Media coverage of Serbian Belgrade Embassy attack an example of selective religious identification

Sheila Musaji

Posted Feb 22, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Media coverage of Belgrade Embassy attack an example of selective religious identification

by Sheila Musaji

Over the past decade it has become increasingly common to see a selective religious identification used in the media. 

In August 2002 , Robert Jay Goldstein was arrested near his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. In his possession were 40 weapons, 30 explosive devices, a list of 50 mosques and a detailed plan to bomb an Islamic school.  None of the news reports about this incident refer to the religion or motivations of the criminal although he is Jewish and the targets were Muslims.  Judging by the headlines and stories in the media, religion seemed to have nothing to do with this.

In 2006, two British National Party members Robert Cottage and David Jackson (not Muslims) were were arrested with an array of bomb-making components and weapons. A rocket launcher was found, though some reports indicate more than one, as was a biological suit and chemicals that could be used to make bombs.  Cottage and Jackson’s religion was never mentioned, and in fact the incident received little press.

In January of 2008, Alex Shevchenko was arraigned for a hate crime tied to the assault and eventual death of Satender Singh in July of 2007 in Sacramento, California.  None of the news reports of this incident in which a man was killed because the perpetrators thought he was gay include the religion of the perpetrators or religious dimensions of this crime.  In January of 2008, the Christian Science Monitor published an article “Christian extremism raises alarm” that finally did raise these issues and pointed out that within the Slavic community that Mr. Shevchenko belongs to there is a group called the Watchmen on the Walls that is fomenting religious extremism in this community. 

This week when about 150,000 Serbian rioters attacked UN police at a bridge, and then first stormed and then set fire to the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade leading to at least one death and 150 injuries there were thousands of articles in the media.

What you don’t see in any of those headlines or articles is the word “Christian” - they are simply violent protestors, criminals, thugs, mobs.  Spend some time going through the thousands of articles online and it will be difficult to find any that raise the religious issue.  I found only one.  Foreign Policy did publish an article “Does the West Have an Orthodox Problem?” raising the religious issue.

“The scenes on CNN today of Serbian political and religious leaders holding candles at a vigil to protest Kosovo’s independence, as well as the rogue protesters setting fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, bring to mind Graham Fuller’s January/February FP cover story, “A World Without Islam.” In the piece, Fuller cautions Islam’s critics not to assume that a Middle East dominated by Orthodox Christianity would be any more accepting of Western influence than today’s Middle East. With Serbian Christians now fighting to retain what they they view as their religious homeland, maybe he was on to something. [...] “Whatever you think of Fuller’s characterization, it certainly seems noteworthy that the United States and the EU are about to go the mat with Russia for a Muslim country at the expense of a Christian one. If the rift between an increasingly religious Russia and the West continues to grow, can it be long until the op-eds start appearing on “The Orthodox Threat” or “The Failure of Political Orthodoxy”? “Orthofascism” doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?”   (see Islamofascists?)

The ridiculous claim that all terrorists and extremists are Muslim ignores history and the media headlines that selectively identify the religious identification of both perpetrators and victims reinforce this impression.  When you repeat something enough times people come to accept it as a fact.

There is a pattern here.  There is a seeming double standard in identifying one act as particular to a religion, and not another caused me to do a little searching on the web, and I found many articles that did not include the religious dimension of many terrorist activities:  Irish Terror, The Troubles , Bosnia:// Report On Massacre At Srebrenica Condemns Dutch Military ‘Errors’, Don Hill, King David Hotel Bombing(1946) , Basque Terrorism in Spain, Wikipedia has an entry on the Qibya Massacre by Israeli troops - and the Kafr Qasim Massacre by the Israel border police (why no mention of their religion?), and the Sabra and Shatila massacres which refer to the perpetrators as Maronite Christian Militias and to possible Israeli culpability.  An article on the Lavon Affair including the Operation Susannah bombings in Egypt refers to this as carried out by the Israeli’s. (Do the Israeli’s have a religion?) Serbs are sentenced for filming the murder of Bosnian Muslims. (not Christian Serbs)  White extremists in Britain use terror videos to threaten British Muslims.  (do the extremists have a religion?)  God’s Army carries out terrorist actions in Burma.  (not Christian terrorist group God’s Army) 

Why Irish and not Christian Terror - although both parties are Christian (Catholic and Protestant)  - why Basque Terrorism when the Basques are solidly Catholic?  Why Israeli and not Jewish, although Israel is a Jewish State?  Why are the Tamil Tiger suicide bombers not referred to as Hindu suicide bombers?  The Tamil Tigers lead the world in the number of suicide bombings, and yet the mantra is repeated over and over that all terrorists are Muslims.  Why do Israel, the U.S., Britain, France, China, India, and Russia have nuclear bombs, but Pakistan has an “Islamic bomb”?

When there have been criminals in the U.S. who have murdered innocents, only if they are Muslim is their religion mentioned in the headlines. 

Most people reading only the headlines will assume that only Islam has a problem with religious extremists, that only Muslims are violent and Christians are non-violent, and that it is Islam itself that is the problem.

This is an issue that needs to be dealt with - What was the religious affiliation of:  - Those who enslaved and murdered the Native Americans; - Those who colonized most of what is now the “Third World”; - Those who dropped the atomic bomb; - Those who developed and participated in the political systems of Naziism and Fascism; - Those who carried out the Rwandan genocide?; - Those who participated in torture at Abu Ghraib; - Those who carried out ethnic cleansing against the Bosnian Muslims; - Those who were responsible for the death of millions in Germany’s death camps?  If the answer to any of these questions had been Islam then the criminals would have been identified as “Islamic” .......  This demonizing of the “other” and oversimplification of genuine issues that need to be resolved does a disservice to all of us, and in the current political climate also isolates traditional mainstream Muslims who otherwise might be able to serve as a bridge between cultures.

There are groups within the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities that are trying to incite and create an all-out war between Islam and “the West.” Such a war would bring misery upon the peoples of all nations.  All of us must do everything possible to denounce and resist the efforts of those who would destroy us.

This problem of selective religious identification is only one aspect of the greater problem.  But it is one that we need to deal with if we are going to enable ourselves to look at the real issues and find solutions.  We need to challenge the stereotypes, recognize propoganda, and foster genuine dialogue.

SEE ALSO:  The US Flag: Raised by Muslims, Burnt by Christians, Mamoun Fandy