The American boogeyman of terrorist threats, often used to further war and military intervention, comes with domestic consequences. In the United States, Muslim houses of worship have been inundated with threats of bodily harm and property destruction, as well as seen items like pig’s heads and desecrated Qurans left on their doorsteps.
According to a recent report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there was a 91-percent spike in hate crimes against Muslims in the first part of this year compared to the same period in 2016. The abuses Muslims have faced include targeted harassment, FBI intimidation, discriminatory legislation and violent assaults.
The role that the media has played in stoking fears of a Muslim menace can’t be discounted, especially when it comes to how they cover violence. Journalist Mehdi Hasan has argued that this disparity is most obvious when a Muslim is involved in a terrorist act, as the media tends to give it much more coverage than similar incidents involving non-Muslims.
From print media to the programs and films watched on a daily basis, Muslims are often seen through a single lens: as barbarians. This portrayal has real-life impact. Nearly half of Americans believe U.S. Muslims are “anti-American,” and the overall view of Muslims remains deeply negative.
A study conducted by researchers at Georgia State University found that terror attacks in the US between 2011 and 2015, when perpetrated by a Muslim, were given five times more media coverage than terror attacks committed by non-Muslims. And while Muslims carried out 12.4 percent of attacks in the U.S., they received 41.4 percent of news coverage. This extreme focus on Muslims is intentional and leads to violence against not only Muslims, but those mistakenly associated with Muslims, such as Sikhs.
In one of many anti-Muslim incidents, Rick Sorrel of Portland, Oregon admitted that he threatened a Muslim couple in July because of “fear and ignorance” and after being influenced by what he had seen and read in the news and social media. The answer to these types of incidents is a free and independent press that does away with Orientalist stereotypes and treats news as something informative instead of a spectacle to be consumed.