Tags Posts tagged with "Islamophobia"

Islamophobia

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It’s been over ten days since the mass shooting at US military offices in Tennessee and here in Texas, flags are still at half staff in memorial of the five soldiers that were killed.

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Flags have been lowered across town in San Antonio, where I have been visiting this week.

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Even the Mexican flag has been lowered, along with the Texas and national flags:

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As heinous as this killing was, mass shootings have unfortunately become a common news story in the US with over 200 mass shootings this year alone:

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But the reaction to this latest mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee seems to stand out from the others. Not only have flags been lowered across the country for an extensive period (with the White House under intense criticism for not lowering them immediately) armed citizens–some reportedly belonging to militia groups– have also taken to the streets to “guard” recruitment offices with automatic weapons:

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Source: BBC

 

Mass shootings have continued after the tragedy–as soon as a week later when a man opened fire at a Louisiana movie theatre, shooting 11 people and killing two. But following that brutal crime, I don’t remember hearing anything about armed citizens deploying in front of cinemas to protect movie-goers, despite the fact that this is the latest in a series of shootings at theaters.

There were also mass shootings just before the Tennessee massacre, most notably the massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina church that claimed 8 lives. But I don’t remember hearing about armed men deploying in front of churches, particularly black churches, which have been subject to a history of violence. I also don’t remember hearing anything about flags being lowered nationwide in mourning for the victims of the Charleston murder spree. In fact, a flag many felt represented the type of racist discourse that may have influenced the perpetrator, was still flying high after the killing, despite demands that it be brought down.

So what is it about the killing of the Tennessee soldiers that has sparked such a powerful, visceral reaction, enough to bring armed citizens out into the streets? Is the murder of soldiers more appalling than the killing of civilians? Or are there other contributing factors?

The shooters in all three cases are believed to be disturbed individuals.  All are also said to be American citizens raised in this country but only in Tennessee is the perpetrator reportedly Muslim. I can’t help but wonder if the reaction would have been as jingoistic had he identified with a different faith or no faith at all.

In the painful search for answers after such tragedies, perhaps we should be concerned not only by the individual killers but also by the collective knee-jerk reactions to them, which may reveal just as much about the troubled social conditions we inhabit.

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In a country where FM radio stations often play pop music as gun battles or massive protests rage in the streets, it was refreshing to hear a call-in show actually addressing current events on Fame FM this morning. Rather than ignore the army’s ongoing battle with militants in Arsal, Fame FM show “Hawa Beirut” opened its lines to listeners.

Many were angry, pledging absolute support for the army and offering to join a battle to “clean” the area of militants, who were often labeled as “dogs” or “heathens” by callers. In between calls, the host Sana Nasr (above) seemed to encourage this sentiment by playing loud triumphant music touting the army or romantic ballads waxing lyrically about the beauty of Lebanon.

Here are summaries of some caller comments:

“These are terrorists, these people don’t know God!” 

“Our army is the strongest in the world, despite the lack of support.”

“Politicians need to start supporting the army now!”

“The army should remember it’s martyrs, their blood should be avenged!”

Most of these callers were young or middle-aged men. The host agrees with much of the praise but also challenges a few by underscoring the need to protect civilians and questioning assumptions that there is a conspiracy against Lebanon, that, according to one caller “people are always doing things to attack Lebanon.”

“I don’t know,” Nasr replied. “I think the Lebanese are doing a lot of things to Lebanon. It’s the Lebanese that are voting (for these leaders).

Another young man chimes in:

“I will tell you who is responsible–the president is commander in chief  and he should take a very strong position supporting the army. But there is no president so next in command is the prime minister. The prime minister is a Sunni. No Sunni leader can hold his sect accountable. That’s why we have a Christian president.”

The host seems incredulous: “Really, is that so? Why don’t we wait to hear what the prime minster says before judging him.” (The prime minister actually came out in strong support of the army during a press conference a few hours later.)

Sounding exhausted, Nasr adds. “Can we end the show now? I don’t want to talk anymore. You call me and talk.”

