Muslim backlash

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

My wife was born in Israel and most of her extended family still lives there. We have several close friends living there, plus I also have journalist friends and acquaintances in Israel.

It’s wonderful to have so many people I care about in a nation to which I’m deeply connected. However, this means that when we visit, which is often, we generally have a packed schedule. This leaves us little down time for rest and seeking out new experiences, even when we’re there for a couple of weeks or more.

So for that we schedule stopovers in Europe, either going or coming. Just the two of us and a rented car, exploring and hanging out where our interests take us, including  beautiful and nourishing environments. We're also drawn to Jewish historical sites, old synagogues and the like.

We’re now thinking about another trip to Israel this spring or summer. But this time, we’re considering skipping our usual European respite. Why? Because of the increasingly overt anti-Semitism.

We have no desire to either experience it anew or spend our money in societies where the dislike of Jews and Israel are menacingly on the rise.

A disturbing survey, released just last week, by the European Union on the growing insecurity of the continent's Jews — and their increased desire to emigrate — prompted our reevaluation. Here’s part of how Bloomberg reported the survey's chief findings.

Insecurity fueled by anti-Semitism prompted a growing number of British, German and Swedish Jews to consider leaving their countries, according to a landmark survey conducted by the European Union.

Nine out of every 10 Jews sense anti-Semitism is getting worse with some of the most acute concern registered in northern Europe, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. The survey is the largest of its kind worldwide and polled more than 16,000 Jews in 12 countries.

“Mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU,” said Michael O’Flaherty, the Irish human rights lawyer who runs the Vienna-based agency. “Across 12 EU member states where Jews have been living for centuries, more than 1/3 say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews.”

Concerns over safety are prompting Jewish communities in some of the EU’s biggest economies to question whether they should remain, according to the data. In Germany, their share soared to 44 percent from 25 percent six years ago.


The BBC ran its online story on the survey under the headline, “Anti-Semitism pervades European life, says EU report.”

Let that sink in for a moment. “Pervades.”

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Manchester attack: more terrorism tied to a radical Muslim, more fears of an anti-Muslim backlash

Manchester attack: more terrorism tied to a radical Muslim, more fears of an anti-Muslim backlash

It is -- sadly -- an all-too-familiar storyline.

I'm talking about the Manchester attack, which appears to be tied to a radical Muslim extremist. As Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher boiled it down over at the American Conservative, "Once Again, Islamic Terror."

Once again, a related storyline involves Muslims concerned about a backlash because of their religion. Such reaction pieces have become a staple of terrorism coverage at least since 9/11. Most of these pieces are pretty predictable. However, some are better than others, as we've discussed repeatedly here at GetReligion.

Newsweek's quick hit from Manchester is not bad:

In a run-down back street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, England, less than a mile from the arena where a bomb killed 22 people on Monday, is the Muslim Youth Foundation (MYF), a local mosque and community center that runs programs for young people.
Pinned to a notice board in its lobby is a simple three-paragraph message, welcoming all to pray and attend activities at the center. Below, it includes an addendum: “We do not tolerate any kind of extremism or extremist ideologies inside this center.” And then, in red type: “We urge everybody to stay within the Islamic and the U.K. laws.”
That message has become all the more apt since Monday night, when a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, causing mayhem among the 20,000-strong fans flooding out of the arena.

There there is the usual online blast from you know where:

On Tuesday, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) said a “soldier of the Khilafah [caliphate]” was responsible for the attack. The attacker, who died detonating the device, has been unofficially named as 23-year-old Salman Abedi, though police have not responded to Newsweek’s request for confirmation.
Many of the city’s nearly quarter-million Muslims dread the seemingly inevitable backlash against their community. Mohamed Abdul Malek, an imam and trustee of the MYF, says the aftermath of such attacks is a time marked by fear. “I think with past experience, that fear is there in our [community], especially among women,” says Malek, 61, shuffling in his leather chair in a back room in the MYF’s office.
“But I pray and tell those who want to take revenge against Muslims that Muslims are equally victims of this act. Muslim youngsters were in the concert. The taxi drivers who helped take youngsters to their homes—some of them would be Muslims. People in the city center are Muslims. We are part of this community, and what hurts the community hurts us,” he adds.

One interesting thing about the Newsweek report — and this won't surprise regular GetReligion readers — is that the imam seems more interested in addressing the reality that is radical Islam than the news organization:

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Heartland authenticity: Praise for one paper's nuanced coverage of post-Trump Muslims

Heartland authenticity: Praise for one paper's nuanced coverage of post-Trump Muslims

In the wake of President-elect Donald Trump's election, one of the prevailing — and predictable — storylines has been the plight of Muslims in the U.S.

