A Muslim Hero Hidden by Media Bias

A Muslim Hero Hidden by Media Bias

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Arab and Muslim media coverage of the failed car-bombing in New York’s Times Square aimed to fill holes in U.S. mainstream media reporting and expose its biases.

In reporting on how law enforcement was alerted to the bombing attempt, mainstream media, including the New York Times and major U.S. television networks, focused on street venders Lance Orton and Duane Jackson, both Vietnam War veterans. Arab and Muslim commentators, however, used every opportunity to highlight the role of a third vender, Alioune Niass, an observant Muslim immigrant from Senegal.
 
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Al Jazeera English that, “the first credit goes to the street vendors who saw the smoke coming out of the car. One of them is a Muslim, Alioune Niass, from Senegal.” 
 
Major American television news programs did not interview Niass, nor did Pres. Barack Obama personally call him, although he called Orton and Jackson. Niass was simply left out.
 
CAIR-NY decided to name Niass as the recipient of the “Good Samaritan Award” at its annual fundraiser events on May 15.

From the perspective of Muslim Americans, giving credit to Niass is important because it shows Muslims can also be patriotic Americans. They see a missed opportunity to break the media pattern of focusing on Muslim extremists.   
 
An article on the website of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which advocates for the civil rights of American Muslims, stated, “We’ve heard a great deal already about the events that led up to the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, who has confessed to the plot…“But what about the story of Alioune Niass?”

Arab and Muslim media also noted prejudices and stereotypes about Muslims in the coverage of the Times Square incident by U.S. mainstream media.

Mustafa Edib Yilmaz wrote in Today’s Zaman,  “The American media coverage of the failed attack on May 1 turned into a smear campaign against Muslims and the Islamic faith.”
 
Yilaz continued, “CNN contributor and Redstate.com blogger Erick Erickson complained that the words “Muslim” and “Islam” are “not mentioned” enough in stories about Shahzad,” Yilaz then cities what Erickson wrote in his blog: “It really is pathetic that you’re more likely to see the words ‘racist’ and ‘Republican’ together in the newspaper these days than ‘terrorism’ and ‘Islam.’”

Loonwatch.com, a web site that exposes anti-Muslim commentators and sentiments, points out that on May 5, the “Washington Post-published Express features a black-and-white photo of Shahzad with the sensationalist headline ‘MADE IN PAKISTAN.’”

While Muslim-American groups and organizations condemned the Times Square incident using the strongest language, that did not stop some from equating Islam with terrorism.  When CNN's 360 host Anderson Cooper asked comedian Bill Maher whether he agreed with Muslims who say that Islam is a religion of peace, Maher responded, "Yes, they blow you up. There's a piece of you over there. There's a piece of you over there.”
 
Of course, Muslims are outraged by Maher comments, but they also are troubled by the fact that CNN and HBO, which airs Maher’s own show, are allowing these kinds of comments to be broadcast.

Nihad Awad, told Al Jazeera English, “I believe, unfortunately because it is politically convenient for some media outlets and political commentators just to link and focus these things to Islam and Muslims, because unfortunately it is music to the ear of so many people.”