How the media educated me this week

Terrorism
by Andrée Seu Peterson

Posted on Friday, January 9, 2015, at 1:27 pm

A horrific incident occurs involving a magazine, France, and 12 people dead, and we brace ourselves for the coming headlines. Then we will know better how to think about the matter.

CNN soon obliges by answering some of the journalistic “W’s” and the “H” in the first two paragraphs:  “What?” Charlie Hebdo. “When?” Wednesday. “Where?” Paris. “How?” Guns.

But “why?” Ah, there’s the rub. Paragraph 2 could go in any direction at this point. It could situate the killings in the context of the ongoing murderous rampages in the Middle East. It could say the “why” is because Islam is a bunch of thugs bent on the destruction of Western civilization.

But this is not in fact what the remainder of paragraph 2 says. It says that “the French satirical magazine … has a controversial history of depicting Mohammed often in an unfavorable light, which has angered many Muslims around the world.”

Oh dear, what an awkward situation. CNN has ferreted out the enemy—and the enemy is us!

Does paragraph 3 get us back on track (after paragraph 2’s interesting digression informing us of the hurt feelings of Muslims due to our boorishness) and return to the brutality of the massacre? Nope. The following paragraphs will expand sympathetically on the theme of hurt feelings, even subtly praising Muslim scruples against idol worship: “The prohibition agains[t] illustrating the Prophet Mohammed began as an attempt to ward off idol worship, which was widespread in Islam’s Arabian birthplace.”

At this point we are almost ready to click “Like” on the three black-clad assailants’ Facebook pages and salute their cry: “We have avenged the Prophet!” They are noble avengers. Or if not noble, at least understandable. And understanding terrorists is “smart power,” according to presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. It is “showing respect, even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and … empathize with their perspective and point of view.” You do want to be on the side of “smart power,” not “dumb power,” don’t you?

The CNN article goes on for many paragraphs, most of them a remedial education in the religious scruples of Islam, the better to help you and me not be so darned offensive in the future. That way we will not bring more trouble on ourselves. If Charlie Hebdo had not run such an insensitive cover in its November 2011 issue, it would not have got its office burned down (note the passive voice). If it had not continued on its path of insensitivity in the September 2012 issue depicting Muhammad naked, Wednesday’s incident in Paris might not have happened. Let this be a lesson to Charlie and the rest of us. To ensure we don’t wake up dead in our bed some morning with a Kalashnikov bullet in our head, let’s work on being more polite.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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