NYP cartoon: creating doubt, justifying hate

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By Dr. Aref Assaf

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Attacks on American Muslims continue unabated. The tabloid, The New York Post, must not add to the stigma that American Muslim citizens face.

The Post published a cartoon by Sean Delonas on Friday, February 24, 2012, where it showed hook-nosed, turban-covered terrorist working on bombs with an NYPD car outside his home. A terrorist is shown phoning the Associated Press (the news agency that uncovered hundreds of secret documents detailing the NYPD spying activities).

The caption says, “Hello, AP Press? . . .I’d like to register a complaint against the N.Y.P.D. for spying on us.”

Looking at the depiction showing people preparing some explosives actually makes me laud the NYPD for spying on a supposedly Muslim terrorist. He ( and others in the room) definitely appear to be planning to use the bomb to kill innocent civilians. Such preemptive work by our law enforcement agencies is what makes us sleep at night and go about our lives fully confident that those who are entrusted with our security are doing their job to stop crime before it happens. Here is a case where spying is not just good, but actually legal, justified and will produce the intended results for which law enforcement exists.

Unfortunately, the cartoon does not represent the reality, the effectiveness, and ultimate objectives of NYPD spying on American citizens. The multi-year, multi-state espionage program was not based on solid leads of impending illegal activities. It was a mass witch-hunt not guided by the probability of illegal activities of an individual or a group of people. As the AP’s uncovered documents revealed, the spying was motivated only by an ideology that criminalized the faith of the target community. Being a Muslim was sufficient to cause for casting a net of suspicion that penetrated not only our homes, mosques, and work, but also public institutions such as libraries and universities. If the NYPD was searching for terrorists, they found none otherwise; they would now be showing proof of their efforts. But they only found Muslims.

The cartoon sadly reinforces the fallacies that American Muslims cannot be trusted, for they are always conspiring to bring harm to fellow citizens. Portraying innocent Muslims as deceitful, gun-toting, bomb-making terrorists is the Post’s message. The demonization of six million Americans is almost complete.

This myth is taking hold because bigots all over the Internet are advocating it. Moreover, the stigma has become more sinister because it has seeped into our popular culture in which cartoons are powerful expressions.
The lynching of American Muslims reached its zenith when it was adopted and promoted by elected public officials and public institutions. Elected officials and even presidential candidates compete for votes on who hates Americans Muslim more. When hate becomes the driving reason for discriminating against millions of American citizens, America retreats from its promise of justice and equality before the law.

Spare me the free speech excuse. I recognize this controversy raises profound tensions – between freedom of speech and mutual respect, ethics of satire and sanctity, shared values and co-existence, perceived western arrogance and Muslim victimhood. My short answer is this: Free speech becomes hate speech when guilt by association becomes its aim. Free speech becomes criminally liable when it fosters hatemongering and subsequently justifies violence, emotional and physical upon fellow citizens.

American Muslims are good citizens and their faith does not render them lesser citizens. Perpetuating hatred is wrong and serves no admirable purpose. Sleazy and utterly hurtful cartoons are not marks of responsible journalism. (The cartoon will not stain these pages; look for it elsewhere.)

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