Monday, November 23, 2009

The Ford Hood Massacre and the Media Coverage

The Fort Hood Massacre and the Media Coverage
Americans have been traumatized once again by the costume of a hideous silhouette knocking on their TV screens on November 5, five days after the Halloween. Lurking against the backdrop of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was the horrifying “simulacrum” of an American Muslim in American military uniform at Fort Hood: Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
Unfortunately, this was not a party, but a heinous shooting spree, killing 13 people, and wounding 38 others. The massacre of American soldiers on the American soil, and, more importantly, on a military base has, in turn, triggered off the long-wonted denouncement of Islam or Muslims in totality. Yet another “Muslim” was caught in flagrante delicto. After all, that is what “those guys” are about!   
Crime and terror have no religion, race, gender, nationality, and social or economic status. However, individualism, which underlies core “American values,” does not count when a Muslim “individual” perpetrates a crime, or massacre. Right after the initial newsreels run, totalizing, demonizing, and stigmatizing comments follow in the media.
The metonymic displacement creates its own system of visual signifiers to create cultural semantics of its own. “Islam” has become a shibboleth for “terror,” and “Muslim” has become synonymous with “terrorist.” It must be the community of Muslims in the US or across the world to account for the crime! The individual has, then, replaced the communal; the self-centered, the ethno-centered, and the prototype, the stereotype.
After all, “this is America,” and all the US citizens are equal as long as they do not forget that some fellow citizens are more equal! Jews, Catholics, Hispanics, Chinese, blacks (and women of all races) have paid their dues in history for sins they have not collectively committed. It is Muslims now, already stigmatized, and ethnically profiled, who must be collectively apologetic on behalf of some coreligionist who has committed atrocities. 
Undoubtedly, let alone this particular massacre, killing of any kind is odious whatever purpose it might be deluded to serve. No Abrahamic religion will ever beckon its followers to kill innocent people. The Koran, in particular, declares that killing a human being is tantamount to killing “all humanity.” Needless to say, when the crime is individual, not committed by a community, the accusation or condemnation should be made along the individual lines, and not extended to members of the same family, community, nationality, ethnicity or faith. McCarthyism may be lingering on in the minds of cynical circles as a panacea, but it has no validity in a globalized World.
There are no religiously transmitted crimes as genetically transmitted diseases. When Timothy McVeigh, a US Army veteran and security guard, bombed Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, he was intending “to inspire” a revolt against a “tyrannical” federal government. There was no media quest, then, for his origins in a Catholic Irish upbringing, Republicanism, or libertarianism. There was no reference to his potential reading of the Gospel according to Matthew where Jesus says: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
No Christian, no Catholic, no one of Irish descent felt guilty about McVeigh’s crime simply because they happened to have something in common with him. Yet with Muslims, the case is diametrically opposite. Any individual, Muslim or non-Muslim, engaged in a criminal or terrorist act, should be punished in the strictest sense possible. It is the individual who has to pay for the crime he has committed. 
The media coverage of the Fort Hood massacre has been deplorably biased. Journalism in America at times fails to convey the news calmly.  Reading newspapers is a democratic exigency, but a certain segment of the media has long assumed a tantalizing mission to shape the society rather than inform it. Thomas Jefferson complained about a similar phenomenon in his time, foreshadowing similar practices today:  "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.” Should the American public waver between ignoring the newspaper and remain “uninformed,” or peruse the newspaper, and grow “misinformed”?  
Moreover, the TV coverage of the massacre has been overwhelmingly opinionated rather than meticulously studied. Subliminal images have incessantly rolled before our eyes intending to create some “déjà vu” effect to be followed by a “butterfly effect.” The seemingly holistic perspective, then, supplants the totalizing; the information, the judgment; the commentary, the religious exegesis; the broadcasting, Orientalism; the embrace, the ostracism. Muslims at home and abroad are not necessarily their “brother’s keeper.” They are bitterly aware of the trauma that the 9/11 inflicted on fellow citizens, and PTSD. Indeed, they have suffered it, too. Innocent of the crime and struggling to prove that they are innocent, Muslims would hanker for a  less cynical journalism. The journalism enthusiastic about exploring the “objective” reality is always better rather than the one zealous to recreate the reality through the objective. It is high time we corrected what is wrong in the US with what is right in this country.  The US has the potential to tackle times of hardship. as long as the Lady of Liberty’s torch keeps sparkling on penumbras of consciousness.


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