US Muslims, Media and Fort Hood Test
WASHINGTON – Afifa Ammar’s face turned livid when she heard the conversation between the driver and one of the passengers sitting next to her about the congregation of Muslim worshipers for eid prayer less than two weeks ago.
“They closed the whole street because they have some kind of Muslim festival and they were praying,” the passenger said with her eyes rolling.
“I just don’t know when we will learn the lesson about those people,” the driver answered angrily.
After arriving home in the city of Falls Church, Virginia, a saddened Ammar breathed a sigh of sorrow as she blamed the conversation she heard on the media frenzy after the Fort Hood shooting rampage.
“They are filling Americans with fear and hate,” the hijab-clad woman told IslamOnline.net.
“I’m sure I would not have had to hear this if it was not for all that fuss.”
Many like Ammar fear that in the wake of the November 5 shooting in Texas by Maj. Nidal Hasan, a Muslim army psychiatrist, the media sensationalized Hasan’s faith and triggered a new wave of Islam fear.
Many right-wing and conservative commentators have used the shooting tragedy to defame Islam and American Muslims.
“Media does the job of cut and paste and gives excerpts of what the story is going to be,” fumes Shaker Elsayyed, imam of Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Virginia.
“The result is that many people get delusional and fear what Islam and Muslims are about because this is what they heard.”
American Muslims – individuals, leaders and organizations- immediately and vehemently denounced the shooting as a violation of Islamic teachings.
They dismissed it as an individual criminal action with no justification whatsoever in Islam, with scholars denying it was an act of jihad or that Hasan was a Muslim hero.
Dr. Abdullah Khouj, director of the Islamic Center in Washington DC, laments that some sections of the media do not differentiate between radical acts of a few and the religion that takes its name from the Arabic word for “peace.”
“One person’s mistake and suddenly it is the religion that comes under suspicion.”
Imam Elsayyed says the way some sections of the media tackled the Fort Hood shooting is nothing new.Mixed Opinions
“It is part of a trend,” he told IOL.
“They blame Muslims until otherwise is proven.”
Elsayyed’s mosque came under huge media scrutiny because it was the place where Hasan used to pray back in 2002.
“The question I always ask media reporters who come to the mosque is why do not you come when we feed the poor and the needy, or when we clean the neighborhood, or when we open free clinics for the community,” he said bitterly.
“They answer that this would not be ‘a news story’.”
Stephen Schwartz, head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), America’s largest Jewish movement, has accused American media of demonizing Islam and portraying Muslims as “satanic figures” since the 9/11 attacks.
Edina Lekovic, Communications Director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), agrees that some media outlets used the incident in their own usual way to tarnish Islam and Muslims.
“Fox has been deplorable in its coverage of Fort Hood,” she told IOL.
“They used terms like Jihad and Islamic terrorism and they repeated the claim that Hasan said Allah Akbar before he allegedly committed the shooting.”
But Lekovic contends that the mainstream media was more balanced in its coverage of the Fort Hood tragedy.
“In fact I was surprised by the way mainstream media outlets like CNN, MSNBC and the Washington Post dealt with the situation, and how restraint they were in the first days after the incident than they usually do.”
Ibrahim Hooper, Communications Director in the Council on American Muslim relations (CAIR), agrees.
“It was certain media outlets and fear-mongering websites that used the incident in the wrong way to defame Islam and Muslims,” he told IOL.
“I think the mainstream media did a good job.”