U.S. State Departments Symbolic Manslaughter of American Muslims
The eminent rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke argued that every naming (describing, terming) is rhetorical. Every description selects, reflects, and deflects reality in a particular way, promoting certain interests over others. In a similar vein, sociologist George Herbert Mead explained how the use of demeaning language leads to "symbolic manslaughter" of children. Accordingly, the continued stereotyping of the American Muslim community in American public discourse may have a devastating consequence on the social self-esteem of the emerging generations of American Muslims.
Dont think that anti-Muslim stereotyping has vanished just because most media outlets have begun to show the human dimension of Islam in America. Some key U.S. officials and media professionals are again insinuating that Islam is linked to terrorism. Consider how government officials have linked Ramadan to terrorism in their public warning of possible terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens. Consider also how the major media outlets such as ABC, AP, Reuters, and the Washington Post have relayed that linkage in their stories:
ABC: "The United States Saturday issued a worldwide caution to its citizens traveling abroad through the start of the New Year and Ramadan, citing credible information that terrorists are planning attacks against them.
AP: "Saturday's warning did not ban travel and urged Americans to contact destination embassies or consulates for more guidance until early January, a time which coincides with Ramadan, a Muslim holy period that began this week ... Such cautions frequently have been issued in the past in conjunction with the start of Ramadan."
Reuters: "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Sunday warned Americans abroad to be vigilant for potential terrorist attacks over the New Year's period ... Albright's comments came one day after the State Department issued an advisory for Americans overseas from the start of the New Year and the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan."
Washington Post: "The new warning says that attacks could occur any time from now through New Year's and the first week in January, when the month-long Muslim holy days of Ramadan end."
Sure, Madeline Albright and her State Department colleagues have "an obligation to let the American people know when there are potential terrorist threats." That is part of their job. But it is none of their business to suggest that the holy month of Ramadan is essentially a period of terrorist attacks by Muslims. By making such an insinuation they fail to uphold the values of human dignity and freedom of belief on which this nation is founded.
In addition, it is irresponsible for media professionals to report the State Department's insinuation without challenging its validity. Journalists are supposed to report happenings, not insinuations, as fairly and as accurately as possible.
Indeed the U.S. officials and media professionals were quick to blame Muslims and Islam in the wake of many recent terrorist attacks or mysterious tragedies. The Muslim community suffered the social consequences of their sensational conspiracy theories in the wake of Okalahoma City bombing, the TWA Flight 800 crash, the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.
Even after the recent EgyptAir crash in which Muslims were major victims, some U.S. officials from behind the scenes floated the idea that the Islamic prayer recited by the co-pilot in the desperate moments before the crash was a mantra for a suicide attack on people in the plane.
The damage was that the sensation reinforced the stereotypical linkage between Islam and terrorism -- a linkage established by Western media, spurious scholarship, and politics. Saturdays irresponsible remarks by the U.S. officials serve to further reinforce the same linkage.
State Department officials may have linked Ramadan and terrorism out of sheer ignorance and stupidity or on purpose. For the State Department does not at all represent the cultural diversity of America. In either case, they have symbolically terrorized the Muslim community, seeking to demean the meaning of Ramadan, a month in which Muslims constantly seek the pleasure, blessings, and forgiveness of God by fasting, offering extra prayers and giving charity to the poor and needy. It is also a month in which Muslims make special efforts to avoid wars, backbiting, and even arguments.
Muslims should therefore demand both a retraction of the statement suggesting the linkage between Ramadan and terrorism and a proportionate representation of the Muslim community in the staff of the State Department so that any such irresponsible remarks are avoided in future.
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com
Topics: United States Of America