By now many of you have seen the disturbing “Hate Comes to Orange County” video, featuring a group of angry white conservatives (including at least two Republican officials) yelling vile insults and harassing a group of Muslim women, men and children attending a charitable function. My friend Emily L. Hauser wrote a brilliant piece about it here, and I encourage you to read it. But while that particular protest was heated and over the top – shocking even by the standards of, say, Rep. Pete King (R-NY) and his modern day HUAC-like inquisition into “radicalized” Islam – less strident manifestations of anti-Muslim prejudice are nearly ubiquitous on the right these days, so much so that I wonder if the average Fox “News” viewer even notices any more.
Consider, for example, the way Fox “News” covered the story of a cab driver in New York City who apparently became angry with four individuals, and so he rammed them with his cab. The New York Daily News reported: “A cabbie who refused to drive four friends in Manhattan home to the Bronx deliberately plowed his cab into them on Sunday, leaving one critically injured, police said,” without any mention of the cab driver’s race, ethnicity or religion. But on the Fox “News” website, the headline read: “Muslim Cabbie Arrested for Ramming Passengers in Manhattan.”
Media Matters for America, noting that a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found a “significant correlation between trust in Fox News and negative attitudes about Muslims,” states the obvious:
Presumably, the Fox Nation writer saw that his name was Mohammed Azam and went ahead and made the leap.
Now, this is not to defend what the driver did in any way. If he did what he is accused of, he has very clearly broken the law. However, at least from the article Fox Nation links to, there is no indication that his religion had anything to do with his actions. According to the New York Daily News, he refused to take passengers from Manhattan to the Bronx, resulting in an argument and leading to the alleged hit-and-run.
The only reason Fox Nation leads the headline with the word “Muslim” is to stir up their bigoted commenters. Based on a quick check of their comments section, it’s working.
Sure seems that way, doesn’t it?
But it was a story I saw yesterday on the Chicago Reader’s website that served as a harsh reminder that anti-Muslim bigotry – both the intensely nasty variety exhibited recently in Orange County and the softer, almost unthinking variety exhibited by Fox “News’” coverage of the New York cab driver story – can have dire, even violent consequences:
Filmmaker Usama Alshaibi
was claims to have been beaten in an anti-Arab attack Saturday night in Fairfield, Iowa, where he moved with his wife Kristie last summer after 16 years in Chicago.
Alshaibi had posted a response video on Friday to the viral Hate Comes to Orange County video, which depicts protesters threatening Muslim families and children with violence. Alshaibi's response essentially said “it’s our country too.”
The Baghdad-born, Iowa-bred Alshaibi is in progress on the Kartemquin Films documentary American Arab, about his own and other Arabs’ experience growing up in the U.S. with dual identities.
Walking home alone after dinner with a friend late Saturday, Alshaibi happened upon a house party. He writes in a statement (reprinted with permission):
“I spoke with a girl standing outside the house where I heard the sounds. I asked her ‘where’s the party?’ She said ‘The party’s upstairs.’ The door was open. I went into the house and up the stairs. As I entered someone asked me who I was. I told them my name — Usama. At that point I was hit by someone in the sides and the face. My glasses were knocked off my face. Someone said ‘How dare you come in here, you sand nigger. Fucking Usama Bin Laden, you sand nigger.’ Four young men began beating me as I tried to leave. I told them to please stop and that I was leaving. I ended up on the ground outside the house where they continued to kick me in the face repeatedly, and kept calling me ‘sand nigger.’ I tried to cover my face with my arms to block the blows.”
According to the Reader, the Fairfield, Iowa, police department is treating the incident as a hate crime.
Of course, the matter is still under investigation and it will be awhile before all the facts are known. Sadly, though, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the events unfolded more or less exactly the way Mr. Alshaibi described them in his written statement. Not because I want to believe this kind of thing still happens in America, but because the constant drumbeat of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country – most of it coming from the right – sometimes makes me question the goodness of my fellow Americans.
© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.