The New York Post did not shy away from sprawling “MUSLIM KILLERS” on the front page – and this headline mirrors the popular belief that religion is the key motive for “Muslim” criminals
It is the 336th day of 2015, and the San Bernardino shooting marks the 355th mass shooting in North America.
Unlike most of the mass shootings, such as the Planned Parentood shooting, the Charleston Church, Sandy Hook, Lafayette Theatre, and Aurora shootings (among others), the perpetrators were not white. They have also been reported to be Muslim – an additional rarity in American shooting sprees.
Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s perceived Muslim identity has been the focus of the discussion around the incident. It might also have been the reason why they were shot dead at the scene. Only last week, a white shooter who killed an officer at Planned Parenthood was peacefully amended for questioning.
It’s still unclear whether Farook and Malik actually were practicing Muslims, but already their religious identity takes centre stage. The New York Post did not shy away from sprawling “MUSLIM KILLERS” on the front page – and this headline mirrors the popular belief that religion is the key motive for “Muslim” criminals. Rather than being described as “malcontent… drifter[s]”, as Robert Lewis Dear Jr, the man who executed the Planned Parenthood attacks, was described, the conversation is focused around their supposed religious motives.
Despite the fact that the police have not yet identified a motive for the shooting, what’s being reported is that they have “not ruled out terrorism”.
It seems that a crime committed by someone who is perceived to be Muslim is without a doubt an act of terror, whereas a white shooter would be deemed a lone wolf who had underlying mental health issues. Even if the attacker is articulate enough to put together an entire manifesto outlining his hateful reasoning, à la Anders Breivik, as long as he is white, he will a) stay alive to “explain” himself and b) he might even have atheist “progressives” coming to his defence.
Let’s not forget that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom Breivik spoke of in admiration, defended him by saying his actions were a response to a “fear that Europe will be overrun by Muslims”.
This attitude is not reserved to right-wing media and political pundits. After the news of the shooting broke out, Twitter users held off discussing the attacks until they knew of the perpetrators’ race and religion. Some of the most recurring questions centred round the perpetrators’ faith and race. One Twitter user was under the impression that the attack had been carried out by a non-Muslim, and subsequently referred to the attack as one that isn’t terrorism “in the traditional sense”.
I don’t doubt that all the aforementioned mass shooters are horrific people. But what I fail to grasp is how being a criminal who happens to be Muslim has become synonymous with being a terrorist. Or how being an ethnic minority determines some sort of indisputable motive that is unique to that particular ethnic group. If the attackers were black or Hispanic, it would be frivolous to deny that the media narrative would inevitably lead to gang culture.
It’s only by acknowledging these double standards and then re-evaluating them that we can begin to have a productive dialogue about murder, terrorism, race relations and everything in between. We in the West can hardly purport to be bastions of democracy and equality when we clearly still have violently xenophobic prejudices ingrained within us. And it’s shameful when we see that reflected on the front page of some of our most visible publications.
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