Saturday, November 7, 2009
A US Army psychiatrist gunned down 13 people at a Texas military base last Thursday. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who is currently fighting of his life in intensive care after he was suppressed by return fire, was due to be deployed in Afghanistan. He was reportedly opposed to this deployment. The sudden loss of innocent life anywhere by anyone is a tragedy and our heart goes out to relatives of the victims at Fort Hood.
But what appears to be more tragic is the manner in which our media have jumped on the opportunity to immediately contextualize the perpetrator based on his ethnicity and his religion. Major Nidal is an American-born Muslim with parents of Palestinian heritage. When news of this senseless massacre broke, headlines everywhere screamed “Muslim Soldier Kills 13 in Mass Shooting at Fort Hood”. These headlines include the one that was broadcast by Mediacorp’s Channel 5 and Channel News Asia on the 6th November 2009.
These seemingly tacit headlines may not seem like much to the undiscerning reader. But a quarter of humanity cannot help but wonder, why is a person’s religion not mentioned in the headline except for when the perpetrator is a Muslim? After all, when 44-year old Sergeant John M. Russel went on a shooting spree and killed 5 of his fellow soldiers at a US Army base in Baghdad not so long ago in an eerily similar misdemeanor, the same treatment on his religion and ethnic heritage was not given. Why did our headlines not scream “Christian Soldier Kills 5 in Mass Shooting at Camp Liberty”?
In the context of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic communities , insinuations of this sort does little to add to the value of the story. If there is little evidence the killings at Fort Hood and Camp Liberty were done in the name of the respective religions, then what is the value of predicating a person’s religion and ethnicity into the headline of the story? Muslim soldiers are fast becoming part of the landscape not only in the US Army, but the armies of many other western countries as well. A person’s religious affiliation is a not a suitable attribute to be made a novelty of, especially so in the backdrop of a violent shooting spree that has the potential to inflame deep-seated ethnic and religious resentments.
The relationship between Islam and Christianity have had an uneasy past and will continue to do so in the near future as conflicts around the world take on an overtly religious tone. Unnecessary provocations such as these do not help in convincing Muslim communities that they are not being deliberately targeted as part of a subtle right-wing agenda. It also threatens to negate all the effort we have made towards enlightening the masses on religious harmony and the true nature of Islam.
Media channels such as Channel 5 and Channel News Asia should have known better, especially since they are serving the needs of a significant Muslim population in Singapore, then to fall into the temptation of pointless religious predications. For all the nation-building efforts it has espoused in the past, this display of religious insensitivity has left us very much surprised.
The manner in which Major Nidal’s crime has been framed have sadly put America’s Muslims on yet another defensive stance. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have issued a statement in condemning the act and warning Muslims to protect themselves against any violence from the American people. But the real damage has already been done-on the perception of Muslims towards our media.
The writer is a student enrolled in the Bachelor of Islamic Revealed Knowledge at the International Islamic University & doing the Master of Science (Strategic Studies) at the Nanyang Technological University.