Are Muslims allowed to be Sympathetic Victims in US Media, or only Perpetrators?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Libyan activist Hend Amry makes an important point about the relative lack of interest of television news in stories such as the persecution of the Burmese (Myanmar) Muslims by the Buddhist establishment:

When Muslims are perpetrators, as in Brussels, Paris and Barcelona, the mass media often goes into 24/7 coverage mode usually reserved for natural disasters and Trump’s tweet storms.

But the horrific attacks on the Rohingya Muslims of Burma (Myanmar), which have forced thousands to flee in recent days, have elicited no interest. I did keyword searches for Rohingya, Burma and Myanmar in Broadcast News in a major database. I got lots of hits for the BBC and AsianNews and a few from EuroNews. Nothing from US networks or cable news in the past week. Nothing. As a control, I searched Hurricane Harvey, and got hits from all the major US television media on the front page. In other words, a major human rights crisis is invisible to viewers of American television news.

As for other Muslim victims, I don’t need to bother to research. You will almost never see any mention in US television news of the severe human rights violations daily perpetrated by Israelis against the Palestinians of the West Bank, including theft of property, destruction of buildings and orchards, and assault. This is a low-intensity human rights catastrophe and has been going on for decades. But if Palestinians victimize Jews in Israel, then it is another 24/7 blanket coverage. It should be, and Jews should not be victimized. But you also have to cover what is being done to Palestinians who are militarily occupied.

Or take Yemen, which is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world now that al-Assad has won the civil war for the moment. The United States is backing the Saudi-led war on Yemen to the hilt, with logistical support and even help in choosing targets to bomb. The bombing began in spring of 2015. By now, you have millions living on the edge, who could fall into starvation is just one more thing went wrong. (Social scientists call this being “food insecure”). You have a massive cholera outbreak. Not to mention the people killed or wounded by Saudi and allied air strikes. Whatever you think of the battling sides in the war, surely we can all agree that the children being victimized are innocent.

But you’d go blind scanning the television in the US for news about the Yemen war. And remember, it is to some extent an American war! NBC’s intrepid Richard Engel, among the best in the business, is an exception here but even he hasn’t been given more than a spot or two over the past two years.

As for ISIL, most of its victims have been Muslims, but you’d never know that from the television news coverage.

In the old days, print newspapers were an important avenue for people to get news, but they have been eclipsed (even for our “president”) by broadcast news. And broadcast news is doing such a bad and imbalanced job of covering the world for viewers that it should be sued for malpractice or false advertising (I can almost never find any actual news on cable news channels).

The prejudices of top cable and network news executives are warping the consciousness of our whole country. In this bizarro world, Muslims are never victims and never presented sympathetically, while whenever some emerge as perpetrators, they are made out to be ten feet tall.

No wonder we’ve ended up with a president, shaped by right wing cable and you tube news “services,” who wants to ban Muslims. The prejudices of our billionaires are defining what “news” is and distorting national policy in dangerous ways.


Related video:

AP: “Airstrike hits hotel in Yemen, many dead”

8 Responses

  1. The US public’s interest in the Rohingya has not been aroused nor would it suit media to rouse it since it wouldn’t increase ratings or put on readers. Once US media was indeed a proud source of world news but today it has abrogated that role and become entertainment, providing glib, two dimensional 24/7 low key emotional pornography. But can one blame the media when US leaders have no interest in the fate of persecuted Arab minorities? Tillerson isn’t raising these issues, they might become newsworthy if he did. To a large extent this is a US issue, the world’s global police. Just taking the Rohingya, look at Le Monde link to or Die Welt link to or the Swedish Aftonbladet link to One could go on forever.

  2. I believe at least 75% of Americans are … brainwashed by the corrupt news & the lack of real honest news they get from the TV and radio, including PBS news.

    Money corruptly controls America, Americans and their educational complex which excludes wisdom, independent thinking, heart and morality. Emphasis placed on memory, competition and being the best. Having a great memory is not a prerequisit for wisdom, morality and heart.

    For over 20 years I’ve told people that I know and that I meet about and Out of about 3,000 individuals, including college/university professors, professionals, common folk and strangers only six indivduals knew of Cole.