Then an older woman called, sounding distraught.

“Lebanon will never lose! Lebanon is a country of saints. The Virgin Mary and Jesus will guide the army” 

Another young man caller says his political party, the FPM, wanted to donate blood but the army didn’t accept donations from political offices. He asked for the host for help to convince them. Later another caller challenged this:

“Why does he have to announce his donations? Why does he have to politicize it. He should help without advertising himself or his party. Enough!”

Another caller, an elder man, recites a poem about Cedars as a metaphor for the country’s strength and steadfastness. Nasr enjoys the poem and asks him to repeat it.

Finally a caller challenges some of the previous stereotyping.

“The army is not Sunni or Shia, it is Lebanese. We should not let a few bad guys make us demonize  the whole town (of Arsal.)”

Then a caller living abroad weighs in.

“I spent 30 years of my life outside Lebanon. What I have to say is God bless the army. We need military rule in this country!”

At this point I had reached my destination and had to stop listening.

While some of the comments were disturbing, I think it is still important to give citizens a voice. Indeed it is a worrying time for many in Lebanon and many have resorted to panic and paranoia as a way of coping with the frequency of political violence. Instead of looking at the complications of geopolitics, it’s easier to find a boogie man to deposit indignant self righteousness and self gratification. But the reasons for the rise of such groups are many and even opposing parties may have had a role in encouraging their growth.

While Fame FM was right to give listeners a voice, was it right to set a jingoistic tone with battle cry music in between each call? Of course Fame is not alone. Last night, the news anchor at Al Jadeed donned a military uniform in support of the troops:

Lol. Al Jadeed news anchor dons Army uniform in solidarity with Lebanese military fighting ISIS and Nusra. pic.twitter.com/E8uPGmyOmp
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) August 3, 2014

But do such gestures drive our understanding or just our passions? If the media is to provide a public service, it needs to take a step back and analyze events dispassionately to provide audiences with the most clear and useful information. What do the attackers say they want? What are they capable of? What is being done to stop them–what is not being done? What is the track record of state military actions during previous insurrections? Does bombing a town solve a problem? Can violence wipe away political allegiances and deep seated social grievances?

If support for the army is unconditional, where do citizens’ rights stand? How does a border village like Arsal cope with unprecedented refugees inflows, marginalization, constant violence and poverty? Unfortunately, the challenges facing this troubled town generate far less attention than its demonization, which had already begun over a year ago, as I reported at the time.

Should attacks on the military be taken seriously? Of course. But our reactions to those attacks may be equally informative and should also be taken very seriously.

  

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After an uproar from critics, The Daily Beast has removed an article that labeled Lebanon and four other Middle Eastern countries as “The worst places (on earth) to visit.” The link now directs to a blank page with no explanation.

I wrote an extensive criticism of the piece yesterday which clearly singled out  the Middle East, Africa and former Soviet states. So did politics or a bit of Islamophobia play a role in this list?

The worst countries–which are all beautiful places– were as follows:

1. Lebanon
2. Iran
3. Egypt
4. Ukraine
5. Jordan
6. South Africa
7. Russia
8. Georgia
9. Morocco
10. Senegal

We can see that 60 percent of the “worst” countries are Middle Eastern or African and the remainder are largely former Soviet states. Pretty objective, huh?

Of course Islam and communism have been the greatest perceived “boogie men” in the West over the last few decades, but surely this was just a coincidence, right?

Though the piece has been removed, its Facebook advertisement still exists:

We first heard it could be taken down when the Beast’s executive editor tweeted that the piece was “messed up” last night. But it wasn’t removed for several more hours.

@tomgara @acarvin @borzou Yeah, this piece is messed up. We’re pulling it.
— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) March 13, 2014

Here are some screen shots I took before it was taken down:

How many times has one wall been used to represent an entire country?

Among the winners were South American and Asian countries such as, Brazil, Thailand and Mexico:

I guess the 100,000 people who have been killed in Mexican drug wars did not bother the Beast editors as much as places like Jordan and Iran which have some of the lowest crime rates on earth.

