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August 13, 2010

Islamophobia in the media - the sniper who embraced Islam

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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In the summer of 2004, the media reported that a suspect in the Washington D.C. sniper killings had been arrested.

Over a three-week period in October 2002, the sniper and a minor were responsible for killing 10 people and critically injuring three others throughout the Washington D.C. area and along Interstate 95 in Virginia.

The bad news for Muslims was that the media emphasized the fact that the suspect had converted to Islam 17 years earlier, thus giving bigots one more reason to attack Islam, and giving one more reason for Muslims and their children to live in fear of physical and verbal abuse.

The suspect, John Allen Muhammad, was a twice-divorced, 41-year-old Gulf War army veteran who earned an expert marksmanship badge.

Yet of all the motives for the killings, only Islam was blamed: not the U.S. army that trained him as a sniper, not his failed marriage, not his lack of a steady job, not an American society based on violence.

The media quickly repeated the same old anti-Muslim stereotypes: “What is it in Islam that makes them do that?”; “Islam must be an evil religion”; “Muslims are violent”; “They hate us for our freedoms.”

The possibility that Muhammad could have been acting out his anger or getting revenge on a society that hurt him or his family was not discussed, yet Muslim is not qualitatively different from any other human being. Like any North American, they can suffer mental breakdowns under stress and some may in fact act out anger.

How many times have we read of disgruntled employees mowing down their coworkers; angry schoolchildren kids massacring their schoolmates; or politically disillusioned militia members attacking federal employees?

Do we judge all employees, schoolchildren, or militia members by the actions of these few? No, of course not. So, it’s unfair to blame the whole Muslim community and demonize their faith because of the actions of a few.

Yet unfairness is a fact of daily life for Muslims in the U.S. and Canada.

They have to live under severe stress and be subjected to all kinds of hate crimes: harassment by law-enforcement agencies, assaults, vandalism of mosques, verbal abuse, and assaults on women wearing Muslim garb.

They suffer racial profiling, and watch in fear as fellow Muslims in detention, are shipped to countries that have no legal protection.

Some have their lives turned into hell based on nothing more than a call from a suspicious neighbour.

On top of this, they have to endure the regular denigration of their religion and prophet by Zionists and Christian religious leaders, and then watch as political leaders almost cheer them on.

Yesterday it was a sniper who embraced Islam; tomorrow, who knows who will be the target of media Islamophobes?

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