Islamophobia is not isolated

September 23, 2015 by Rebecca Van Pamel

Teachers, administrators and campus police officers at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas viciously and deliberately profiled a young boy-genius as a terrorist because all Texans believe that all Muslims are terrorists.

At least, that is what popular media seems to believe. And countless internet-users believe it as well, because it is easier to side with the popular opinion than with the rational one if the two are in contention.

Some context: A firestorm of media outrage exploded onto the Internet last Wednesday after a 14-year-old boy was arrested for bringing a “hoax bomb” to school. The reason for the outrage: The boy’s name is Ahmed Mohamed, he is Muslim and his “hoax bomb” was a clock he built to impress his engineering teacher.

There is, of course, legitimate justification for anger about what happened to Mohamed. He was arrested for creating and possessing a completely harmless device. Race or religion may have been factors in the teacher’s decision to report him. The police officers who took him into custody should have handled his case more rationally. Mohamed’s suspension from school was completely unnecessary.

But the problems inherent to this issue – the bigotry and the obstinacy and the fear – are not specific to MacArthur High School. Nor are they specific to the school district, the city of Irving or even the state of Texas. They are internationally present and relevant problems that have been amplified by exactly the type of viral coverage that has recently thrust Irving into infamy.

When terrorists attack, the media does, too. News sources set their best op-ed writers to analyze and examine and dissect and re-examine and, ultimately, sensationalize the threat of terrorism in the United States.

To make matters worse, the viral coverage of certain GOP candidates has lent legitimacy to Ted Cruz’s obsession with the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” and has validated the candidacy of Donald Trump, who, just last week, seriously considered allegations that President Obama is a Muslim as an insult to his competency as president. By giving racists a soapbox to stand on, the media has contributed to another highly visible representation of Muslims as dangerous.

The media outlets that criticize the Irving Independent School District for what some of its personnel did to a curious, inventive young man ignore that what happened was partially their fault. They ignore that it’s a symptom of the sickness they gave us: ruthless suspicion.

The idea that what happened to Mohamed was solely the fault of racist-Islamophobic-stereotypical Texans obscures the nature of the problem at hand. It does an injustice not only to Mohamed but also to all other Muslims across the world whom have experienced similar instances of profiling.

And not only did we allow the media to perpetuate this idea, but we also joined in on the fun. Even a cursory glance at the comments on any one of the articles posted on the subject of Mohamed’s predicament yields the following:

“im [sic] not surprised that this happened in Texas smh [sic] redneck capital”

“Lone Star State Lunatics!”

“So I guess because he’s a muslim [sic] he likes to blow people up? Great job Texas …”

“Well it is Texas … That’s [sic] explains a lot!”

From Williamstown, Texas seems very far away. It’s easy to be angry with a distant group of people and rope all Texans together into one lump of bigotry and hate. It is easy to project the problems inherent in this incident onto the school district as a whole. It is also easy to dismiss this incident as a simple case of expected Texas racism. But this isn’t an Irving, Texas problem. Obsessing over and sensationalizing the actions of radical Muslims is a problem that affects us all and victimizes bright young men like Mohamed every day.

Realize that what happened to Mohamed could have (and probably already has) happened elsewhere. It’s a reality that everybody needs to work to change. This incident shouldn’t be blamed on an English teacher who may genuinely have believed that she was protecting her students, or on the administration and police officers whose job it is to respond to any perceived threat whether it eventually turns out to be life-threatening or not.

When people are armed with social media, they are far too trigger-happy. Rather than rushing to social media to take aim at an easy target, we need to realize that the source of the problem isn’t some backwoods, all-white, Islamophobic wasteland (which Irving is not). Islamophobia is everywhere and it will take more than the force of our collective anger to rid ourselves of it.

What happened to Mohamed last Monday was unacceptable – but what happened to the city of Irving in the days that followed was, too.

Rebecca Van Pamel ’19 is from Irving, Texas. She lives in Armstrong/Pratt.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tyler September 25, 2015 at 10:22 am

These stories are what I consider “Duh” consensus. They become popular because they allow people to deny their prejudices by holding up an example of how they are not subject to the prejudice because that wouldn’t happen on their watch.

The information age has allowed people to cover their prejudices similarly to the way people use to deny prejudice thoughts because they had a -insert minority status here- friend. The friend was the vaccine. Now the vaccine is a story requiring character assassination or, in this case, town and state character assassination. To paraphrase former Williams professor Gaudino, it is imperative to uncover and understand your own prejudices so that you can overcome them.

As a Muslim, I keep my faith to myself in a land that has become phobic. My forefathers and foremothers came to this country as Presbyterians to escape religious discrimination in the 1660’s. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go.

Reply

Leave a Comment