Via CNN: cutout characters, conjecture and CAIR

Islamophobia is back in the news, this time courtesy of CNN. Just in time for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, CNN splashes this headline atop a 1,700-word report:

Rising anti-Islamic sentiment in America troubles Muslims

When you see that headline, what kind of details do you expect the story to provide? At the very least, I expect to find cold, hard facts backing up the claim made.

Not to give away the ending, but this report proves highly disappointing in quantifying the "rising anti-Islamic sentiment." On the bright side, if you enjoy cardboard-cutout crazies, context-free conjecture and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) talking points, you're in for a real treat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, CNN chooses Tennessee as its launching point:

(CNN) – When the nation pauses to remember 9/11 next week, a group of Tennesseans will gather at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Franklin for a commemoration. But it will be more than that.

On the program, called "The Threat in Our Backyard," is a lecture on Islam in public schools and a short film on Sharia finance.

It's a program organized by people who feel the American way of life is threatened by Islam - in particular, Sharia, or Islamic law.

Sharia would bring ruin to America, says Greg Johnson, vice president of the 9/12 Project Tennessee, a sponsor of the event that advocates for shifting government back to the intent of the Constitution's authors.

Who is Johnson? Why does he believe what he does about Sharia and Islam? Wish I could tell you, but Johnson makes just a cameo appearance at the beginning and then disappears.  Later, readers hear from a woman named Cathy Hinners, who is identified only as a "website author" and a scheduled speaker. Again, CNN provides no details on her background or why she believes what she does. The same holds true for a man named Andrew Miller, identified only as a Nashville health-care investor.

Aside from those three off-their-rocker sources (based on CNN's tone), the report mainly focuses on the growing, raging, yet somehow vague anti-Muslim sentiment that "has been swelling across America in recent months."

"In the 11 years since (9/11), we have retreated," says Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University who likes to call himself the Blue Devil Imam.

Muslims make up less than 1% of the U.S. population. Yet, say Muslim advocates, they are a community besieged.

Hate crimes against Muslims spiked 50% in 2010, the last year for which FBI statistics are available. That was in a year marked by Muslim-bashing speech over the Islamic center near ground zero in Manhattan and Florida Pastor Terry Jones' threats to burn Qurans.

A Los Angeles Times story on a Muslim summer camp that I critiqued last week cited a similar statistic on hate crimes against Muslims. That post prompted regular GetReligion reader Passing By to provide a link to a news story noting that hate crimes against Muslims remain relatively rare. Jews, for example, were the victims of hate crimes five times more often than Muslims, according to the latest FBI statistics. Don't look for any such context in the CNN report.

Later in the story, there's this:

This year's holy month of Ramadan, which ended August 19, was marred by a spate of violence at U.S. Islamic centers that included a fire, a homemade bomb and pig parts. The incidents were unprecedented in scale and scope, says the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR is an advocacy organization, not an unbiased source. I would love to have seen CNN quote an FBI agent or a Tennessee law enforcement official on the issue of anti-Muslim sentiment. Are authorities concerned about a rising tide of anti-Muslim violence? Do they believe that such a rising tide actually exists?

Similarly, I would love to have seen CNN quote a few "real people" Muslims on the issue. Do they feel threatened living in Tennessee? Are the anti-Sharia folks part of the mainstream or extremists? The CNN story lacks any middle ground.

Through my work with The Christian Chronicle, I am aware of a minister in Nashville who has worked to increase communication and understanding among Christians and Muslims. I know that The Tennessean recently reported on an event at Lipscomb University, a Christian university, aimed at addressing Americans' misconceptions about Islam. Yet CNN focuses only on the alleged radicals, not on those promoting respect and dialogue among Americans with different religious beliefs.

Is anti-Islamic sentiment really on the rise in America? Based on CNN's report, I couldn't tell you.

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