By Chris Doyle
18 February 2015
Slowly and hesitantly, the American media picked up on the killings of the three Muslims at Chapel Hill in North Carolina. It was a news story for not being news. This was thanks not least to a startlingly effective social media campaign with the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. Largely, late to the issue, much of the coverage remains woeful but actually exposes so much of where the U.S. and its allies go wrong in dealing with the Islamic World, and why in the public relations war, ISIS and to a lesser extent al-Qaeda, can compete effectively despite their medieval brutality.
Imagine for a moment if the victims were three white Christians murdered by a bearded dark-skinned Muslim. President Obama could not have afforded to remain silent for so long. The default assumption of many would be it was terrorism until proven otherwise. Islam as a religion would be blamed, and imminent attacks deemed likely. The victims would be humanized and one could guarantee the coverage would give more emphasis to the fact that two of them were newly weds.
Mainstream Media Narrative
It is sad that well into the 21st Century, in the mainstream media narrative, backed up by films, TV and stereotype-laden violent video games, Muslims are meant to be the perpetrators, not the victims. Muslims are the threat, not the threatened. Muslims are not meant to be victims of hate crimes, which is why there is scant coverage of attacks on them.
But Chapel Hill is small scale compared to the willful negligence of covering extremists killing of Muslims. All too often there is a lazy assumption among many that the greatest victims of al-Qaeda and ISIS violence are Westerners or non-Muslims. One survey found that of all al-Qaeda victims between 2004-2008, 15 per cent were westerners. Al-Qaeda killed seven times as many Muslims in that period, and of course many women children among them. ISIS has killed many Iraqi and Syrian journalists, but who remembers their names, unlike James Foley or Stephen Sotloff? The latest ISIS atrocity is reportedly the burning of 45 people in western Iraq. Will we hear their life histories or will it be another case of statistics not stories?
Another prime example was the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. On the day that 12 people were killed in Paris, a bomb in Sanaa killed 37 people. The leading French newspaper described the Hebdo killings as “Le 11 Septembre Français.” I have yet to remember descriptions of a Syrian, Iraqi or Yemeni 9/11.
ISIS has been mainly fighting people in the Middle East, Muslims, Christians and others. They claim it is a war for Islam. It is in reality a power grab in the Middle East and other areas of the so-called Islamic World.
There is a need and responsibility to humanize Muslims, Arabs and Africans, hear their stories and understand. We need to comprehend, really comprehend, the scale of suffering of a country like Syria that has lost over 210,000 people in four years, the equivalent of 31 million Americans being killed.
ISIS fighters are primarily Muslim-killers who abuse Islam as a cover for their atrocities. Non-Muslims need to understand this and that the major challenge ISIS, al-Qaeda and like-minded groups pose is to Muslims. Such extremists are small in number but an intimidating presence inside Muslim communities including in Europe. Authorities must cooperate and work with them not alienate them and see them solely as potential extremists.
This is also why, as politicians speak out rightly against rising numbers of anti-Jewish attacks, they must not ignore hate crimes against Muslims. In the week after the Hebdo killings, 26 mosques were reportedly attacked in France. Arab-American groups have reported an alarming rise in in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim attacks in the U.S. after the success of the blockbuster film, American sniper based on a “hero” Chris Kyle, who described Iraqis as “savages.”
Depicting Arabs and Muslims as inhuman and savages seems to work. Without a thought as to the implications, an Arkansas state senator has even proposed nuking ISIS. He wrote on Facebook: “I imagine a nicely placed intercontinental nuclear weapon would shut them up for awhile.”
Those ignoring ISIS’ bloody war on Muslims and depict it as a war on the West only help these extremists. Defeating ISIS requires everyone to focus on just how much Muslim blood these thugs have spilt. It should be highlighted that they have no hesitation in crucifying Muslims, burning them and decapitating them.
Perhaps more non-Muslims need to realize that those who hate ISIS types most are actually those living in the Middle East, including Muslims.
This is why the “all Muslims are responsible ” argument is so dangerous even if it is sadly all too often politically profitable. It is as perilous as arguing that the “West,” whatever that is, is wholly and collectively responsible for all the ills of the Middle East, or the nonsense that Jews are collectively responsible for Israeli government crimes.
Political leaders should in theory have little difficulty in demonstrating that they care about human life more than ISIS. To do so though involves showing a far deeper understanding and empathy with the daily horrors endured from Nigeria to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Syria.
This is why #MuslimLivesMatter, just like #BlackLivesMatter, should be a hashtag to be reckoned with, and not just in North Carolina.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.