Via CNN: cutout characters, conjecture and CAIR

Via CNN: cutout characters, conjecture and CAIR September 6, 2012

Islamophobia is back in the news, this time courtesy of CNN.

Just in time for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, CNN splashes this headline atop a 1,700-word report:

Rising anti-Islamic sentiment in America troubles Muslims

When you see that headline, what kind of details do you expect the story to provide? At the very least, I expect to find cold, hard facts backing up the claim made.

Not to give away the ending, but this report proves highly disappointing in quantifying the “rising anti-Islamic sentiment.” On the bright side, if you enjoy cardboard-cutout crazies, context-free conjecture and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) talking points, you’re in for a real treat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, CNN chooses Tennessee as its launching point:

(CNN) – When the nation pauses to remember 9/11 next week, a group of Tennesseans will gather at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Franklin for a commemoration. But it will be more than that.

On the program, called “The Threat in Our Backyard,” is a lecture on Islam in public schools and a short film on Sharia finance.

It’s a program organized by people who feel the American way of life is threatened by Islam – in particular, Sharia, or Islamic law.

Sharia would bring ruin to America, says Greg Johnson, vice president of the 9/12 Project Tennessee, a sponsor of the event that advocates for shifting government back to the intent of the Constitution’s authors.

Who is Johnson? Why does he believe what he does about Sharia and Islam? Wish I could tell you, but Johnson makes just a cameo appearance at the beginning and then disappears.  Later, readers hear from a woman named Cathy Hinners, who is identified only as a “website author” and a scheduled speaker. Again, CNN provides no details on her background or why she believes what she does. The same holds true for a man named Andrew Miller, identified only as a Nashville health-care investor.

Aside from those three off-their-rocker sources (based on CNN’s tone), the report mainly focuses on the growing, raging, yet somehow vague anti-Muslim sentiment that “has been swelling across America in recent months.”

“In the 11 years since (9/11), we have retreated,” says Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University who likes to call himself the Blue Devil Imam.

Muslims make up less than 1% of the U.S. population. Yet, say Muslim advocates, they are a community besieged.

Hate crimes against Muslims spiked 50% in 2010, the last year for which FBI statistics are available. That was in a year marked by Muslim-bashing speech over the Islamic center near ground zero in Manhattan and Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ threats to burn Qurans.

A Los Angeles Times story on a Muslim summer camp that I critiqued last week cited a similar statistic on hate crimes against Muslims. That post prompted regular GetReligion reader Passing By to provide a link to a news story noting that hate crimes against Muslims remain relatively rare. Jews, for example, were the victims of hate crimes five times more often than Muslims, according to the latest FBI statistics. Don’t look for any such context in the CNN report.

Later in the story, there’s this:

This year’s holy month of Ramadan, which ended August 19, was marred by a spate of violence at U.S. Islamic centers that included a fire, a homemade bomb and pig parts. The incidents were unprecedented in scale and scope, says the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR is an advocacy organization, not an unbiased source. I would love to have seen CNN quote an FBI agent or a Tennessee law enforcement official on the issue of anti-Muslim sentiment. Are authorities concerned about a rising tide of anti-Muslim violence? Do they believe that such a rising tide actually exists?

Similarly, I would love to have seen CNN quote a few “real people” Muslims on the issue. Do they feel threatened living in Tennessee? Are the anti-Sharia folks part of the mainstream or extremists? The CNN story lacks any middle ground.

Through my work with The Christian Chronicle, I am aware of a minister in Nashville who has worked to increase communication and understanding among Christians and Muslims. I know that The Tennessean recently reported on an event at Lipscomb University, a Christian university, aimed at addressing Americans’ misconceptions about Islam. Yet CNN focuses only on the alleged radicals, not on those promoting respect and dialogue among Americans with different religious beliefs.

Is anti-Islamic sentiment really on the rise in America? Based on CNN’s report, I couldn’t tell you.