    End Money’s Systemic Corruption and Control
    1. Carefully close down the Military Industrial Complex.
    2. Carefully close down the Federal Reserve, a private corporation, not in Government Pages of phone books
    3. Prohibit multiple millionaires with a family fortune or a family yearly income greater than $2 or $300,000 from holding any elected or appointed public office: federal, state, county and city.

    Excuse errors, I’m dyslexic in memory, storage and recall.

    • The people can be brainwashed by the actual news but not by the lack of news as you suggest, and as Mr Cole points out, the media go overboard when a Muslim has targeted a ‘Western Country, but has nothing to say about atrocities perpetrated by Muslims against Muslims or horrendous death and destruction by Western country’s bombs. Indeed, its only when the perpetrator of death and destruction in chief (currently Assad) commits some heinous alleged war crime that the media gushes tears of feigned anguish and shows pictures of children caught up in the mayhem. The mass of the people watch only main stream news outlets and only a tiny tiny tiny fraction of people like you and me read well informed sites like this one. You may recall the rather comical speech by Donald Rumsfeld where he driveled on about you can’t know what you don’t know and an unknown is an unknown etc, well something like that.

  3. The legendary Speaker of The House , Tip O’Neill, used to say “all politics are local”. A corollary might be “all values are local”. No US media outlet would dare make a comparison of the humanitarian hardships in Houston and the hardships in Mosul.

    Of course, that makes it much easier for a US president to drop a bomb wherever he so chooses in the “them” world.

  4. If 2 – 4 million Jews or Christians were killed by Muslim nations, would the Jews or Christians take it lightly, or would they be outraged and retaliate? Many world agencies have estimated millions of Muslim have been killed by Western nations for the past few decades, and with the anti Muslim campaign started, and funded by pro Israeli Americans (like Nina Rosenwald), it has always been portrayed that it is Muslims who are the aggressors, and any innocent civilians killed by drones or bombs, either deserve it, or the Western nations and media simply shrugs it off.

  5. It’s not just the billionaires. The terrorists have poisoned the opinion of ordinary people towards Muslims. Which is what terrorists and their Islamist supporters want: a permanent gulf between the West and Islam, so that Islam would be free of Western influence forever.

  6. For many in the U.S., everything is either black or white. It is the cowboy mentality of bad guys on black horses and good guys on white horses. It is the American brand of Manichaeism, a struggle between a good world of light, and an evil world of darkness. Every group of people must be put in one or the other of those two categories.

    In contemporary America, white Christians are good and brown Muslims are evil. There are no bad Christians (the Oklahoma bombing does not exist in the collective memory) and there are no good Muslims.

    In 2007, the Canadian TV series “Little Mosque on the Prairie” began a 5-year run on the Canadian Broadcast System. It was a popular sitcom about a small Muslim community in rural Saskatchewan. Since they had no mosque, the local Anglican priest let them rent a meeting room in his church. That is the Canadian way. In Qu├ębec City, the Roman Catholic Chapel at Laval University has allowed Muslim students and professors to hold Friday prayers there for over 30 years.

    In 2008, the Fox Network bought the rights to make an American adaptation of Little Mosque, but never did. Neither the original series nor an adaption has NEVER aired on any major U.S. network, in spite of being well received in France, Francophone Africa, Israel (!), United Arabic Emirates, Finland and Turkey. In English Canada, the shows ratings were on a par with ratings for popular U.S. shows available in Canada.

    The U.S. audience wants to see gritty action shows about “real” Muslim–terrorists killing innocent people; they do not want to be confused by stories about ordinary Muslims going about their every day lives.

    Today, the stereotypers have a leader in the White House. It has been reported that Donald Trump once fired a black accountant for not working hard enough. “Laziness is a trait in blacks,” he said. He preferred someone from another ethnicity in that job. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day,” he said. (link to

    When many Americans paint a picture, they use a broad brush: exceptionalism, nativism, jingoism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, anti-Catholicism, ethnocentrism, etc. No need for nuance.

  7. The genocide in Burma is being covered on the MSM in Canada, .

    It comes down to what sells ads and the Burma situation doesn’t sell ads. Unless a big “star” get behind something, not much gets done in the press and even then I suspect its initially done because its a “star”, then the ball gets rolling and it sells.

    its easier for people to see things in black and white and that is how most things are presented here in North America. it sells, its cheap, and corporations and their owners love it. there is always some one else to blame and to blame some one they need to be a minority in that country. god help the American press when all that is left in the U.S.A. is white trash.

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