mosque security

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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I see what your church security plan is trying to do, but you lost me at 'Throw your Bible at the shooter'

I see what your church security plan is trying to do, but you lost me at 'Throw your Bible at the shooter'

Stop a mass gunman by throwing your Bible at him?

Yes, an expert quoted by The Associated Press actually recommended that. More details in a moment.

But first, I'll share my overall impression of this year-end AP rundown of security measures taking place at houses of worship nationwide. 

My reaction is this: There is such a thing as trying to do too much. The amount of information the wire service packs into this all-encompassing lede seems to be a case in point:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — In Alabama, a Presbyterian church wanted to be able to hire its own police for protection. Mosque leaders around the country are meeting with law enforcement officials as an anti-Muslim furor fuels arson attacks and vandalism. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been holding specialized training for congregations for "all hazards, including active shooter incidents."
Religious congregations across the United States are concentrating on safety like never before following a season of violence, from the slaughter unleashed in June by a white shooter at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the killings this month in San Bernardino, California.

Concentrating on safety like never before. A verifiable fact? Or journalistic hyperbole? 

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