Friday, May 06, 2011

Dozens

Two questions:

1) Do the majority of Muslims in the world really hate America?
2) How does the American media inadvertently make the case that they do?

Case Study.

We knew that, after the death of Osama bin Laden, there would be some individuals in the world who would take that opportunity to rally other discontented individuals against the United States. This is how attention-seekers get their attention: they do things they know the cameras will catch and broadcast. They know such things will overstate their importance.

Most of all, they know that if even one American flag is burned in the streets of Pakistan, then many Americans will go on to assume that represents all Pakistanis' opinions. The "Death to America" narrative is fed. This is all part of the "clash of civilizations" feedback loop that we can't seem to break.

Consider the article. If you look at the pictures associated with the story (on the front page of MSNBC when I opened my computer) you saw a crowd burning American flags. The story text itself shows a sunglasses-clad individual pointing an accusing finger at the camera.

Even the text is designed to further the narrative:

Muslims in the Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan protested Friday over the killing of Osama bin Laden, with one cleric vowing the holy war against the U.S. "will not stop with the death of Osama."


Muslims protested. Not "individuals sympathetic to al-Queda." Not "Islamists," or "Fundamentalists," or even "disaffected citizens of." Nope. These people are Muslims, that's all the American people need (or want) to know about the protesters. I bet the same news outlet will later have a poll asking why viewers tend to think all Muslims are terrorists.

I think America would have a completely different view of religion and the clash of civilizations if a religious affiliation was included every time something unpopular happened. Or every single time there was a crime. Imagine it:

"Christian politician leaves wife with cancer, marries mistress."

"Christians protest at funerals of dead US soldiers in opposition to United States civil rights laws."

"Christian teens beat transsexual woman in McDonalds."

"Christians hold mock trial against Koran, burn Muslim holy book after guilty verdict."

"Major drug bust: Christians apprehended with twenty pounds of cocaine in hidden compartment."

"Meth Lab Discovered, 4 Christians arrested."


Could you imagine the outrage that would come from that? It would be incredible, especially among the mainstream Christian population, who would go to great lengths to prove that they were not affiliated with such behaviors. There is a great deal of social construct dedicated to describing deviant social groups or progress-resistant behaviors as "other." That's why the media and popular culture uses such terms as fundamentalist and controversial when describing certain Christian out-groups. That's also why the religion of crime perpetrators are never part of the story unless the accused adheres to an "exotic" religion which is already a group considered "other." Or if the accused is a pastor or leadership figure in a mainstream Christian organization.

Muslims in America have no such social protections, so it is very easy to attribute unpopular behaviors with Muslims generally. This does not help our nation understand the true problems our nation is facing, and allows our popular culture to set up a too-easy scapegoat to deflect self-criticism.

Back to the case study, from just those images and the headlines, one might be led to believe that huge crowds were gathered around the Muslim world condemning America. But here's what you would miss:

In Manila, Philippine police used anti-riot shields to stop a march on the U.S. Embassy by dozens of Muslims.


Emphasis mine.

Dozens, hunh?

While "dozens" might be a news-worthy protest in my hometown (population 12,000ish), the Phillippines are a nation of approximately 98,000,000 individuals, with 5% claiming Islam as their primary religion. So, out of an approximate population of 4,850,000 Phillipino Muslims, a few dozen protest in the capital city of over 11,550,000 residents, and it makes front-page news in America.

A few more protesters showed up in Pakistan, though. At least here we have some attempt to address the actual situation, and the actual identity of the protesters.

In Pakistan, about 1,500 people protested, saying more figures like bin Laden would arise to wage holy war against the United States.

Predominantly Muslim Pakistan has yet to see any major backlash after U.S. special forces killed bin Laden early on Monday.

But his death has angered Islamists, with one major hardline political party calling on Pakistan's government to end its support for the U.S. war on militancy.


Again, the 1,500 number exists in relationship to a nation of 187,000,000 people, of which 97% are Muslims. You'll note the headlines do not read:

While some individuals protested US action against Osama bin Laden within thier country, 181,388,500 Pakistani Muslims were busy doing something else.


So are there really widespread protests that required media attention, or did elements of the American media expect to report on protests and then find some small events to justify the story?

Bonus question: Now that some small groups have proven they can get worldwide attention through these actions, will other groups begin to behave in such ways as well?

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