SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Within hours of the discovery of the bodies of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu Salha, 19, local media, such as CBS affiliate WRAL-TV, began covering the story. Yet within those same hours an agenda was launched to bash the West, America and sometimes “white people” as involved in an anti-Muslim conspiracy to downplay the murders.
The first iteration of the “no breaking news” narrative was Carlos Latuff’s cartoons. Next the narrative jumped across the ocean to The Independent, where Sabbiyah Pervez claimed “Muslims have been executed but the media ignored it because of their religion.” Those like Sabbiyah passionately believed that the opposite should be true, the media should be more concerned because of the religion of the victims. Ray Hanania and those adopting the Pervez view claimed it was an “execution” or “massacre.” Three Muslims were murdered, it must be a right wing hate crime. An article at the Ibtimes claimed there was “media silence.”
But there wasn’t media silence, in the opposite, the crime got national and international coverage. Despite no evidence emerging that this was part of a white-supremacist Christian extremist plot to murder Muslims, the story was headlined around the world, precisely because the victims were Muslim. Had they been Sikhs, Hindus, Native-Americans, three Hmong, or anyone else, there would have been almost no reporting.
The story of the media “coverup” was adopted by Mohammed ElMasry of the University of North Alabama who also claimed “the religious identity of violent perpetrators is only highlighted when they are Muslim.” The theory was that the murderer, Craig Stephen Hicks (who turned himself in) was being let off the hook by the media because he was white. The “whiteness” of the shooter was a common thread on media. One woman wrote, “when it is a black shooter, the entire race is to blame, and a white shooter? Well, he’s just a troubled lone wolf now isn’t he.” Another woman named Heather Beck asked in a talkback “why aren’t white, middle aged atheists being forced to apologize and denounce these killings?” In point of fact Richard Dawkins, the athiest writer, condemned the murder when the killer was revealed to supposedly be an athiest.
The irony of all the people saying “when the murderer is white no one cares” is that they immediately blamed “white” people for the crime; doing precisely the opposite of what they claimed they don’t want the media to do. For instance, Nadia El-Zein Tonova and Khaled Beydoun wrote at Al-Jazeera claimed “History affirms that a reversal of racial and religious identities – an Arab and Muslim culprit and white victims – would have spurred immediate media attention, on a national and global scale.” The Jewish Voice for Peace-North Carolina chapter wrote in a post that “those of us who are white people, and non-Muslims, know that we have SUCH a great responsibility to call out racism and Islamophobia where and when we see it…white silence only perpetuates violence and ignorance. There is no excuse for our silence.”
The victims were white. The perpatrator was white. But for some reason the fact that the victims were Muslim turned the crime into a “white” crime. The Nation’s article claiming that most terrorism is committed by a “white man with a grudge” was correct insofar as Osama Bin Laden, the Boston Bombers, ISIS’s Jihad Johni and the 9/11 hijackers were all indeed white men with grudges, but that’s not what they meant; they meant to imply being “white” and “Muslim” are mutually exclusive. When Beydoun and Tonova write about “Muslim culprit and white victim”, they seem to miss the fact that many Muslims are white. The Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh was a white person murdered by other white ISIS members.
In the latest ISIS outrage who is the “white” person? The murderer is the white person. The victim is a Muslim. Where is Jewish Voice for Peace for this victim? The fact is that when the victims are Muslim or non-Muslim and the perpetrators are white Muslims, there is total media silence. Pervez or Beydoun don’t write about it. They don’t ask about media ignoring it.
The murder of three Muslims in America gained more attention on social media than the murder of three Jews at the kosher market in Paris, or the murder of hostages in Australia. Does anyone even remember the names of the Jews murdered in Paris or those murdered in Sydney? Jewish Voice for Peace didn’t mention their names even, compared to emblazoning their Facebook post with beautiful photos of the Chapel Hill victims. What were their names? They were Yohan Cohen (22), Philippe Braham (40), François-Michel Saada (believed to be in his 60s) and Yoav Hattab (21).
Yoav Hattab was an Arab-Jew from Tunisia. Why wasn’t his life as important? His murderer was Amedy Coulibaly. When it comes to these victims the authorities downplayed their murder and said they were victims of “random violence” and media downplayed the fact that the kosher market was a target.
