Q&A: Rugiatu Conteh of CAIR Philadelphia on Media’s Response to Boston
Since the bombings in Boston last week and the subduing of the suspects responsible, there’s been a lot of speculation in the national media regarding the motives of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, both of whom are Muslims originally from the Chechnyan region of Russia.
On Fox News, “liberal” commentator Bob Beckel suggested Muslim students should now be barred from coming to the United States. Fox and Friends host Brian Kilmeade seems to believe the U.S. should implant “listening devices” in mosques around the country and Bill O’Reilly shouted down the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, who noted the two brothers were not representative of all of Islam.
With that in mind, Philadelphia Weekly caught up with Rugiatu Conteh, Outreach and Communications Director at Council on American-Islamic Relations Philadelphia, for her take on the matter.
PW: Some of the mainstream media have taken a big hit with regard to the Boston bombings of last week – like the New York Post publishing several rumors about a Saudi national, and publishing the now-infamous “Bag men” pictures. What do you think about the way the media’s covered the story so far?
Conteh: The underlying question posed to media professionals who decide to engage in speculation, especially during an ongoing investigation - is it best practices to circulate rumors rather than to report factual information? When we received calls from some media outlets asking about responses from the Muslim community, there was already presumption or a slant of backlash against Muslim community members. This sentiment is coming from a genuine place, but if you ask any person of conscience about initial thoughts during a national tragedy he or she would say that my heart goes out to the victims. Muslims in our community are no exception. When I first heard about the bombings, I thought about the victims and their families. How their lives have been disrupted by senseless acts of violence, and how the people of Boston felt insecurity and fear in the search for the suspects.
Obviously, talk radio and slanted media have taken upon themselves to label this as Islamic extremism. Drudge referred to it as a “Boston jihad” and I’ve heard at least one Philly radio host call it that already. Are you worried about people coming to conclusions about the attackers’ motivations before any real evidence comes out?
We have reached an unfortunate point in our national discussion that conclusions are made without facts. It is still unclear whether, and to what extent the perpetrators were motivated by extreme elements of their religion.
There has already been reports of Muslims being targeted in attacks as retaliation. Was this expected after the attacks occurred Monday? Have you received any complaints from local Muslims being harassed in Philadelphia yet?
There is considerable concern in the Muslim community on how the possible motive of 2 individuals will affect the way fellow Americans view 2.6 to 6 million Muslims living in this country. We have not heard or received any reports in our area of harassment, crimes or discrimination in association with the bombings.
Based on past experiences, do you expect there to be any backlash against local members of the Muslim community in Philadelphia?
Based on the motive, which is still unclear, I am most concerned with public perception of Muslims and how this perception will influence federal policies that affect us all.