It's sort of the post-election version of the "Muslim backlash" stories that follow any terrorist attack by an Islamic radical.

Among the major news organizations where I've seen such reports: CNN, the Dallas Morning News, the Detroit News, National Public Radio and Religion News Service.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (among others) reported this week:

Hate crimes increased nearly 7% in 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday, a rise that was driven partly by a sharp increase in anti-Muslim incidents, which rose 67%.

At the same time, some are skeptical of claims of a "post-election hate crime epidemic." 

And in his post Tuesday, GetReligion's Ira Rifkin delved into reports "that Trump secretly reached out to Arab embassies in Washington to say they should simply ignore his anti-Muslim campaign statements."

So — on this subject matter — where does the politically correct narrative end and the actual news begin? Some of that may depend on one's own biases and life experiences. A few of the reports cited above are better than others, and I'll acknowledge that I didn't have time to digest each word of all of them.

But I do want to endorse a piece by Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times. 

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Hey media, here's one way to overcome that tired 'anti-Muslim backlash' storyline

Hey media, here's one way to overcome that tired 'anti-Muslim backlash' storyline

The backlash is baa-aack.

More precisely, the "Muslim backlash" stories are back. Just check out the front page of Thursday's USA Today.

As for an actual backlash against Muslims in the U.S.? That's a subject of some debate.

Here at GetReligion, of course, we've touched on this topic again and again and again.

With your indulgence, I'll reference one more time what I said in the immediate aftermath of this week's Brussels terror attacks:

Key, again, is factual reporting that highlights the various strains of Islam (as we have said a million times, there is "no one Islam") and avoids the simplistic "Islamophobia" propaganda that plagued so much of the coverage last time.

USA Today, whose news coverage is to journalism what McDonald's cheeseburgers are to fine dining, didn't get the memo. But give the national newspaper credit for going all the way with its totally predictable, stereotypical approach. This is the online headline on the story featured in Thursday's print edition:

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The good, the bad and the funny in media coverage of Ted Cruz's 'Muslim neighborhoods' remarks

The good, the bad and the funny in media coverage of Ted Cruz's 'Muslim neighborhoods' remarks

Once again, Muslims in America are the focus of intense scrutiny — and they're not exactly happy about it.

Even in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's Brussels terror attacks, we knew this storyline was coming, of course.

In our post yesterday, we stressed:

Key, again, is factual reporting that highlights the various strains of Islam (as we have said a million times, there is "no one Islam") and avoids the simplistic "Islamophobia" propaganda that plagued so much of the coverage last time.

As the world focused its thoughts and prayers on the Belgium victims, the U.S. presidential race took no break at all.

In case you missed it — and I promise this is not from the satirical newspaper The Onion — Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz engaged in a Twitter spat over each other's wives.

But that wasn't the only news the candidates made Tuesday: How to prevent terrorism on U.S. soil again dominated the GOP rhetoric, and Muslims again figured heavily in the discussion.

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In wake of more terror attacks in Europe, factual reporting of #Brussels news is crucial (updated)

In wake of more terror attacks in Europe, factual reporting of #Brussels news is crucial (updated)

Like many of you, I woke up to news of the terror attacks in Brussels.

Notifications about the bombings flooded my iPad screen as I opened my eyes.

As the disturbing headlines struck me, I saw a note on Facebook from a fellow Christian, Paul Brazle, a missionary to Belgium with whom my Christian Chronicle colleague Erik Tryggestad and I stayed during a 2009 reporting trip.

Brazle's note said:

'Ik ben veilig!' (I am safe - We are safe.)
With this message, folks in Brussels airport or metro can - via Red Cross data centre - inform family or friends who can't reach them that they are OK. Others... are not so lucky, to be able to say that.
As you wake up today to news of Bombings in Brussels....
we want you to know that we are safely well out of any harm's way, but listening to the news carefully and waiting for news of any in our network who may have had reason to be in the airport today, or near the one metro station in the Europa district where bombs went off.

The Associated Press reports that "there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks." Other news organizations — such as NPR and CNN — make no mention of a potential religion angle in their initial accounts.

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Anti-Muslim backlash strikes again: Media can't help falling in love with circumstantial evidence

Anti-Muslim backlash strikes again: Media can't help falling in love with circumstantial evidence

Facts, please.

