Certain sections of the media have been reticent to identify Ahmad Khan Rahami’s Muslim identity in their coverage of his attack.
New York bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami, who stands accused of setting a pressure cooker bomb in Chelsea which injured 29 people on Saturday, has been charged in a criminal complaint. Rahami was arrested after a shootout on Monday.
He is also suspected of planting bombs in Seaside Park and Elizabeth, New Jersey.
After the shootout, police recovered a journal containing Islamist rhetoric and praise for known terrorist groups and ideologies.
“I looked for guidance came Sheikh Anwar, Brother Adnani, Dawla. Said it clearly – Attack the kuffar (non-believer) in the back yard,” Rahami wrote, referencing American Al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed in a drone strike in 2011 and the Islamic State’s spokesperson Abu Muhammad al Adnani who was killed in August. (Dawla is an honorific term for a ruler or senior statesman.)
Adnani issued frequent calls to Westerners to carry out terrorist attacks within their home countries.
Rahami also wrote, “The sounds of bombs will be heard in the streets.”
The federal complaint makes mention of Rahami’s support for Al-Qaeda, but not his support for the Islamic State. However, an official told Fox News that more charges and complaints would most likely be brought and the complaint may be included later on.
Pictures of the journal, which is covered in blood from the shootout, are available on Fox News.
Yet networks such as NBC downplayed or ignored Rahami’s faith. The Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor assessed coverage of the attack and found that many news outlets sought to downplay possible links to terrorism as a motivation.
ABC and CBS focused on the fact that Rahami’s family filed a suit a few years ago against the local mayor and police alleging they had been subjected to anti-Muslim harassment.
USA Today wrote a piece on Tuesday which did not mention Rahami’s Muslim faith.
There are several reasons why the press and the government might want to downplay the Islamist motivations behind a terrorist attack:
To Avoid Mass Panic
The desire to avoid mass panic by presenting the incident as calmly as possible may be a factor. While some may say this is a laudable goal, it sacrifices the virtue of accuracy. Media are supposed to bring their audience the truth in order to help them make informed decisions about the world.
Also, it remains questionable if an incident such as this would cause mass panic in the American public.
To Downplay the Influence of Islamist Terror Groups
The press and government may think that they are avoiding strengthening Islamist terrorist groups by not giving them the oxygen of publicity for their ideas. If an attack carried out in the name of Islamist terrorism is not widely reported as such, then, so says this logic, the attack will be less effective.
Yet, if we are unable to accurately discern the motives we will not be able to construct effective solutions. Misdiagnosing the problem can lead to misapplication of solutions and therefore it behooves the media to give all the information it can in their coverage.
To Avoid Accusations of Islamophobia
Our politically correct society is hyper-focused on avoiding accusations of Islamophobia. Highlighting the perpetrator’s Islamic faith may be perceived as causing undue distress to the Muslim community by putting them under the spotlight. No one wants to be a bigot or to be accused of bigotry. Neither do people want to make a community uncomfortable in an increasingly tense climate.
But the rationale is misguided. The fastest way to combat anti-Muslim bigotry is to deal with the menace of Islamist extremism and put a stop to it. Once that is done, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims will improve and anti-Muslim bigots will lose credibility.
Contrary to the goal of decreasing bigotry, obfuscating in this way actually increases it, since people feel there is a cover-up.
Lack of Importance in the Eyes of the Media
News organizations may have actually convinced themselves that Rahami’s Muslim faith is not an important part of the story. However, if this is really their reason, they are simply wrong. As his own journal shows, his radical ideology was a major factor in motivating him to carry out the attack.
Failing to mention Rahami’s faith is not only poor journalism, it’s an omission of necessary facts.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Ahmed Rahami superimposed over his journal. (Photo: © House Homeland Security Committee)