“The Muslim Scare Story Generator” in the Guardian

Over at the Guardian, Nesrine Malik responds to the rise of racialized scare stories about Muslims in British media with an article that notes the clichés behind these stories and corrects the record with facts:

Underpinning it is a common theme: that there is an ever more muscular and intimidating Muslim minority demanding special rights from a cowed and pandering, lily-livered body politic muzzled by “multicultural Britain” – rather than simply attempting to adapt and integrate, as immigrants of all religions have been doing in the UK for centuries. It’s not hard to see how this constant blurring of facts generates the mood music of anti-immigration rightwingers and establishes common misconceptions about Muslims.

But the threat of a creeping sharia never seems to materialise. It seems to be more of a crawling sharia, so slowly has the Islamist takeover of Britain been, in contrast to the constant media warnings of its imminent arrival.

Here in the States, we are not strangers to racialized, largely baseless stories meant to induce panic in white people, from erroneous tales of voter fraud to the “knock out game” panic that gripped the nation in 2013. As Emma Roller pointed out on Slate at the time, the Knock-Out Game was nothing more than the latest attempt to sow racialized fears about young black men:

Imagine if another national “journalist” started doing the same for, say, any crime committed in Alabama, or any arson charge in the country. People would start to think Alabama was going through a crime epidemic, or that arson was becoming all the rage with criminals. That would be ridiculous, because it’s ridiculous to assume that a few unrelated counts of arson make arson an epidemic. But when you inject race into the equation, it conveniently aligns with the assumptions of people who happen to be racist. That’s the sort of twisted logic that justifies why more than half of the U.S. prison population is made up by black and Hispanic people, even though they comprise a quarter of the total population.

Crime happens to every type of person, and is perpetrated by every type of person. What makes the false narrative of the knockout game—or any “black mob violence” story—crop up every year is the fact that some people will always believe the color of someone’s skin predisposes him to commit a crime. When a few YouTube videos are able to convince terrified white folks that young black people are dangerous, they may as well assume that all cats can play the keyboard.

It’s interesting to see how similarly clichéd stories play out about different marginalized groups in other countries. After all, stereotypes, bias and discrimination are universal human phenomena, so it’s not surprising that every country with a heterogenous population would see that reflected in unfortunate, lazy news stories in the media.

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