his name. News no longer had wall to wall coverage of the attack. Speculation stopped. No one blamed all veterans and called for them to be properly vetted before entering back into civilian life. Pictures of the victim did not trend either.
And yet, after the Manchester attack as more information came in, it had wall to wall coverage. Every news agency broke to the story, even local ones. Pundits began discussing the importance of vetting not only immigrants but wondering if Muslims should be watched more as well. When the attacker was identified, his name led most headlines. It seems the more Arabic sounding the name the better.
This kind of coverage is irresponsible. It is not that we should ignore terrorist attacks. It is that we should stop sensationalizing them. When Jo Cox was murdered, the man’s name was not plastered on every headline. The intent was not to pretend it did not happen. It was to prevent others from copying his behavior. His name was buried in later paragraphs, not the headline. Even after he was identified, spin began that he had a history of mental illness not that he was tied to Britain First even as he yelled their slogan during the attack.
We saw this happen with the thwarted plot in Kansas as well. Three men who called themselves “the Crusaders” had planned to attack a complex that had a concentration of Somali families. Their attacks were politically and racially motivated. Most people, however, had not heard of the incident even after they were charged. Can you imagine if individuals were arrested under similar charges but had foreign sounding names? There would be increased suspicion and hostility against Muslims almost immediately. This also raises troubling questions about why ordinary citizens are being ask to speak out about things that have no connection to them. The Manchester attacker was known to law enforcement, not the community. Implying that Muslims should be speaking out betrays an unconscious bias that they are somehow involved.
As you read example after example of this double standard you might ask, then why won’t Muslims speak out? Most people know that individuals like the men in Kansas are acting alone, why won’t Muslims point out the same? They do. Here’s an entire spreadsheet to prove it! There are over 5700 entries of statements released about attacks and incidents that happened around the world. Not only do they release, statements, they also actively try to help with campaigns like #MuslimsForManchester. But, when only 8% of headlines in a left leaning newspaper show that positivity, it is no wonder that image exists.
Mosques have seen an increase in arson attacks, hijab wearing women are harassed and beaten, and individuals that may “look Muslim” but aren’t are facing similar assault. Friday will mark the beginning of the month of Ramadan. As Muslims prepare for long days of fasting and spiritual rejuvenation, many will wonder what will happen next?
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