Monday, February 16, 2015

Islamophobia and Poor Journalism

Since America has existed in a Post-9/11 society, fear of Islam and the muslim community has become a common and unquestioned reality in the nation. Assault, erasure, and hostility displayed against Muslims often goes by without reporting. This is demonstrated in the lack of news that shows Muslims as victims rather than the perpetrators or terrorists we often see them as. One recent tragedy goes to show the hypocrisy that surrounds the reporting of Muslim hate crimes.

Earlier this February, three Muslim students were shot and killed in their home in University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill Campus. Two were newlyweds, while the third was a younger sister to the new bride. While many large news outlets such as CNN or MSNBC were slow to report it and then quick to drop it after only a day, CNN's report was suspiciously pandering to the murderer, Craig Stephen Hicks. The article, titled "3 students shot to death in apartment near UNC Chapel Hill", focuses on the motivation behind the shooting. The victim's families believed it was a hate crime, while Hicks's family believed it was over a parking dispute. A lot of the language that is used within the article uses "alleged" or "suspected" when referring to Hicks even though he is arrested and seen as the only suspect of these crimes. This softens the severity of the crimes he has committed.

As well as focusing largely on the murderer, the CNN article also treats Hicks differently than if the shooter had been Muslim. Typically, when a criminal is Muslim, the media focuses on his or her's religious views, group affiliations, and addresses them as a "terrorist" rather than a "criminal". Instead, in Hick's case, those he deals with try to excuse his behavior under the idea of parking disputes between him and the three victims. While the father of two female victims did mention that there were arguments with Hicks, the article stated, "When his son-in-law lived alone in the condominium complex, the family never had any problems. But once his daughter moved in, wearing a headscarf that clearly identified her as Muslim, trouble started, he said." This is seemingly glossed over by the article's focus on Hick's potential mental illness (Hicks's lawyer stating, "He declined to provide any details about the suspect's mental health history, but said, "obviously it's not within the range of normal behavior for someone to shoot three people over parking issues.") and parking dispute motivation (stated by law enforcement's debriefing of the case, "According to the law enforcement official briefed on the investigation, Tuesday's altercation started after Hicks found a car belonging to one of the victims in what he claimed was his parking space. Then Hicks went to the victim's condo and shot all three people in a confrontation."). While the article could divulge and explore Hicks's potential motivation being a hate crime, it rather focuses on people's appall over Hicks's tragic turn-for-the-worse ("Hicks has no criminal record, the official said. His wife told reporters he had been studying to become a paralegal.").

The article barely acknowledges a Facebook post Hicks wrote that was directed towards Muslims, stated in the article as, "In one post widely shared online, Hicks, who claimed he is an atheist, allegedly wrote: "When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I." While CNN points out that this post has not yet been confirmed as entirely authentic, it does so repeatedly when regarding anything about Hicks. I would personally like to see an article where the same forgiving nature is granted to a Muslim.

CNN's report is not all bad, albeit brief in its time on the headline of CNN and pandering to the shooter. The three victims are given their own section of the article, allowing them to be humanized. Nonetheless, the article demonstrates the lingering animosity the US has against Muslims. Such films like American Sniper are applauded for its violence against Muslims and Muslims fear leaving their homes due to public hostility prompted by the recent Paris attacks and loud actions of ISIS. Even days after this story was no longer featured on the frontage of CNN, many articles regarding Islamic terrorism seemed more plentiful than usual on the news site. Articles like this report show the subtle ways in which, even in death, a Muslim can be denied the possibility of also being on the receiving end of hate.

Here is the link to the CNN article:

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