Between the News and a Hard place

By Abu Safiur Rahman



Someone suggested to me that the only reason why the media gave explicit and detailed coverage to the Paris Bombings was because of “geographical novelty”: violent incidents in Europe are scarce in comparison to the Middle East, Africa and (sometimes ) Asia where carnage is, apparently, quite frequent. One local reporter echoed similar sentiments in an attempt to justify why the Paris bombings were magnified, a thousand times over it seems, while the Lebanon bombings which occurred mere hours before were not. This is, perhaps, a valid point; but we have to admit that it also carries the heavy implication that Parisian blood is significantly more important than any other type.

This is especially the case when earlier in 2015, 147 bodies lay dead in an attack in Kenya (the second deadliest in its history) and no one went ballistic over that, at least when you compare it to the reaction over France. If I say that Third World blood means next to nothing in comparison to First World blood, I might be on to something. But I won’t.

In any case, if the media were to give importance to an event based on “geographical novelty”, then, by the same token, coverage of “lunatic” Caucasian Americans shooting up schools, universities and churches shouldn’t be breaking news, since that’s quite the norm in the “land of the free and home of the brave”. That is, of course, if it was indeed perpetrated by a real home-grown white American. If the gunman was 1/25th African-American or Muslim (or Arab-looking even, sometimes those poor Sikhs are victimised) then we’d be looking at CNN, BBC and especially FOX news (if we can stomach it) for days, even weeks on end as events unfold, facts are brought to light and clues to the shooter’s Muslim heritage is unveiled – it’ll be terrorism then, and not random, psychotic gun violence where US firearm-laws can bear the brunt of the blame. We know how it goes all too well.

This is unfortunately the reality of the most popular Western international media outlets. But what about our own? Our local media look up to them as exemplars and as models to be imitated. Is it any wonder then why stories are being printed in our most reliable dailies that reflect curiously the advancement of an anti-Islamic agenda? Shall I cry out xenophobia i.e. the fear of foreigners and all things foreign? No, that can’t work. We Muslims have been an integral part of Trinbagonian society and continue to be so. So, xenophobia is not the right term, for the Muslims and non-Muslims know each other very well and have even traded customs and practices since our development into a melting pot.

However, has the irrational fear of Islam and Muslims (Islamophobia) taken root? Has it spread out its tentacles, touching individuals, non-Muslim groups and as a consequence, media houses? I certainly hope not. But reality doesn’t always bend to hope’s will.

I don’t wish to paint an unrealistic picture or cause unnecessary panic but I’ve heard of Islamophobic incidents being on the rise – yes, in our sweet old T&T – as it is on the rapid increase again in the US. That surprises me a little but not a lot, seeing that certain Muslims are finding it too difficult to merely remain in Trinidad and have gone off – them and their families – to the most war-ravaged countries of the Middle East.

Seeing that sentiments and convictions always seem to somehow trickle down from the UK and US, influencing our thinking to a degree (at least some of us), through television, the Internet, music and so on, shall I be bold enough to say that Islamophobic thought descends as well? Just today (at the time of writing) I had the displeasure of seeing a video of a Trinidadian man, claiming that Muslims were hiding in plain sight as “ISIS operatives” for the past 10 years. He admitted his paranoia (which made him seem less deranged ironically) and went on to demonstrate what non-Muslims of T&T needed in order to stave off the threat including “extra batteries” and “pig-blood stained knives”. The worst part was that some non-Muslims stood with him in full agreement in the comments section.

In the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the pagan Quraysh struck a deal with the Prophet Muhammad during which certain compromises were made for a peace agreement. It seemed at that time to the Companions that they were getting the short end of the stick but a great leader (the best, in fact) always has the foresight to understand the bigger picture and to recognize future consequences. As long as core principles weren’t compromised, he let some relatively minor issues slide – issues which most of the Companions would not (since they would have had to return to Madinah, without performing the pilgrimage). He weighed the benefits and the harms, and made his decision based on the greater good. The rest is history, as we know now that that treaty was a springboard to the cementing and spreading of Islam.

Conversley, in our local context, attacks claimed by ISIS internationally (and other groups claiming to be “ISIS” terrorising neighbourhoods) only create a greater climate of hate and fear from amongst an increasingly suspicious public. It is as if it is being said by these groups, “we don’t care what happens to you in the aftermath of our attacks in Muslim-minority countries, and we certainly are indifferent to the repercussions for other Muslims living peacefully with their non-Muslim family, neighbours and colleagues.”

You may consider the above to be a harsh indictment but no one can deny now that a Muslim’s everyday-life is becoming harder in many different ways due to such spilling of innocent blood: hate-crimes, including the fire-bombings of Mosques, the death of Hamza Warsame (a teenager beaten and thrown-off a building in the US), all the way to the spewing of venomous, anti-Islamic rhetoric across social media (and in more recent times, on US political platforms) which inspire such hatred.

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of Trinibagonian Muslims to hold firm and show our non-Muslim compatriots that their fear is not entirely warranted and that they can trust us – if we can’t inspire trust in others as a community, then we have failed terribly. I certainly hope that the non-Muslims of our country are wise enough to see past the cloak of Islamophobia of some commentators and speakers who would rather have whispers of discord spread between us, along with their own agendas.

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