Back on December 17 Fargo-based television news station Valley News Live committed a blatant and irresponsible act of tabloid journalism. In covering an alleged sexual assault in the bathroom of a Mapleton truck stop the station put in their headline the allegation that the man accused of the attack, apparently a Muslim, uttered “Allahu Akbar” during the attack.
Only, that’s not really what happened. As you can read in this excerpt from the Cass County Sheriff’s Department report on the incident, the alleged attacker supposedly made the religious comment after the attack while he was being detained by a law enforcement officer. The comment, in fact, was heard and reported by Cpl. Joe Hedin of the Sheriff’s Department.
Even if the man had said the words “Allah Akbar” during the assault it wouldn’t have been a fact worthy of the headline. No intelligent person believes that this assault was some sort of terror attack motivated by religious extremism in the vein of, say, the San Bernardino shootings. In this context an apparently Muslim man uttering those words during an attack is little different than a Christian saying something like “oh my God” or “heaven help me.”
I have to think that the folks at Valley News Live knew this but wrote their headline anyway because they knew it would maximize clicks and views and controversy.
Only, the man didn’t even say the words during the attack. He said them after, maybe as a way to comfort himself while being placed under arrest. Which makes Valley News Live’s decision all the worse. The religious utterance seems to have had no significance in the attack at all. It’s just the sort of mundane detail scrupulous cops put in their reports for the sake of being thorough.
Now enter left-wing columnist Mike McFeely who took VNL to task over their error in his column yesterday. McFeely is the sort of liberal commentator who is eager to brand as racism any expressed concern over Islamic extremism or the impact of refugees generally on crime and public assistance programs in our communities. He saw VNL’s misguided opportunism as an opportunity to attack critics of refugee resettlement generally and Lutheran Social Services (the group which handles refugee resettlement in North Dakota) specifically.
But his column isn’t where this ended.
Shortly after McFeely’s column published, Valley News Live reporter Nicole Johnson defended her story noting that the “Allah Akbar” error had been corrected and suggesting that McFeely had been a bit too cavalier in describing a rape incident as “slightly odd.”
I’ll admit to some schadenfreude in seeing the “war on women” or “rape culture” card played against an arch liberal like McFeely, though McFeely himself seems less amused responding this morning in an indignant blog post aimed at Johnson.
If you’re feeling a little exhausted about all this, I don’t blame you.
I write about this exchange now only because the slap fight between McFeely and Valley News Live is a microcosm for everything that’s wrong with how we talk about the issue of Islamic extremism.
On one side you have paranoids who see Islamic extremists behind every tree and are catered to by media outlets like Valley News Live which know better but are happy to stoke that paranoia for the sake of ratings and click bait.
On the other side you have left wing politicos like McFeely who think talking about Islamic extremism is racist. People who aren’t interested in acknowledging that there really are perfectly valid reasons to be concerned about the flow of Muslims immigrants and refugees into our communities, but are very interested in scoring cheap political points against their enemies for the sake of ratings and click bait.
In the middle of these two extremes are those of us – the majority of Americans, I think – who recognize that while most Muslims have every intention of seeking peace and prosperity in our country, at least some of have been radicalized and are bent on jihad. And that it’s a travesty when a woman gets attacked at a truck stop and somehow the incident becomes yet another proxy for our endless political bickering.