What happened in the Sydney siege? Within hours of it beginning the greatest trend on social media was a pro-Muslim sympathetic ‘I’ll Ride With You” hashtag on Twitter. Far from the media focusing on the “Islamic” nature of the attacker, who had his victims hold up an ISIS flag, the media downplayed this aspect, and focused on how stereotyping of Muslims would be an unfair outcome of this attack. As a reminder, the victims in Sydney were Katrina Dawson and cafe manager Tori Johnson who were killed after gunman Man Haron Monis took 18 hostages.
The fact is that there is a massive belief that the media and Western countries are biased against Muslims. The fact is that when one compares the headlines at Muslim owner media, such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, and major Western media, such as the BBC or CNN, that the headlines are mostly the same. The Western media works hard to tiptoe around the issue when the motivating factors are Islamism and Islamist fundamentalist extremism. Consider when Boko Haram blows up churches and mosques:
It is called “unrest” and even though thousands of Muslims and Christians are massacred, the perpetrators are called “militants.” This is an organization that proudly spouts a religious fascist message and beheads people. Craig Stephen Hicks didn’t hold up a white cross and dress in a KKK uniform and behead people. And yet, there is more coverage of Hicks and more anger over his murders than over 3,000 murdered by Boko Haram. Could it be that because the victims were white Muslims in the US and not black Muslims in Africa that this is the real reason that Hicks and his victims get coverage? It is precisely the opposite of the “Islamphobic media” and “ignoring” the story. The real story being ignored are the victims of ISIS and Boko Haram. ISIS proudly sold Yezidi women into sex slavery and yet the world shrugs a shoulder over that compared to three people murdered in Chapel Hill. The lives of 10,000 Yezidis and thousands of women sold into slavery and raped was worth less.
When it comes to Islamist violence, it is not only discounted as “random” and world leaders emphasize that it is “not motivated by Islam“, and Obama lectures people on not getting on their “high horse“, but the media actively tries to pretend these groups don’t exist. In an infamous 2012 oped at The New York Times, Jean Herskovitz of the State University of New York claimed “But the news media and American policy makers are chasing an elusive and ill-defined threat; there is no proof that a well-organized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram even exists today.”
Whether it is the Boston Bomber, or Major Nidal Hasan, there is always a great degree of work that goes in by the media and politicians to make sure it is not labelled “Islamic” and to turn the murderers into lone actors, not part of a wider movement. Even though Major Hasan sent 10 to 20 messages to Anwar Al Awlaki, the Yemenite based al-Qaida loving cleric, his murders were termed “workplace violence” at Fort Hood. Can you imagine if Hicks had shouted “God is Great” as he murdered three Muslims in Chapel Hill? Would it be just some “workplace violence.”
The truth is that far from Islamic victims being ignored, the only real Muslim victims being ignored are those murdered at the hands of Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Nigeria. In contrast to the view that “white” perpetrators are ignored, this is true when the “white” perpetrator is Muslim and the victims are not, such as in Sudan. No one tweets about “ChristianLivesMatter” when Christians are murdered in bombings in Egypt or lynched in Pakistan. That’s right, a Christian married couple was lynched and burned to death. But you didn’t hear about it. Because they were Christian and the perpetrators were a mob of Muslims “angry” over the rumor that a Koran had been desecrated. Church bombings in Egypt. The media ignores that. 45 Churches were burned in Niger in “Charlie Hebdo protests” in January. Did anyone Tweet “NigerLivesMatter”? No. No one cared.
There is a total media blackout almost when the victims are non-Muslim, from Turkey to Pakistan, from Thailand to Niger. There is also a media blackout when the victims are Muslim in places like Iraq, often when Shia militias massacre them. There is a huge effort that goes on in the West to hide the Islamist nature of crimes and to turn them into singular “radical” events of “monsters.” It isn’t that “white” people are turned into “lone gunmen”, but it might be that white Muslims are often. Ander Breivik, the murderer in Norway; his ideology of Christian and Euro-racist hatred was not hidden. We learned about it day by day. Had Anders been a Muslim, like the murderer of Drummer Rigby, would we have learned more or less? Would it have been “workplace violence”?
