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 âÄî a tall, blond 32 year old with a Nordic appearance âÄî and the term âÄúterroristâÄù 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 âÄúMiddle Eastern in its origin.âÄù Labels such as âÄúMuslim extremistsâÄù and âÄúIslamistsâÄù 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: âÄúTwo deadly terror attacks in Norway in what appears to be the work, once again, of Muslim extremists.âÄù
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 âÄúsome homegrown terror plots linked to al-Qaida.âÄù
Jamila Boudlali, a senior at the University of Minnesota, said she was deeply pained by the mediaâÄôs early speculations; she believes their rush to report unverified information is not justified when it results in discriminatory misinformation.
âÄúItâÄôs offensive, itâÄôs racist and itâÄôs not right. News from mainstream media goes out to everyone. Everyone is hearing it, everyone is seeing it,âÄù she said. âÄúThey need to identify their source if they want to have credibility.âÄù
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 âÄúIslamic radicalization.âÄù The Congressional hearings that King and his supporters began in early March single out Islam amongst all religions as a threat to the nationâÄôs security. This regular misrepresentation of Muslims in U.S. mainstream news has left Boudlali skeptical.
âÄúWhen Muslims are involved, [the news] is often exaggerated and facts and sources are left out,âÄù she said. âÄúI now go to multiple sources for my news.âÄù
Boudlali also noted a growing trend on Twitter in which people are tweeting their misfortunes and ending their post with a âÄú#BlameTheMuslims.âÄù 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 âÄúterrorismâÄù 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 âÄúquoted extensively from the anti-Islam writings of American bloggersâÄù in his call for a âÄúChristian warâÄù against the threat of âÄúMuslim domination.âÄù
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 âÄúterrorismâÄù and âÄúradicalizationâÄù exclusively for Muslims) breeds only fear, hate and in extreme cases, deadly tragedies like the one in Norway.