Op-Ed: Such declarations by the news media and others has an insidious subtext: that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim in America.
Almost from the beginning of their coverage of the horrific and deadly shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, CNN and other news media went out of their way to send a message to the American public: “Sikhs are not Muslims.”
But what were we to make of that message? If the temple’s members had been Muslims, would the attack have then been justified?
We say we don’t endorse prejudice against one group or another, but for some reason we also want to make sure people know who the “we” and the “they” really are. CNN would probably say it was simply trying to clear up a common misunderstanding that, in this case, may have been shared by the gunman himself. Fair enough. The assertion that Sikhs are not Muslims is certainly true. Jains are not Hindus, and Mormons are not Methodists either.
But in the post-9/11context of a deadly act committed by an apparent white supremacist against a congregation that is largely ethnically South Asian — a congregation that includes bearded men in turbans — broadcasting the mantra that “Sikhs are not Muslims” takes on a far more insidious subtext: Don’t blame these people, it implies, for the unspeakable crimes of 9/11. It’s Muslims you want.
The media aren’t alone in conveying, however unintentionally, this sinister message. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he responded to the inaccurate but surprisingly persistent assertion that he was a Muslim with this statement in a 2008 debate: “The facts are I am Christian. I have been sworn in [as a U.S. senator] with a Bible.”