When 58-year-old Jeffrey Johnson was identified as the suspected shooter in Friday’s Empire State Building incident, the tone and tenor of the story shifted.
Both local and national news outlets confirmed that this was not a terrorism-related case, as some feared at first, but merely a workplace dispute gone horribly wrong. And when Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly conducted their initial press conference, they were equally cautious not to mention Johnson’s race, religion or ethnicity. While these measures all appear to follow protocol, it makes one wonder: What would have been the reaction and press coverage if the gunman were Muslim?
In March 2011, Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, conducted his first hearings on alleged “radicalization” within the American Muslim community.
Echoing Joe McCarthy, King piled on the hysteria. He even had the audacity to conduct a hearing earlier this year titled “The American Muslim Response to Hearings on Radicalization Within Their Community.” But as a recent report highlighted, harsh surveillance of Muslim communities yielded no new leads or investigations related to terrorism.
Maybe we should ask King when he’ll be holding hearings on the radicalization of white American men. While we’re at it, let’s have a follow up: “White Men’s Response to Hearings on Radicalization Among White Men.”
The year President Obama was sworn into office, the Department of Homeland Security released a scathing report warning of the dangers of an increase in right-wing extremism and militia and patriot organizations. In 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the existence of at least 1,274 of these groups — up from 824 the year before.
Suspected killers like James Holmes, Wade Michael Page or Jared Lee Loughner are never defined by their ethnicity or religion. Instead, their acts of murder are portrayed as the actions of a “lone wolf” with mental troubles.
But things are starkly different when it is a religious or ethnic minority doing the killing. By highlighting killers’ ethnicities, the media subliminally stoke prejudice.
So while King has openly called the patriotism of American Muslims into question, the same thing is done on a more subtle level in the media on a regular basis.
Press reports routinely reference “an Arabic-sounding name” or call someone an “Islamist.” This casts suspicion on an entire group of people far beyond the scope of whoever actually committed the act.
Instead of forcing American Muslims to endure his ludicrous hearings, perhaps King should spend more time figuring out ways to keep them safe, as assaults against Muslims (and those perceived to be Muslim) are now almost as high as they were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, says the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
This month alone, for example, there has been an alarming rise in the number of attacks against Muslims and mosques, as well as other religious sites.
According to CAIR, hate graffiti was sprayed on Muslim graves in the Chicago area; a firebomb was thrown at a Muslim family’s home in Panama City, Fla.; vandals sprayed an Oklahoma mosque with paintballs; an acid bomb was hurled at an Islamic school in Lombard, Ill.; a mosque was burned to the ground in Joplin, Mo.; raw bacon was left at the site of a Ramadan/Eid event on Staten Island; shots were fired at a mosque in Morton Grove, Ill. — and, tragically, the list goes on.
If we’re going to be honest about what threats we face and whom we should be monitoring more closely at home, then it’s clear that we shouldn’t avoid using the term “domestic terrorism” — or openly stating what group is most often found committing these acts.
Then again, if the idea of having surveillance on white men and holding hearings on their radicalization makes you uncomfortable, upset or disillusioned, just imagine how the average American Muslim feels.
Khan is an independent journalist working in print and radio.
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