*Unfortunately I missed getting a screenshot of number 6, so if anyone has it, please update me.

Update: Number 6 is South Africa. Thanks to Almaz for the screen shot. 

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Photo: Now Lebanon

The chief irony of this ridiculously sloppy and irresponsible piece that appears in Now Lebanon is that it calls for secularism as the solution to Lebanon’s problems while using an utterly sectarian-based argument–that only Christians are capable of making change and only Christians “own their own words”

The second irony is that while journalism, research and solid reporting could do a wealth of good at combatting the fear-mongering of Lebanese politicians (by actually holding them and their cronies accountable with a detailed documentation of financial transactions and failures to govern), this journalist has utterly squandered the opportunity to practice journalism by resorting to the same shallow sect-based arguments as the politicians she criticizes.

Here is the rest of my comment, posted at the bottom of the piece, which is wrong for a lot of other reasons:

The central problem with this article is that it has no sources and thus offers no basis for its bombastic and irresponsible claims. How does one gauge what “the majority” think? Has this writer done any research on opinion polls or other indicators or does she just claim “to know?” Clearly she has not done much reading of history or current affairs if she believes that Christian leaders do not seek and receive support from foreign governments, which has been a hallmark of political behavior in Lebanon, particularly among Christian movements. 

And on what basis does she claim Christians (all or most?) seek secular governance? What then does she make of the discourse of “Christian rights” which has been heavily promoted by many political parties here. 

Then there is the utterly superficial logic that just because the majority of Lebanon identifies with a certain faith, that faith is at the root of problems. That’s like saying the US and its military is one of the world’s most violent forces because its population is Christian. 

The author is only right to point out the widespread production of fear hinders national reconciliation and facilitates foreign intervention–but Christian politicians are just as much participants in this as Lebanese leaders of any other faith. In fact, the hunt for power by Lebanese warlords, feudal dynasties and businessmen is more about greed and self-interest than secularism or religion. Lebanese leaders act with impunity because we lack systems of accountability. Simply put, you can get away with murder in Lebanon and many of our politicians of all faiths have done so. This is where journalism can play a wonderful role, by demanding and writing about accountability rather than make vague and un-researched claims that promote sectarian arguments. I highly recommend the author and her editor read a great book by Edward Said called Orientalism to become more familiar with the logic of Orientalism and Islamophobia which this piece consciously or subsconsciously promotes.

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It has only been hours since the mysterious torching of a priest’s library in Tripoli and politicians have already descended upon the town condemning the act. Two press conferences interrupted regularly scheduled programing on LBC today as the head of the March 14 party (bottom left) led a contingent of MPs to visit with the priest and local officials. But was the politicians’ main mission to appear before cameras?

Initial newspaper reports do not suggest anything conclusive about the arsonists, yet many influential writers and thinkers have already made up their mind that this has been an attack on Christianity, based largely it seems on the speculation of a former police chief. 
Prominent journalist Kareem Shaheen was one of the first to share the news on Twitter.

The library of father Ibrahim Sarrouj in Tripoli. Now burned by extremists. Shame on you. pic.twitter.com/2SwTr4FOfA
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) January 3, 2014

The story quickly went viral on social media. Wrote popular blogger Elie Fares: 
I’m not Muslim but I’m more Muslim than the lunatics who torched that library and so are most of the people of Tripoli…”
Another very popular blogger, Gino Raidy, shared this graphic on Facebook:


A similar argument –the assumption that Islamists “savages” reject knowledge– was also carried by the media watchdog page “Stop Cultural Terrorism”


And mocked by Lebanon’s greatest and most famous satirist:

Reactionary scumbags burned an old library in Tripoli. So 1258 AD. These people need a time machine. #Lebanon
— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) January 4, 2014

But since we are all guessing at this point–no investigation details have been released– a possible factor that is getting much less attention is the priest’s long-standing struggle with real estate developers. In this MTV report from last year he describes a “conspiracy” to kick him out of the Ottoman-era building, where he has been renting at heavily discounted, decades-old rate.


