The Muslim Double Standard Continues After Christchurch Massacre
I am a Muslim. On Friday March 15th, 49 people who look like me, act like me, and pray like me were murdered in cold-blood during prayer. The aftermath of tragedies, such as the Christchurch terrorist attack, are largely used as a time to remember the victims and their stories, while shunning the perpetrator’s ideology at all costs. For Muslims, the aftermath of such attacks reinforces norms that we simply cannot escape. As Muslims we have more societal rules placed on our shoulders than most others. The difference in responses between attacks on the Muslim community and those on Christian & Jewish communities continue to reinforce a double standard-reality in the fabric of Western civilization.
I am labeled “violent.” In many instances, world leaders have scapegoated “Islam” as Western societies’ greatest threat. Whether it be an association with fundamentalism thought to be antithetical to Western values or outright terrorism, normal Muslims are often caught in the middle of this rhetorical war. For starters, U.S. President Trump has openly stated that “Islam hates us” in an effort to justify his ban on Muslims entering the United States. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Muslims “must be held responsible;” Bill Maher stated “when there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard;” even CNN’s Chris Cuomo implied that Islam is hostile while stating “it’s not a coincidence that ISIS starts with an I.” Yet, this rhetoric ignores a simple truth about the religious texts that underpin both Islam and Christianity. There are similar amounts of violent passages in the Bible and the Qur’an, meaning that the conversation cannot revolve around one being peaceful and the other being violent. There is a vast amount of nuance in an honest conversation about terrorism in the Middle East, such as colonial history, regime change, ethnic conflict, and external interventions. All who essentialize terror attacks from Muslims as strictly “Islamic” are assisting groups like ISIS in hijacking Islam, and unfortunately, this essentialization is the norm in contemporary Western societies.
I am seen as a perpetrator. Far-right Australian Senator Fraser Anning placed the blame of the New Zealand terror attack on Muslim immigration, claiming in his statement “While Muslims may have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators.” The senator was condemned with a deafening roar of criticism, but Anning was not the only one placing blame of the attack on those who were dissected by lead bullets. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert implied there were “controversies” to be settled through “courts, dispute resolutions, and legislatures,” but violence wasn’t the right way to settle it. In other words, those praying Muslims should be dealt with via the legal process. This tone-deaf statement implicitly supports the notion that the victims were doing something wrong. There are no indications that there will be a house resolution condemning Gohmert’s Islamophobic remarks.
I am held to a higher standard. There was, however, a resolution condemning Minnesota Congresswomen Ilhan Omar’s criticism of the U.S. relationship with Israel. Omar was accused of anti-Semitism and condemned by both major parties, in an unprecedented manner, for criticizing AIPAC’s undue influence in American politics. To see that influence, one need look no further than 2019’s first bill in the Senate; a crack-down on boycotts of Israel before the government was even opened. The timing of the bill seemed to place support for Israel as a higher priority than American workers and their first amendment rights, which is peculiar given the current “America First” agenda. Furthermore, the reaction to Omar was undeniably much stronger than the reaction to the president’s use of anti-Semitic tropes on multiple occasions. He did not experience the same vociferous anti-Semitic accusations and demands to step down as Omar did for daring to inquire whether unquestioned loyalty to a nation possibly guilty of an illegal occupation, apartheid, and human rights violations is contrary to American interests.
It is important to note that when Judge Jeanine Pirro alleged Congresswoman Omar’s wearing of a hijab conflicted with adherence to the constitution, a common Islamophobic trope, President Trump tweeted in her support. This is in direct contrast with his reaction to Omar’s comments. A clear double standard.
I am essentialized. In the highest levels of society, biases have become explicitly written into coverage. For example, the New York Times was quick to label the Charlie Hebdo attack as terrorism. After Christchurch, however, the Times’ headline read “In New Zealand, Signs Point to a Gunman Steeped in Internet Trolling.” Furthermore, the Daily Mirror’s front page was covered with “ISIS Maniac Kills 50 In Gay Club,” after the Orlando shooting, and “Angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer,” after Christchurch. Muslim perpetrators are quickly stamped with “terrorist,” while non-minority attackers’ personal histories are scoured to analyze how and why society failed them.
There is no debate on this. The definition of “terrorism” is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, in the pursuit of political aims.” The attacker’s manifesto had clear political aims. Any hesitation by media or politicians to declare him a terrorist is motivated by bias and bias alone. The double standard is both content-based and quantity-based as Muslim terror attacks receive 357% more coverage than non-Muslim terror attacks. This is a cycle that continues to prolong the simplistic mindset that Islam is violent, and thus will lead us to more Islamophobia and attacks similar to Christchurch.
But I am human. Some studies postulate that 25 years of negative coverage have portrayed Muslims in stories and headlines more negatively than cancer, alcohol, and cocaine. Whether a trauma surgeon and community politician beats racism in his own party, or a community pillar deported after 39 years in the U.S., the Muslim story is significantly more nuanced and heterogenous than is currently conveyed. Politicians and leaders in the media industry must do better in leading responsibly through crises, if we are to allow these stories to overtake the terrorism stereotype.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, displayed exemplary leadership in her response to the terrorist attack in Christchurch. Her leadership in crisis was critical, not only for those within her nation, but also for those across the globe, as the present represents a critical inflection point, in which society can progress or regress. I’m hopeful U.S. media and politicians will learn from Prime Minister Ardern and turn away from lazy generations, in an effort to paint an accurate picture of Muslims. Because if discourse on the Muslim community does not improve quickly, there will be plenty more crises to respond to.