Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 67- Semantics

Dear Mr. President,

Today I'd like to point out yet another example of the appalling anti-Islamic bias in our media. Two articles, about the same tragic incident, caught my attention today. One, linked on the front page of the New York Times website, ran under the headline "Death Toll From Nigeria Violence Hits 500." The other, linked from the front page of, ran under the headline "Muslims kill hundreds in Nigeria.". Before comparing the language used in these headlines, I'd like to first say that I am horrified by the violence described by the articles. I'm not insensitive to the superficial nature of the argument I'm about to make, especially when considering the toll this conflict has taken on the lives of so many.

However, these headlines speak to a greater trend, an undercurrent of Islamophobia perpetuated by our media, and, while there may be no statistics available on how many, this certainly has its own grievous toll. The articles, which are about the attack on a largely Christian population by a largely Muslim group, each specify that the attacks were retaliation for an attack in January that left 150 Muslims dead. The NYT article mentions this in the second paragraph, CNN mentions it at the very end of the article. Both quote sources who caution against characterizing the violence as solely based on religion, citing economic, social and ethnic tensions as additional contributory factors. And, (I checked,) in January, both news organizations covered the attack on the Muslims, but neither described it as "Christians kill hundreds in Nigeria." During Operation Cast Lead, no headlines read, "Jews kill thousands in Gaza." Clearly, those headlines would be seen as ridiculous and offensive. Why has it become acceptable to identify criminals as "Muslims", but not by any other religion? I see this time and time again in the way the news is reported. I'm not a Muslim, Mr. President, but I find this reporting style offensive.

I'm writing to you about this because I know you are sensitive to the ways that such perceptions, and the language that supports them, can exacerbate conflict and fear. No religious group should be indicted every time a person claiming to subscribe to it commits a crime. Islam, as you know, does not promote or condone violence and should not be twisted to suit the media's need to simplify the identification of our enemies.

Respectfully yours,


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