After 9/11, I read a letter to the editor in a local newspaper. The writer, angry about the events that transpired, demanded answers on why Muhammad Ali could “draft dodge” the Vietnam War, stating that if Muslims didn’t believe in war, why were they waging war with us now? He demanded that Ali be recognized as the draft dodger he was. The writer ironically ignored the fact that George W. Bush had also not participated in the Vietnam War. But that’s besides the point.
On 12 June 2016, Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where he opened fire and killed 49 people and injured 53 others. It was labeled as the United States’ deadliest shootings by a single shooter. Mateen died in a shootout with local police.
When news of Mateen’s doings reached social network sites like Twitter, the conservative right was quick to remind us that Mateen was Muslim with possible connections to terrorist organizations.
The portrayal of Muslims (or any non-white criminals) in the media – be it social or mainstream media – is always the same. Mateen was violent because he was Muslim, not violent because he suffered from some mental condition. The idea of the lone wolf shooter exists only for white men.
We never hear about Stephen Paddock’s religion. Never a peep about what church James Holmes went to. We did hear about how troubled Adam Lanza was before entering Sandy Hook and killed 26 people, 20 of which were children. It’s never the onus of the white population to explain the hate or violent crimes carried by their own race, but they expect it from others.
In their poem, “Why Are Muslims So…,” poets Sakila and Hawa discuss what it’s like to be Muslim in America.