   
Now perhaps there is no connection between the developer’s zeal to demolish the building and the torching of his library. But one wonders where those politicians were when this priest was under attack, not from extremists, but by their fellow businessmen. 

And despite my respect and admiration for my colleagues mentioned above, I worry that we are too often jumping to conclusions before any tangible details emerge about the assailants of this crime and the previous explosions that rocked Lebanon this week. I worry that this is also creating an equally dangerous storm of knee-jerk reactions and visceral, often Islamophobic, stereotyping, that could have long-term divisive effects. Just because a person or group considers itself to be Islamist, does not necessarily mean they cannot read, value knowledge or tolerate others. Hezbollah for example, is in some sense an Islamist party, and yet it broadcast endless tributes to Jesus and Mary on Christmas day, as I reported last month.

Whoever the culprits, be the Muslim, Christian or Hindu, there is no benefit in stereotyping an entire political ideology as the cause of a single event. There is also no benefit in speculating–angrily and with much conviction–without providing any detailed information that will help ameliorate the situation. The focus should be on the individuals that committed this crime and what exactly the police are doing to track them down. Will the politicians help with that? And where have they been when equally dangerous “non-extremist” developers have torn down so much of historic Beirut, often abetted by alleged acts of sabotage and corruption? 

Finally I am now reading that a spontaneous group of volunteers (of all faiths I’m assuming) are helping the priest rebuild his library. Perhaps it is this non-politicized positive work that could use more attention:

THIS IS REAL CIVIL SOCIETY! Volunteers in #TripoliLB working now 2 save books from Father Sarrouj burned library. pic.twitter.com/7ZVYTHGjaB
— Sara Assaf (@SaraAssaf) January 4, 2014





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You won’t find the headline above on the New York Times website. It has been deleted. But thanks to journalist Rami Al Amine, who took a series of screenshots and posted them on Faebook, we know it existed and what happened next. After Al Amine complained, the headline was changed.

Perhaps no one in New York could defend the use of the invented term “Hezbollah neighborhood.” What does it mean anyway? Is there such a thing as a neighborhood where every resident is a member of the same political party? Did the Times check if every teenager going for a walk that day and every person shopping for vegetables was Hezbollah? Worse, would that mean the killing and inuring of dozens of innocent people could somehow be justified or ‘understood’ because of their geography?

The Times then changed the headline to this:

But how did the New York Times “know” the bomber’s intentions? No information was released to indicate the target and now authorities believe the culprit may be dead. Does The Times ‘just know’ what was on the mind of a dead man?

Al Amine wrote on Facebook: Just like any terrorist bombing, be it against Americans or Iraqis or Lebanese, the target is AIMED at civilians not combatants, that’s what terrorism is.”

Finally the headline was changed to this:

But The Times just loves the word Hezbollah, doesn’t it? It has to be in there, in every draft. It can’t just be a southern Beirut neighborhood where a lot of human beings like you and I live. No, The Times has to sell papers, and like sex, Hezbollah sells.
The reporter also changed the wording in her article. Here it is “a neighborhood populated by supporters of Hezbollah” 
Yet later it becomes: “a mixed neighborhood”:

In a letter to Al Amine the reporter says it was not her fault.

“i don’t write the headlines! I agree with you and the language in the actual story i filed reflects that, i believe. i’ve asked them to change the headline language, they often write headlines like that, it’s a kind of shorthand but i understand why it upsets people.”

But since when is stereotyping and irresponsible reporting considered “short hand,” especially in a paper that hails itself as the world’s greatest? Then, perplexingly, there is no apology and none of this back story about the three headlines and various lead sentences is explained to readers.

It reminded me of earlier this year when The Times published an utterly false, baseless and sectarian headline: “Hezbollah makes vow to step up fight against Sunnis.” Ironically, the story was about a speech by Hezbollah’s leader who actually vowed not to be fighting “the Sunnis” at all. Needless to say the headline was quickly changed following my observation, just as was the case with Al Amine.

