Acceptable oppression

In the current political climate oppression is not in vogue, but Muslims still experience it with little to no protest from those with the loudest voices.

by Matthew Hoy

A very vocal minority of the U.S. population endorses and enables widespread, readily apparent Islamaphobia. The Boston Marathon bombings served as a stark reminder of this fact.

Take Abdulrahman Ali Al-Harbi, a 20-year-old Saudi man who was fleeing the explosions, badly injured, when a bystander who thought he looked suspicious tackled him. He was taken to the hospital while his apartment was searched in “a startling show of force” and has since become the subject of one of Glenn Beck’s insane conspiracy theories. Beck claims that this man is somehow connected to the bombings, should be considered a suspect and is being protected by a massive cover-up.

This conspiracy has been taken to even more absurd extremes, with some Beck followers claiming that Alharbi is the son of Osama Bin Laden.

The Internet has been a breeding ground of unwarranted suspicion and hatred in the time following the bombings. A quick Google search will yield pages and pages of tweets reacting to the tragedy, prematurely blaming it on Muslims and insisting, with plentiful racial slurs, that we ought to bomb predominantly Muslim countries.

These sentiments were acted upon after the explosions when angry Islamaphobic people committed hate crimes against a number of Americans for appearing Arabic. This level of racial assumption was not exclusive to emotionally affected citizens. Prominent members of the media found themselves reporting false information because of a need to have someone convenient to blame.

Two days after the bombings, CNN correspondent John King incorrectly reported that authorities had a “dark-skinned male” in custody as the primary suspect.

The New York Post printed two men on its cover, labeling them “Bag Men,” and implicating them as FBI suspects for the bombings just because they happened to have darker skin than the people standing around them.

It is easy to expect this from Beck and the less reliable news personalities, but King is a fairly well-respected journalist. And though his gaffe hasn’t gone unnoticed, I have trouble believing that, had his report been right, anyone outside of civil rights groups would have raised a fuss. A dark-skinned male is what everyone seemed to be expecting, after all.

The irrational hatred for Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent is often justified with the erroneous argument that their religion is uniquely destructive and that their fundamentalists pose a great threat to the safety of Americans. The idea is that, while the majority of Muslims may be peaceful, good-natured citizens, almost every terrorist attack is committed by one.

It is a widespread assumption that is patently false. In early 2010, researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a study showing that the threat posed by Muslim extremists has been greatly exaggerated. According to the FBI, from 1980-2005 only 6 percent of domestic terrorist attacks were committed by “Islamic Extremists.”

Add in the fact that since 1970 there have been roughly 3,400 U.S. deaths from terrorist attacks, compared to the 116,000 firearm deaths from 2000-11, and our nation’s gruesome focus on terrorism and lack of resolve on gun control become more ridiculous.

When our news media’s determining factor for content is ratings, this bias toward sensationalism becomes necessary if outlets want to survive. It is for this reason that we’ve seen headlines like “Tax-Funded Jihad?” an absurd attempt to blame welfare for the creation of a terrorist.

And it’s not just our citizens or our newsmakers that hype this threat up and blame it on Muslims. Our politicians are well-seasoned veterans of the process.

In the weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, politicians have scrambled to use the tragedy for political leverage, primarily using Tamerlan Tsarnaev as an example of how the pending immigration bill will leave our country more open to attack. This isn’t just Islamaphobic, it’s borderline xenophobic.

Politicians using horrific events to further political goals is nothing new, and often it’s necessary. But this borderline non sequitur requires the performance of some truly impressive mental gymnastics to even begin to rationalize. And all it does is contribute to the convenient oppression of a minority. When people argue that Islam is defined by the extremists that get an inordinate amount of media coverage, it’s the same as saying that Christianity is defined by the Klu Klux Klan, or that every Hispanic-American is defined by the Latin Kings.

The difference is that equating the vast majority of peaceful Muslims with their radical minority is socially acceptable, while the other examples would see you (rightfully) derided and labeled a bigot. We’re lucky to be at a time when social consciousness about oppression is expanding. It is important that our awareness of anti-Muslim sentiment follows suit.