Heartland authenticity: Praise for one paper's nuanced coverage of post-Trump Muslims

In the wake of President-elect Donald Trump's election, one of the prevailing — and predictable — storylines has been the plight of Muslims in the U.S.

It's sort of the post-election version of the "Muslim backlash" stories that follow any terrorist attack by an Islamic radical.

Among the major news organizations where I've seen such reports: CNN, the Dallas Morning News, the Detroit News, National Public Radio and Religion News Service.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (among others) reported this week:

Hate crimes increased nearly 7% in 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday, a rise that was driven partly by a sharp increase in anti-Muslim incidents, which rose 67%.

At the same time, some are skeptical of claims of a "post-election hate crime epidemic." 

And in his post Tuesday, GetReligion's Ira Rifkin delved into reports "that Trump secretly reached out to Arab embassies in Washington to say they should simply ignore his anti-Muslim campaign statements."

So — on this subject matter — where does the politically correct narrative end and the actual news begin? Some of that may depend on one's own biases and life experiences. A few of the reports cited above are better than others, and I'll acknowledge that I didn't have time to digest each word of all of them.

But I do want to endorse a piece by Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times. Kaleem — the former award-winning national religion writer for the Huffington Post — now serves as the Los Angeles Times' national race and justice reporter, a role in which he frequently calls upon his Godbeat experience and expertise. He is, by way of full disclosure, a journalist I've praised in the past here at GetReligion.

For his latest story, Kaleem ventures to America's Heartland:

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On a church-lined street in this eastern Iowa city, not far from the cornfields that define the region, Syrian, Indian and Somalian families trickled into a white building topped with a blue minaret. They were full of questions and praying for answers.
“This is a wake-up call,” Ramsey Ali, a 29-year-old graduate student, told the crowd of 50 gathered at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids. “We have to do something.”
These heartland Muslims, who belong to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the United States, had gathered in search of relief and unity.
Instead, they found themselves just as divided as the rest of the nation.

What makes this report rise above the rest? For one thing, Kaleem focuses on real Muslims as opposed to talking-head advocates who often dominate the news. For another, he actually listens to what they have to say and doesn't force a specific storyline.

As a result, this story feels real and authentic: The Los Angeles Times puts readers right in the middle of an actual discussion by American Muslims. And Kaleem's piece reflects the nuance and contradictions in what those in the room have to say:

“You know, everyone keeps saying his win is from racism from white people and people that hate Islam. Not everyone who supports him is a bigot. My neighbor supported Trump. He had a sign in his yard,” said Mokhtar Sadok, a 51-year-old Tunisian American engineer. “He knows we’re Muslim. We’re friendly.” 
“No, I think it’s definitely the white people. I work with them,” whispered an Indian American woman.
Ali asked whether Muslims should debate with Trump voters and people who disliked Islam. Fake news on Trump and Hillary Clinton, including false sources on Islam, had proliferated during the campaign, spreading on Facebook.
“When you put yourself into the situation where you debate Islam and another religion, it can do more harm than good. Do we really want to debate, or do we want to just say what Islam is and walk away?” said an African American woman. Earlier, she said she thought people had been trailing her car in recent weeks because they saw her hijab.
Ali asked whether uniting with other minorities was the key to a better public understanding of Islam under Trump.
“The best way to help ourselves is to help others,” said Brittanie Shah, a 31-year-old white convert to Islam who is a teacher in North Liberty, Iowa. “Part of me is like, ‘People should really rally behind us,’ but were we rallying around other minority groups before? I know some beliefs like LBGT rights are in conflict with our religion. But it seems disingenuous to ask for support until we support others.”
Her husband, Faraz Shah, suggested an easier way to make allies. “I’m from conservative southwestern Indiana. After 9/11, we began to do international food fairs to get people to meet Muslims. We could try that here,” he said.

I'll resist the urge to copy and paste more large chunks of the story. Instead, I'll urge you to read it.

Read it all.

Inset image via Jaweed Kaleem

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