Even without Rolling Stone’s ill-advised cover, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is likely to haunt the entire nation (especially Boston) for some time. But it’s worth noting how quickly the media turned this ordinary college-going teenager, who was quite literally Caucasian, into something more dangerously foreign – a Muslim – after he committed a heinous act of mass murder. “Muslim” was the only label deemed appropriate for the negative, the horrific, the violent.
Interestingly, the reverse happens when someone who is Muslim commits a heroic act. This struck me most powerfully when reading about the tragic Bangladeshi clothing factory collapse on April 24. In telling the sad stories of destruction and loss interspersed with uplifting tales of heroism, news outlets wrote about the resilient “Bangladeshi people.” Not a single news carrier that I could find called even one of the victims or heroes “Muslim.”
That’s striking, because ninety percent of Bangladeshis are Muslim. If the factory had been brought down by a terrorist act, religiously motivated or not, I guarantee you that Bangladeshis would have been described, over and over, with the words “Muslim” or “Islamic.” Where in journalism’s code is it written that when people are living positive, productive lives, they can have many identities – national, individual, professional – but are reduced only to one, Muslim, if they commit an act of terror? [Read more…]