"God isn't fixing this," blared the New York Daily News in the wake of the San Bernardino bloodbath.
While that Big Apple tabloid fixated on gun control, the New York Post went a different — albeit equally inflammatory — direction, casting blame for the mass murder of 14 people on "Muslim Killers."
This storyline is, of course, sadly familiar by now.
This was the headline for a story I wrote on Sept. 11, 2001, when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's major daily:
City's Muslims fear backlash of blame
The lede on that story:
A distraught Muslim woman called the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City on Tuesday morning as terrorist attacks rocked the nation.
"She's completely terrified," said Suhaib Webb, imam of the society's mosque. "She's a single woman. She's like, 'What if someone tries to kill me?'
"She's worried that society is going to blame her for this killing."
American Muslim groups rushed Tuesday to condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They cautioned other Americans not to blame followers of Islam until investigators determine who was responsible.
As Oklahoma's roughly 20,000 Muslims dealt with the shock experienced by most Americans, they grappled with another emotion as well: fear. Fear that people would blame them for the tragedies. Fear that 10 years of work to change Oklahomans' perspectives of their religion had been shattered.
More than 14 years later, this is the headline on a Washington Post story today:
After Paris and California attacks, U.S. Muslims feel intense backlash
And the lede by a team of Washington Post writers that includes former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
Rabia Chaudry kept her 7-year-old daughter home from her private Islamic school in Maryland on Thursday, fearing anti-Muslim backlash from Wednesday’s massacre nearly 3,000 miles away in San Bernardino, Calif.
“I think we are all feeling exhausted and very vulnerable,” said Chaudry, a lawyer and national security fellow at the New America Foundation. “I’m angry at those people who did this attack. And I’m angry at how this is being politicized. Everything boils down to, ‘We should fear Muslims. And they shouldn’t be here.’ ”
American Muslims say they are living through an intensely painful moment and feel growing anti-Muslim sentiment after the recent Islamic State attacks in Paris and this week’s San Bernardino shootings, carried out by a Muslim husband and wife.
The motivations of the California killers are still unclear, although authorities are investigating it as a potential act of terrorism. Muslims said they are bracing for an even more toxic climate in which Americans are increasingly suspicious of Muslims.
Muslims say that Americans, like many in Europe, often do not draw a distinction between radical Islamist militants, such as those associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the religion of Islam and its followers who have no ties to extremism.
In its in-depth coverage of the San Bernardino attack, the Los Angeles Times produced a chilling piece on just how commonplace such tragedies have become:
The victims are mind-numbing in their innocence — community college students in Roseburg, Ore.; parishioners in Charleston, S.C.; soldiers at a recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tenn.; the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Yet their deaths have become routine, so much so that our language has changed.
On social media, the talk is of "active shooters" and "AK-47s" and "body armor," all terms rarely heard outside of military and police circles a generation ago but common in an age when everyone can be a reporter or commentator.
It also would be fair to say, I believe, that "Muslim backlash" has entered the lexicon.
This would probably be a good time, by the way, to remind GetReligion readers of a story that the Los Angeles Times' Sarah Parvini wrote earlier this year on Muslims denouncing extremism:
This week, Parvini is a part of the Los Angeles Times team covering the San Bernardino story. And yes, she and her colleagues have tackled the "backlash" angle, even if they didn't use that term:
When Mahmoud Tarifi learned the name of a suspect in Wednesday’s San Bernardino shooting, his heart sank. He said he knew the man may have been Muslim.
After officials announced that Syed Farook was a suspect, members of the faith’s community shared their sense of grief and concern.
Tarifi, a leader at the Islamic Center of Claremont, said American Muslims are accustomed to being targeted and scapegoated whenever violent Islamic extremists commit attacks.
"Every Muslim worries about being victimized," he said. "It's how we felt after 9/11 and after the Paris attacks."
Aslam Abdullah, a Muslim scholar based in San Bernardino, felt a familiar pang in his stomach upon hearing the news.
For journalists, the challenge is to report on the theology of Islamic extremists (however they're described) while giving moderate and mainstream Muslims an opportunity to explain how their non-radical beliefs and practices differ.
Today's Washington Post piece is worth a read, containing some meaty material and a diversity of perspectives, including these:
Muslim leaders are also debating whether they need to apologize each time Islamic extremists carry out an attack, said Adem Carroll, a member of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition in New York.
“If our voice is not included, that silence is interpreted as acquiescence or guilt,” Carroll said. “We’ve been in a position since 9/11 where we have to prove our innocence, which is the opposite of the way it should be.”
Other Muslims think that moderate Muslims need to be more aggressive about denouncing acts of terror and rejecting the Islamic State’s call to establish a caliphate — a Muslim homeland ruled by sharia.
On Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, a group of American Muslims will announce the Muslim Reform Movement, calling on other American Muslims to reject the caliphate and advocate for the equality of men and women.
“We need to deal honestly with issues of extremism,” said Asra Nomani, an author and activist who is part of the group. “As long as Americans see denial and deflection, it feeds distrust.”
Muslims, Nomani says, need to directly address how extremist Muslims interpret the Koran and how that affects church-state relations.
“What we’re struggling with is on the far right, a lot of people who want to deal with Islam in a monolithic way, and on the far left, no one wants to acknowledge there’s a larger problem,” Nomani said. “The truth lies somewhere in the middle. There is an extremism problem. The majority of Muslims don’t live that way, and we have to reclaim a middle path.”
Kudos to the Washington Post — as opposed to the New York Post — for fair and responsible journalism that attempts to provide insight along the full theological spectrum of Islam.
Editor's note for purpose of full disclosure: Bobby Ross Jr. writes occasional freelance stories for The Washington Post.