Race, Gender and Media: Affirmative Action and Inconsistencies in Media Reaction to Stories Concerning Islam

This is the second of six weekly blogs for my J375 class, Race, Gender and Media. This week I will offer my opinion on two subjects discussed in class: affirmative action, and the different media reactions to the building of a mosque near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor’s intention to burn the Koran.

It was fitting that I found this video shortly after we touched on the pros and cons of affirmative action in class:

Affirmative action is discrimination. Period. To argue for giving an advantage to one person over another based on race or national origin is discrimination. Regardless of the motivations or inclinations behind this discrimination, the fact that it is indeed discrimination is irrefutable.

If the argument is that certain races or groups need some kind of institutional “leg-up” in order to succeed, that argument is an insult to whatever race is being “helped.” I would like to quote a couple sources of which I am quite fond:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The first is a portion of the Declaration of Independence, the document that the founders of our country wrote and signed to express the type of society that a free people should enjoy, in which no person is discriminated against based on where he may come from. We are created equal. The second comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech that marked the beginning of this ideal becoming a reality in our country.

Nowhere do I read anything that expresses or implies that any group of people should be punished because of the sins of their fathers.

To promote affirmative action is to keep alive the idea that we need to be categorized into arbitrary groups in order to understand ourselves. I believe this idea runs contrary to the American ideals of individual worth and merit. Our success is defined by what we do, rather than who our parents were or how much melanin is in our skin. If we want to value ourselves as human beings, we have a desperate need to eschew the notion that human beings are defined by the bodies we inhabit. To do otherwise is to keep ourselves divided forever.

The second topic I wish to discuss is the different responses to two similar events: the building of a mosque near the location of one of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the intention of a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran, the Islamic holy text. These events were touched upon by our guest lecturer, Ammina Kothari.

The events were similar in that they both offended the sensibilities of a large group of people, and many people expressed displeasure as a response. In both cases, the group of people protesting the event acknowledged the offending party’s right to do whatever it was they wanted to do. However, the offended group of people said that the planned event was insensitive to others, and advised the planners to not do whatever they planned to do.

In the case of the Florida pastor attempting to burn the Koran, the outrage caused him to decide against carrying forth the action. He was not stopped by force, but by thinking better of his plan after hearing many people exercise their right of free speech in objection to it. The news media largely cheered the objections and the final decision.

The media did not behave the same way in response to the objections to the mosque being built in New York. They largely disparaged the protesters, repeating again and again the points that Islam did not cause the terrorist attacks and that the mosque planners had only the best intentions for the location (both of which the protestors largely acknowledged.)

This brought memory of a similar event in 1993 in which Pope John Paul II ordered nuns to remove their convent from Auschwitz, acquiescing to the offended sensibilities of the Jewish population. It can hardly be argued that Roman Catholicism caused the Holocaust, yet a decision was made that was agreeable to both parties: the nuns simply moved their convent to a different location.

Why couldn’t the New York situation have resulted in a similar outcome?

Even though most agree that Islam does not support the mass murder of innocents, the attackers themselves believed that they were acting in concordance with Islamic doctrine. Thus, many New Yorkers viewed the possibility of a new thirteen-story mosque near the site of the horrific attack as a rather painful prospect. Even if the intentions were good, as I’m sure they were at the convent in Auschwitz, the people around that location thought the decision was insensitive, and expressed themselves accordingly. Especially in our country, which prides itself on free speech, why should they be disparaged for doing so? And why the double standard for those protesting the Koran-burning event?

This example is just part of an overall trend that I find troubling. I personally feel that since 9/11, there has been a monumental effort to convince Americans that Islam is a religion of peace that in no way supports the acts of terror conducted by a small minority of individuals. However true this may be, we may be overshooting the mark. I feel we do a disservice to our understanding of these attacks by distancing ourselves from the fact that these terrorists do not feel Islam is a religion of peace. If we do not allow ourselves to understand the minds and motivations of these zealots, how can we expect to ultimately be victorious in our fight against them?

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