Islamophobia Is Unacceptable in Primetime or Anytime
The President Who Signed the Muslim Ban Can Agree By Repealing It
By Zainab Chaudry, CAIR National
Political ideologies do not accurately predict all of an individual’s ideals, values, biases or blind spots. American Muslims know this as well as anyone.
Although Islamophobia commonly surfaces in conservative circles, our community knows that anti-Muslim bigotry has also repeatedly manifested in progressive and liberal spaces.
During Monday evening’s segment of The Reidout, MSNBC host Joy Reid likened radicalized Trump supporters to Muslims — a group that’s often the target of rightwing rants, bigotry and racism.
“Leaders [in the Muslim world] talk a lot of violent talk and encourage their supporters to commit violence….,” Reid said on the show. “We in the U.S. media describe that as radicalizing those people. That’s the way we talk about how Muslims act.”
Then she went on to ask a panel of guest commentators: “When you see what Donald Trump is doing, is that any different from what we describe as radicalizing people?”
After public backlash from Muslim leaders and organizations, and following a conversation between CAIR, CAIR-New York, and NBC’s executives, Reid hosted an informative segment on Wednesday that examined Islamophobia, right-wing radicalization, and the double standards that exist in reporting about terrorism.
Although the segment was positive in and of itself, Reid failed to deliver the apology that many American Muslims sought. She instead relied on guest panelists to contextualize her statements, defend her from charges of bigotry, and educate viewers on the media’s responsibility to report accurately and objectively.
Reid’s remarks and her failure to directly apologize for them matters because — whether deliberate or unintentional, obvious or subtle — cable networks have failed to fully honor their commitment to respect diversity, especially when it comes to Muslims.
Indeed, Islamophobia manifests not only through voices that a network amplifies (one of Reid’s guests during the controversial segment was Jennifer Rubin, a neoconservative war hawk with a history of anti-Muslim bigotry), but also in the voices that a network omits from debates and discussions.
According to research by Media Matters, when the Muslim travel ban was first enacted in 2017, only seven of 90 commentators featured on CNN over a five day period were Muslims.
MSNBC, widely seen as the most progressive of the top three primary cable news networks, only featured two Muslim commentators out of 28 guests during the same time period. Point being, mainstream American Muslim voices are frequently missing from segments covering topics that pertain to our communities.
And take Bill Maher — the controversial HBO talk show host notorious for drawing on orientalist tropes to peddle anti-Muslim rhetoric, conflating Muslims with ISIS, and frequently inviting guests who share bigoted views about Islam.
The type of casual bigotry conveyed (perhaps inadvertently) by Reid on Monday evening was obviously not the same as, for example, Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s racist tirades against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, or Jeanine Pirro’s advocating for death squads to assassinate “Islamists,” lamenting “reverse Crusades” and bemoaning Muslims who‘ve “conquered us through immigration and interfaith dialogue” on air.
But, if left unchecked, comments like Reid’s are no less harmful. In fact, Islamophobia expressed in progressive and liberal spaces can arguably be more dangerous, particularly when it’s normalized in a disarming manner by a trusted source.
The ultimate irony is that the orchestrator of the Muslim Ban, President Donald Trump, took to Twitter to exploit Reid’s misstep, blasting “MSDNC” for xenophobia and racism and calling for Reid to be fired for using the term “Muslim terrorists.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump has surrounded himself with advisors who hold blatantly Islamophobic and racist views such as Michael Flynn, Steven Bannon, Stephen Miller, and other officials past and present. In fact, Bannon himself crafted the Muslim Ban.
Challenging racism at all costs must be the constant norm in America — not merely a tool conveniently leveraged when its politically expedient to score popularity points.
If Donald Trump were truly concerned with eliminating xenophobia and racism from our country, he would not take to Twitter to score political points against a political opponent. He would apologize for his own bigotry, fire the bigots who serve as senior officials within his administration, and repeal the discriminatory and destructive Muslim Ban, which scapegoats Muslim communities and continues to separate families.
To her credit, Joy Reid rightfully criticized President Trump for his hypocrisy and his record of anti-Muslim bigotry. However, responsibility for Islamophobia does not fall on rightwing politicians alone.
Responsibility also falls upon the media outlets that intentionally or accidentally amplify such bigotry, or fail to create diverse and inclusive programming.
Especially now, when our country is more polarized than ever in modern history, cable news networks must take practical measures to ensure that their lineup of expert panelists reflect the demographics and values of directly impacted communities being discussed in respective segments, including Muslims.
Furthermore, networks should welcome American Muslim guests to discuss everyday issues unrelated to typical “Muslim issues,” such as healthcare, the economy and the environment.
Employees and representatives should receive mandatory, comprehensive diversity training, and be held diligently to account for any content they air that sows hatred and fear.
And like all responsible professionals, reporters should directly apologize to the public when they make mistakes. Joy Reid has yet to do so.
Contrasting the world’s 1.6 billion population of Muslims, even inadvertently, with radicalized Trump supporters wasn’t just damaging and harmful; it’s simply unacceptable in mainstream society, including on primetime television.
We must do better and we must expect better, whether from progressive reporters or conservative politicians.
Zainab Chaudry is Director of the Council in American-Islamic Relations’ office in Maryland. She is the first Muslim appointee to the Maryland State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.