Media reinforces Islamophobia
Many media jumped to the false conclusion that a Muslim was responsible for the attack in Norway.
Aghast and devastated when news reached us of the attacks in Norway, everyone was deeply pained that someone could so mercilessly claim the lives of 90 innocent individuals.
For American-Muslims, the concerns were multiplied as allegations spread that the attack was done by a Muslim terrorist. Even when police revealed a description of the suspect — a tall, blond 32 year old with a Nordic appearance — and the term “terrorist” was dropped, the Muslim community still felt the sting of large-scale Islamophobia.
U.S. news analysts and journalists rushed to assume the Norwegian attack was “Middle Eastern in its origin.” Labels such as “Muslim extremists” and “Islamists” were tossed sloppily into several of these reports, even as Norwegian investigators were unsure of the suspect.
One example is report on FOX News that opened with the following headline: “Two deadly terror attacks in Norway in what appears to be the work, once again, of Muslim extremists.”
FOX repeated these accusations many times, but not once marshaled a shred of evidence to support their allegations. Unfortunately, many news media continued down this path, including The Washington Post, CNN and The Wall Street Journal. MSNBC described the attack as “some homegrown terror plots linked to al-Qaida.”
Jamila Boudlali, a senior at the University of Minnesota, said she was deeply pained by the media’s early speculations; she believes their rush to report unverified information is not justified when it results in discriminatory misinformation.
“It’s offensive, it’s racist and it’s not right. News from mainstream media goes out to everyone. Everyone is hearing it, everyone is seeing it,” she said. “They need to identify their source if they want to have credibility.”
The shooting comes on the heels of an ongoing anti-Shariah campaign in the U.S., as well as political efforts (led by New York congressman Peter King) to defeat “Islamic radicalization.” The Congressional hearings that King and his supporters began in early March single out Islam amongst all religions as a threat to the nation’s security. This regular misrepresentation of Muslims in U.S. mainstream news has left Boudlali skeptical.
“When Muslims are involved, [the news] is often exaggerated and facts and sources are left out,” she said. “I now go to multiple sources for my news.”
Boudlali also noted a growing trend on Twitter in which people are tweeting their misfortunes and ending their post with a “#BlameTheMuslims.” According to Boudlali, Muslims began this trend as a satirical response to Islamophobic sentiments that have plagued both public discussion and news stories within mainstream media. The hash tag gained even more prominence after the Norwegian tragedy, especially after it became apparent that “terrorism” is often associated exclusively with Muslim extremists in American media.
Such unjust characterization of the Muslim community ultimately fuels Islamophobia. In fact, the 1,500-page manifesto written by Anders Breivik, the man behind the attack in Norway, expresses his far-right ideologies centering on his deep hatred toward Islam. According to a recent article in The New York Times, Breivik “quoted extensively from the anti-Islam writings of American bloggers” in his call for a “Christian war” against the threat of “Muslim domination.”
Be they journalists reporting on tragic events or congressmen seeking the security of our nation, voices in mainstream media should be more equitable in their word choice. Media bias at home (like using words such as “terrorism” and “radicalization” exclusively for Muslims) breeds only fear, hate and in extreme cases, deadly tragedies like the one in Norway.