Thursday, December 3, 2015

Politically-biased headlines reinforce Islamophobia, encourage hate crimes

The following is a letter to the editor of the New York Post submitted on December 3, 2015.


Dear Editor,

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar once said that "knowledge is a burden if it robs you of innocence." In light of your choice of headline ("MUSLIM KILLERS") in reference to yesterday's tragic mass shooting in San Bernardino, I would like to pass on some items of knowledge that may come at the expense of your innocence.

First, Muslims comprise 2.77 million of your fellow Americans. If citizenship in your country means anything, then they are to be considered Americans, full stop. They do not deserve to be singled out for their religion by you nor anyone else.

Second, it is well-known that anti-Muslim hate crimes tend to spike after a terror event, involving everything from threatening phone calls and graffiti to incidents of violence or even murder.

Third, your publication has an impact on its readers, and can play a part in shaping their worldview, particularly at times of heightened emotion, such as the immediate aftermath of a terror attack. As a corollary, your choice of front page headline simplifies your coverage of a given lead story, often reducing it to a three- or four-syllable shorthand of the whole situation. "MUSLIM KILLERS", for example.

Fourth, as far as your headlines are concerned, the only time a shooter's religion comes into play is when that religion happens to be Islam. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't ever recall seeing one of your headlines read "JEW KILLERS" or "CHRISTIAN KILLERS".)

Fifth, terrorism is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal." What Merriam-Webster doesn't mention is that non-Muslims who engage in mass shootings on U.S. soil are almost never referred to as "terrorists", or at least not as far as your headlines are concerned. (As a recent example, your headline referred to Robert Lewis Dear simply as a "gunman" after he shot three people at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado, presumably to frighten or intimidate people on the political issue of abortion. You could have referred to him as a "terrorist", or even a "CHRISTIAN KILLER", but that could possibly incite hate crimes, or even violence, against Christians, especially those of a social conservative bent.)

Sixth, the New York Post has a demonstrated political bias, and it could be said that your choice of headlines, particularly for lead stories, serves to further the goal of legitimizing that bias.

Seventh, by singling out yesterday's shooters for their religion, you reinforce certain unfair and unfounded stereotypes of approximately 2.77 million of your fellow Americans. And so when someone gets it into their head to persecute their Muslim neighbors on the basis of their religion, your December 3 headline does nothing to stand in their way, and may even serve as encouragement.

Eighth, I'm not saying your careless headline incites violence, or is the moral equivalent of direct violence or some form of "soft terrorism", but I would say it is certainly politically motivated. You should be concerned about the possibility of your simplistic and ungraceful headline forming part of a 'chorus of approval' for those who would take their Islamophobia to the next level.

If you agree with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's adage that "the pen is mightier than the sword", then perhaps you should be much more careful with how you handle your quill, otherwise you could hurt up to 2.77 million innocent people with it.

James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada

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