There is an obsession with the theory of Islamophobia and a conspiracy-minded view of Western media that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of “when Muslims are victims no one cares” and touts a double standard of “no one blames all white people.” Except it isn’t true. People do blame all Christians for the Crusades and Inquisition, that is precisely what Obama did at his National Prayer Breakfast; he told the mostly Protestant assembled audience that Christians were the perpetrators. He didn’t say “not real Christians.” Yet Protestants were the real victims of the Catholic extremism in the 30 years war. But we don’t want to hear about that. Crusades were Christian. The KKK was white. It wasn’t just a “few whites”, it was a “white racist crime.” And today, the narrative is that “white people” must “speak out more” about the murders in Chapel Hill, the diametric opposite of the blame cast around after Islamist violence.
For decades the Western countries, which are accused of launching a “war on Islam” have done the opposite. Who defended the Bosnian Muslims and Albanian Muslims in the Balkan Wars? It was Western countries, and particularly the US that helped them, sadly only later to find that some of the descendants of these Bosnians have turned to ISIS for inspiration. The West, and particularly the US was highly critical of Russia for its slaughter of Chechan Muslims in the 1990s. The West went to bat again and again for the Kurds. And in Somalia the US intervened to help people and re-settled Somalis throughout the US. Sadly some of these Somalis have also turned to radicalism. But the very fact that they are turning to radicalism in the US recalls the US attempt to help them.
Who was America’s ally in the Cold War? Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. Forgotten of course, the degree to which the US aided so many Muslim countries, how it helped Muslims and has provided a welcome for Muslims in the US; how American channels celebrate the Eids and Ramadan and every year emblazon the cover of newspapers with positive stories about Muslim religious events; how Americans pour money into aid projects and coexistence work and how American bookshelves are full of books by those like Karen Armstrong touting the greatness of Islam. Yes, 9/11 set back the benign and positive relationship in the US with Muslims around the world and the Muslim minority and created feelings of fear, but it also launched interest in the religion. The very fact that Duke considered blasting the Muslim call to prayer from the University chapel is evidence of this fact; how many Muslim countries have a mosque at a University that rings in Christmas or encourages Jews to come for Yom Kippur? The Washington National Cathedral hosted Muslim prayers, yet another sign of the almost fetishistic interest in bringing Islamic religion into the very heart of American Christianity (after all, no Hindu ceremonies or Buddhist sessions are taking place in the Cathedral).
And yet the picture given is that the Western media is the problem. But where, really, is the racist media? It is in Pakistan and Egypt and these countries where media ignores the plight of Muslims, where it ignores the murder of minorities. You want to find media that cares about the mass murder of Muslims, you will find it almost only and consistently in the West. Islamophobia? The only Islamophobia is primarily found in the Muslim world where there is phobia over Muslim minority groups like Ahmadiya. Want to find hatred of the word “allah”, you’ll find it in Malaysia where the word is banned for us by Christians. Want to find young Muslim women abused at the hands of capricious landlords, you’ll find it meted out to young immigrants from Indonesia in Saudi Arabia, you’ll find it in India or Pakistan; not in the West.
There is a visceral hatred directed at the West to scapegoat it and always blame it. The fact is that the Western states alone has done more to raise awareness about Islam and Muslim lives than any Muslim country. In many Muslim countries the Islamic faith was brought into disrepute by bombings of mosques or beheadings. In the West no one is bombing mosques. No one is lining up Shia and gunning them down (***warning graphic link***). That’s right.
Where is Islam thriving and Muslims making money freely without dictatorship and corruption and without religious persecution of one Muslim sect over another? In Saudi? In Iran? No. In America. No one wants to admit it, but Muslims have been more economically successful in America than in any other country.
Maybe its time to put Chapel Hill in perspective. The media is not Islamophobic. It might be Islamophilic. It doesn’t care if victims are white or black (you think if the Chapel Hill victims were black Christians it would get such coverage? Or Black Muslims, more coverage?) How well does the media treat black victims in Saudi Arabia or dark skinned low caste people in Pakistan? Tell us more about the real racism? You’ll find it a thousand times more in Sudan than in Chapel Hill.
It would be nice to see just a little acknowledgement of the supreme bounds the West and particularly the US have gone to, and stop blaming “white” people. It is ridiculous.