I think all this proves one thing. Sex sells, Hezbollah sells and sectarianism sells.

And let’s no forget stereotyping– always a plus. Last month another Times reporter decided to stereotype the entire population of Lebanon several times, making a series of absolutely groundless and unverified claims about public opinion toward Syrian refugees, painting “the Lebanese” as accepting if not complicit in their miserable living conditions.

So to sum it all up: sex, Hezbollah, sectarianism and stereotyping. I’m beginning to wonder if reading the New York Times is actually healthy. Because at least in Lebanon, it seems to be doing a lot more harm than good lately. Thankfully there are people out there who are watching and influencing the coverage through the power of social media.

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    Yesterday I posted about some rather disturbing visceral reactions to the killing of minister Chatah. But while many people write this behavior off as an Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern phenomenon, religious-based discrimination and hatred is very alive and well in the USA, and its a bit worse than I expected. Read the full account in below. It is a Storify embed, so use the scroll bar on the right if the conversation seems cut off in your browser:

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      This segment aired last night. One of the show hosts, Bob Beckel, said the following, which I have transcribed verbatim.

      “We know now. There has been enough research done. We know that– bottom line: In the Muslim communities around the world, they do not like us. They recruit people from poor areas and they try to turn them into terrorists…

      …I think we really have to consider, given the fact that so many people hate us, that we’re going to have to cut off Muslim students from coming into this country for some period of time, so we can at least absorb what we’ve got, look at what we’ve got, and decide whether some of the people here should be gone, sent back home or sent to prison. “

      You can watch the whole video here on the main page of “The Five” show.

      Beckel begins speaking at around 4:00.

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        Fox News showed this image repeatedly tonight during its coverage of the Boston bombings.

        And what do these three decades-old attacks have in common? All have been blamed on “Islamic terrorists” from the Middle East.

        Fox anchor Megyn Kelly said she was showing this image because her guest today had investigated all three events. How an airplane hijacking and two truck bombs intended to bring down buildings related to back-pack sized explosives in Boston was not clear.

        But before her guest appeared Kelly got an update from Fox security correspondent Catherine Herridge, who suggested the improvised devices used in the Boston resembled those “of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

        Back to Kelly and her interview with the forensic investigator, Tom Thurman, who had been involved in Beirut, Lockerbie and the World Trade Center bombings.

        Again the image of Beirut and the other attacks appears on screen:

        Kelly introduces Thurman and after some preliminary questions, she finally reached her prime suspicion. Based on his past experiences, she asked hesitantly: “Do you have… a feeling…. this could be Al Qaeda or international Jihad?”

        Thurman hesitated to make the linkage Kelly was asking for. He said the items used in the blast could be assembled by anyone with access to the internet.

        “It is virtually impossible to prevent anyone from making their own explosives,” Thurman explained.

        But Kelly still had another guest lined up, “terrorism expert” Steven Emerson:

        Partially satisfying Kelly’s nagging Middle East suspicion, Emerson noted that the reported use of ball bearings in the explosive devices “bore the hallmarks of jihadists.”

        But when Kelly raised reports about a “Saudi person of interest” Emerson said this suspect had already been “ruled out.”

        “I didn’t hear that this has been ruled out,” Kelly exclaimed incredulously.

        Emerson then assured Kelly that he had “sources” on the ruling out. Still unsure Kelly added that this would be a major development, “if confirmed.”

        But during the commercial break, the Fox News team was able to confirm Emerson’s source.

        Kelly came back on air, saying that the “Saudi person of interest… who had come to the US on a student visa” has been “ruled out” as a suspect.

        Kelly raised her eyes inquisitively: “Where does the investigation go from here?”

        Cut to commercial.

        ***

        Fox had proved its own suspicion was baseless, but it had still managed to use the words “Jihad” or “Al Qaeda” at least half a dozen times during the short segment, while showing images of Middle Eastern attacks and referencing “a Saudi suspect.”

        I wonder how uncomfortable it is to be a Saudi on a student visa living in Boston right now.