Comment: Controversy over narrative as Muslims murdered in US

As long as the media refrain from jumping on the Islamophobia and hate crime narrative, there will continue to be accusations that Western media has a double standard when it comes to Muslim victims.

By
February 11, 2015 17:39
muslim students killed

Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wifem Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were shot dead Wednesday . (photo credit: TWITTER)

On Tuesday evening, February 10th, three Muslims were found murdered in Chapel Hill at a condominium. They were 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 almost as soon as the bodies were found and stories began appearing at 1 a.m. Wednesday.

However, from the beginning a narrative developed that there was a conspiracy among “mainstream media” to ignore the killings. Sabbiyah Pervez wrote at The Independent, “chapel hill shooting: the latest act of terror has just been committed in America, but the media has ignored it because the victims were Muslim.” She claimed the “lack of coverage proves the West’s dehumanization of Muslims is almost complete.” She asked, “Do the lives of Muslims not matter? they have asked. Is our blood cheap? Why do we not get the same media attention when a crime is committed against us?” and she complained that the killers would not be branded a terrorist.

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Ray Hanania at the Arabdailynews.com posted an article describing the killings as a “massacre”, and claiming “The [Muslim] community is wondering if the massacre is the result of a hate crime by a White American with anti-Muslim feelings. Tensions have increased significantly in the past weeks following the reported massacre of the newspaper staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France.”

A culture of blaming the “West” and Western media became common on social media. Popular cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who is a visceral critic of Israel, drew a picture of three dead Muslims on the street with a man with a video camera yawning “3 young Muslims killed by a lone gunner? No breaking news here!” Across twitter, in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the UK and Pakistan, commentators wondered whether “#MuslimLivesMatter.” Mufti Ismail Menk of Zimbabwe claimed “such incidents should be condemned and given appropriate media coverage.”

The lack of coverage narrative was fed by the different time zones. By the time it was morning in the US, it was already afternoon in much of the Muslim world and there was a palpable sense that a Western media conspiracy to ignore the murders existed, fed by a view that there is rampant Islamophobia in the West. The accusation of “media silence” became a story in itself at Ibtimes and other websites. Tarek Abughazaleh, a cardiologist in Northern Virginia, posted a meme of monkeys labeled CNN, Reuters and BBC covering their ears, eyes and mouth.

But by 18 hours after the bodies were found all the major media had headlines, often the lead story on their homepages, describing the killings and the possible hate-crime motives. The perpetrator Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46 year old resident of the area, had turned himself in and been charged with first degree murder. A Facebook page allegedly belonging to him included support for radical atheism as well as a picture of a .38 revolver. Media sites are still being coy on the motives, wondering over whether it was a possible hate crime.

As long as the media refrain from jumping on the Islamophobia and hate crime narrative, there will continue to be accusations that the Western media has a double standard when it comes to Muslim victims. At the same time, desire to describe Craig Stephen Hicks as a “terrorist” have been pouring in on social media, with some calling him a “white American terrorist.” Piers Morgan has said “If a Muslim executed 3 Christian students in US, it would get a LOT more media coverage than I'm seeing right now.”

The debate over definitions is important in light of the controversy the US administration has had over its inability to condemn as terrorism attacks at the Kosher deli in Paris and the Fort Hood massacre. The 2009 attack by Major Nidal Hassan left 13 dead and 30 injured, and many were incredulous that the Obama administration defined it as a case of “workplace violence”, even though Hassan shouted “Allahu Akhbar” as he gunned down the soldiers and was clearly motivated by Islamist ideology and opposition to America’s war.

But the White House compounded the inability to condemn racist-motivated hate crimes, by defining the killings as “random.” Commentators were shocked when Obama described the killings in Paris as “violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shot a bunch of folks in a Deli in Paris.” When pressed on the why they couldn’t admit it was a kosher deli that was target and its Jewish customers, Press Secretary Josh Earnest claimed the victims were “killed not because of who they were, but because of where they randomly happened to be.” People wonder whether the same could be said of 9/11, were the victims random because of “where they happened to be”? Isn’t it obvious when a gunman targets a kosher deli he is committing an anti-Semitic crime? State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki claimed she couldn’t comment further because “I don’t think we’re going to speak on behalf of French authorities…it’s an issue for the French government to address.”

All eyes will now be on the US President to see how he handles the murders in North Carolina. Are they “random” victims of a “zealot”? The same media that describes ISIS members as “militants” or “activists” and can’t seem to ever mention terror is being accused of a non-existent double standard for not calling the murders of three Muslims an act of terror. Most have forgotten that mainstream media has mostly abandoned the term “terrorism” in favor of the callous word “militant” to describe outrages by Boko Haram and ISIS. Is the killer in North Carolina an “American militant”?

It is a reminder of the toxic and politicized aspects of the current media and political scene. What appears to be a hate-crime against Muslims in the United States is used as a way to invent a narrative about Western media hypocrisy, when in reality the only real hypocrisy can be found in media in other countries that rarely discuss or even care about widespread abuses of minorities. When Pakistani activists rail against Western media, do they forget the frequent attacks on minorities in Pakistan, such as when a mob in Punjab beat and burned to death a Christian couple in November after being accused of “desecrating the Koran.” The Western media has been diligent in raising the profile of the murder of three Muslims. Usually the killing of three people in a house is not necessarily a major international story. It is because of the awareness of hate-crimes against Muslims that the media has done a good job giving this story coverage.

The irony is that the Western political leaders have done all they can to be careful not to allude to religious motives behind other crimes like the Paris kosher market attack. Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast lecture about Christians not “getting on their high horse” earned him criticism for not expressing outrage over Islamic State atrocities, but wasting his address on discussing the Crusades and Inquisition. Had he strongly condemned the Paris kosher market attack, he could condemn strongly this murder of three Muslims as a hate crime as well, without leaving an air of hypocrisy. Now all eyes will be on the White House to ask if there is a double standard.


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