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8 responses to “Via CNN: cutout characters, conjecture and CAIR”

  1. While I’ve seen far better reporting on anti-Muslim bigotry (shout out to Bob Smietana at the Tennessean), I don”t think its fair to criticize CNN for quoting CAIR. CAIR is the only organization that I’m aware of that’s been collecting reports of anti-Muslim incidents over many years (back into the 1990s, I believe). Yes, CAIR is an advocacy organization but its an advocacy group for Muslim civil rights and lacks a specific religious mission. In that sense its a parallel to the Anti-Defamation League, which few journalists would hesitate to quote about anti-Semitic incidents.

  2. I think its incorrect to say CAIR “lacks a specific religious mission,” just as I think its absurd to say the ADL’s first allegiance is not to Jews and Judaism. Specific religious convictions define the Catholic League, the Friends Service Committee, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

    Da’wah comes in many forms.

    From the CAIR Website:

    “The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was created as an “organization that challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims,”1 a “Washington-based Islamic advocacy group”2 and an “organization dedicated to providing an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public.”3 Prior to establishing CAIR, its founders observed that “the core challenge [in America], that of stereotyping and defamation, was having a devastating effect on our children and paralyzing adults from taking their due roles in civic affairs.”4 Within that understanding, they formed CAIR to challenge anti-Muslim discrimination nationwide.”

  3. Bobby, formal reports often fail to reflect happenings on the ground. By this I mean that only the most egregious offenses are reported to the FBI, and then only by people secure enough not to fear reprisals. If a person believes that nothing good will come from reporting a crime, the crime will remain unknown to authorities.

    In Austin, I’ve witnessed an uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment. Despite the absence of overt acts, like assaults or mosque burnings, people’s attitudes have changed, and those changes are reflected as people express their feelings in the course of everyday conversations and in the way they treat their Muslim neighbors/customers. Nothing quantifiable by FBI standards, but definitely there. If the CAIR is like the ADL, it reflects the mood of its constituency. Unlike the ADL, whose data was once considered suspect for the same reasons you put forth in your post, the CAIR has not managed to incorporate itself into the mainstream. The ADL’s “No Place for Hate” banners hang in all kinds of secular settings; the organization is regularly invited to public schools, governmental settings, and businesses to educate, not about Jews or the Holocaust, but about bigotry and prejudice.

    I agree that interviews with “Muslims on the ground” should have been included, but if no one’s going to be receptive to their message, what would have been the point? How many interviews are required to convince readers of the veracity of what they’re reading? Would the inclusion of a Muslim who claimed persecution have changed your attitude or would you believe the person was an anomaly? The sentiments expressed by the people you call fringe are quite common in my neck of the woods.

    • I live in austin, too, nd I haven’t seen anything like what you’re describing.

      And even YOU can’t offer any specific, concrete instances of anti-Muslim hate crimes. You admit yourself that there haven’t been any “overt” acts against Muslims All you’re offering is a gut feeling that non-Muslims are more leery and distrustful of Muslims than they once were.

      Well, even IF you’re right (and I’m not at all sure you are- I see hundreds of COEXIST bumper stickers for every anti-Muslim comment I hear), leeriness and distrust are not crimes! If anyone, be it you or a CNN reporter, wants to claim there’s been an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes, I’d like to see some kind of proof.

      If there are swelling numbers of assaults on Muslims or vandalism against mosques, CNN should report that. If there’s NOT any appreciable increase in such crimes, there’s no story.

      • Williamson, not Travis. Whole different world. Point is lots of folks openly voice anti-Muslim sentiment pretty much along the lines of the nutcase fringe profiled in the article. COEXIST stickers aren’t big here, either.

  4. In response to the writers here who think that C.A.I.R. is an advocacy group for muslim civil rights like the ADL is for Jews, you couldn’t be further from the truth. C.A.I.R.’s aim is to further islam into America, such as implementing sharia law, etc.

    In an article published on July 4, 1998 by reporter Lisa Gardiner of the “San Ramon Valley Herald,” Omar Ahmed, co-founder of C.A.I.R. stated: “islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faiths, but to become dominant. The koran should be the highest authority in America, and islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”…