Muslim Prejudice and Media Bias

Ahmed and Zahara Al-JumailiMax Fisher wrote another thoughtful article over the weekend, The Murder of Ahmed Al-Jumaili in Texas Should Be a Front-Page Story. It’s about the mysterious murder of a recent Iraqi immigrant. But I think Fisher was being a bit sarcastic when he wrote, “But it seems odd that Americans, who pride themselves on inclusiveness and tolerance, would be so blithe and so uninterested [in this story].” As Fisher’s article documents, Americans embrace their intolerance. While Americans may pride themselves on their tolerance, they don’t practice it. They have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. During World War I, we persecuted Germans, so we took a pass and moved onto the Japanese in World War II. Now it is the Muslim’s turn. In fifty years, we will be onto some new group having not learned any general principles.

No one knows if Al-Jumaili was killed because he was Muslim. He seems to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time — but it could very well have been a premeditated act. The fact remains that Dallas — where he had immigrated to just three weeks earlier — is a hotbed of Islamophobia. Fisher described recent anti-Muslim protests over a program designed to foster tolerance, “Stand With the Prophet Against Terror and Hate.” This brought out people who said charming things like, “We don’t want them here” and, “We’re here to stand up for the American way of life from a faction of people who are trying to destroy us.” Just like them Japs, am I right?!

Max FisherBut let’s suppose that Al-Jumaili was just killed in a random act of violence committed by a small group of men. What does it say about our country that a man flees violence in Iraq and gets gunned down outside his home within three weeks of coming to America? It is ironic that Americans are so concerned about the Islamic State when it poses effectively no threat to them. At the same time, they are absolutely fine with people roaming the streets with guns. In 2013, over a thousand people were murdered in Texas. (Generally, about 75% of all homicides are committed with firearms.) But these people not only want to go to war with the Islamic State, they want to kick Muslims out of the country. Maybe that would be doing the Muslims a favor.

Fisher put this particular murder into modern American media context in a way that I find frightening:

If Islam had been the religion of the shooter rather than the religion of the victim, if police suspected a motivation of Islamic extremism rather than a possible motivation of anti-Muslim extremism, the murder would have been enormous national news. But because the shooter was perhaps instead motivated by extremist Islamophobia (again, at this point an unconfirmed but widespread perception), and because it was the victim rather than the killer who was Muslim, it hardly caused a blip.

In this particular case, I don’t mind that it hasn’t gotten much coverage because it is more bizarre than anything. But it does bother me that Fisher has nailed this. If a Muslim had killed some non-Muslim as he stood outside his house with his wife taking pictures of freak Texas snowfall, the media would be all over it. It wouldn’t matter that we didn’t know the motivation of the shooter. It wouldn’t matter if there was no indication of motivation at all. It would be big news. Obama would be expected to make a statement about it. The right wing would be going crazy.

And that’s my takeaway from all this. The problem is not that the media don’t care when Muslims get killed. The media in general don’t care when anyone gets killed — there are almost two per hour: dog bites man. The problem is the media freak-out whenever a Muslim kills someone. This is the very definition of prejudice: being skeptical of a particular group of people. Given the freak-out when a Muslim does kill someone, we know that it is actually rare. But it isn’t reported that way. Instead, it is reported as if it were the leading edge of an invasion. We’ve seen this before: again and again and again. And every time, Americans have had their reasons for why it was the right way to think. And we have our reasons now. And they are no better than they were in the past.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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