That most basic element of strong journalism would be helpful as media keep spinning reports of "anti-Muslim backlash" after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

As you may recall, I criticized the Houston Chronicle last week for squishy, speculative reporting after an arson fire at a storefront mosque:

My plea for journalists pursuing the "Muslim backlash" story: Do some actual reporting.
Yes, treat Muslims (and other people of faith) with fairness and respect. By all means, listen to their concerns, and report them fully. But don't ditch normal, necessary journalistic skepticism and investigative techniques for the sake of a politically correct storyline.

So what happened not long after the Texas newspaper's big Page 1 story on the fire stirring fears in the Muslim community? Police arrested a suspect who claims to be a devout Muslim who regularly worshiped at the torched mosque.

Hmmm, that fact changes the storyline a bit, huh?

In the Pacific Northwest, meanwhile, a 16-year-old Muslim's death has caused a furor and fanned Islamophobia concerns, according to the Seattle Times. 

Earlier, the Seattle newspaper publicized online speculation that the teen was the victim of an "anti-Muslim hate crime." Speculation, of course, involves "the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence." That's not exactly a recipe for quality journalism.

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Houston, we have a problem: What's wrong with all those 'Muslim backlash' stories in the media

Houston, we have a problem: What's wrong with all those 'Muslim backlash' stories in the media

The backlash is back.

Back on the front page, that is.

Before dissecting today's Houston Chronicle story, a little background: After the San Bernardino massacre, the New York Post splashed the inflammatory headline "Muslim Killers" across its tabloid cover. At that time, we noted that — ever since 9/11 — the phrase "Muslim backlash" has entered America's lexicon. 

In follow-up posts, we questioned media reporting a "surge" in anti-Muslim crime without providing hard data to back up that factual claim. Moreover, we pointed out bias by media using the term "Islamophobia" without bothering to define it.

That leads to Houston, where firefighters battled a Christmas Day blaze at a storefront mosque. Investigators called the fire "suspicious," citing multiple points of origin. 

The fire serves as the news peg for the Chronicle's Page A1 report today on anxiety in the area's Muslim community:

Even before investigators determined that a Christmas Day fire at a southwest Houston mosque was set deliberately, Muslims in the Houston area were on edge.
Recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., were followed by threats to area Muslims on social media and elsewhere. Now, in the aftermath of the arson at the mosque, local Muslim leaders and public officials are organizing a meeting to try to calm fears and ease tensions. 
M.J. Khan, the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, said he understands the community’s growing anxiety. 
“Families and children come, and we do take precautions to make sure people are protected and feel safe,” said Khan, whose organization operates the mosque. Still, he added, “These are places of worship, and we cannot make them fortresses.”
The fire broke out at around 2:45 p.m. on Christmas Day at the small mosque inside the Savoy Plaza strip center, near Wilcrest Drive and Bellfort Avenue. About 80 firefighters helped extinguish the blaze, which significantly damaged the worship hall.

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'Muslim Killers,' declares New York Post as followers of Islam again voice 'backlash' fears

'Muslim Killers,' declares New York Post as followers of Islam again voice 'backlash' fears

"God isn't fixing this," blared the New York Daily News in the wake of the San Bernardino bloodbath. 

While that Big Apple tabloid fixated on gun control, the New York Post went a different — albeit equally inflammatory — direction, casting blame for the mass murder of 14 people on "Muslim Killers."

So it's no surprise that once again — as happened after the Paris attacks — the media have rushed to report on Muslim fears of a "backlash."

This storyline is, of course, sadly familiar by now. 

This was the headline for a story I wrote on Sept. 11, 2001, when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's major daily:

City's Muslims fear backlash of blame

The lede on that story:

A distraught Muslim woman called the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City on Tuesday morning as terrorist attacks rocked the nation.
"She's completely terrified," said Suhaib Webb, imam of the society's mosque. "She's a single woman. She's like, 'What if someone tries to kill me?'
"She's worried that society is going to blame her for this killing."
American Muslim groups rushed Tuesday to condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They cautioned other Americans not to blame followers of Islam until investigators determine who was responsible.
As Oklahoma's roughly 20,000 Muslims dealt with the shock experienced by most Americans, they grappled with another emotion as well: fear. Fear that people would blame them for the tragedies. Fear that 10 years of work to change Oklahomans' perspectives of their religion had been shattered.

More than 14 years later, this is the headline on a Washington Post story today:

After Paris and California attacks, U.S. Muslims feel intense backlash

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