What caused a 52-year-old former Marine to leave his home in Indiana and drive for 2 hours to a Mosque in Ohio, with the intention to burn it down? According to Randy Linn, it was television’s constant portrayal of Muslims as wanting to do nothing more than kill Americans. After some heavy drinking, Linn made his way to the Mosque, carrying a firearm. He broke in and started the fire. He went room to room presumably to do God only knows what. Fortunately no one was at the Mosque at the time. Also fortunately, the sprinkler system kicked in and extinguished the flames. Randy Linn was later caught after being identified in surveillance photos.
In court, when asked whether he thought all Muslims were terrorists, Linn responded in the affirmative.
As a Muslim and former Marine, this hate crime disturbs me. It disturbs me not so much because Randy Linn—by his own actions and admissions—betrayed that sacred trust and dedication to the values we Marines hold so dear. Instead, it disturbs me because his reasoning behind the betrayal of not only our Marine Corps values, but also the boundaries of common decency and citizenry.
It’s telling and worth noting that Randy Linn, like many others who use terrorism as means of vengeance against Muslims, often cite the Media as a major source in the influence of how they perceive members of the Islamic faith. Some anti-Muslim terrorists like Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people because of his anti-Muslim beliefs, go so as far as quoting and identifying popular anti-Muslim antagonists by name in their writings such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geert Wilders, and many others as the inspiration behind their beliefs. Each of these individuals has found television, print, and political success with their extremist ideologies.
Does this mean that these individuals are responsible for a madman’s actions based on their words and propaganda? Not necessarily. However, with free speech should come a measure of personal responsibility. The words, themes, and images that contextualize the message that all Muslims are terrorists or mostly so, is a recurring theme that is propagated in our media where these voices and architects of the message have the most influence. Each of the aforementioned named individuals has been featured on major television and cable news outlets throughout the day and during primetime. They have been given prominent speaking roles at events, welcomed on popular television shows like HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, and are often seen in photo ops with politicians including Presidential candidates.
If you’re an individual watching cable news and other television programs where these speakers and their messages are prominently featured, if you see your politicians, major organizations, and college campuses invited these people to their events, what should you think about the accuracy or overall truthfulness of the message?
I would argue that when men such as Randy Linn, regardless of their veteran status if any, are bombarded with this messaging it can and will take root in some hearts and minds. If an individual group is maligned over and over in the media whether print, radio, or television, it has been proven in study after study that in produces unsavory reactions to said group and can be a catalyst for discrimination and hate crimes. This is true whether the group is a classical minority such as African-Americans, Immigrants, or historically persecuted religious groups like the Jewish and Mormon communities. So it is with Muslims as we have unfortunately seen time and time again. Islamophobia and other anti-Muslim rhetoric has become an industry with central players making a fortune off of appearances and books that have a singular message: Muslims are the enemy. Accordingly, Muslims are therefore not to be trusted and should not be given the same consideration as any other group. This belief and promoted ideology has made its way even into our local and national politics and visible in anti-Mosque legislation, anti-Shariah legislation, and political identity and innuendo where being views as pro or anti Muslim can either give or hinder one in political theater. Even being called a Muslim in our politics can be viewed as a slur as we have witnessed with the President Barack Obama’s election.
So why should we be surprised when Randy Linn while facing charges in front of the Judge and nation readily admit that Television influenced his beliefs about Muslims? We shouldn’t. The only thing I happen to be surprised about is that we haven’t had as many Randy Linn’s proportionate to the industry created and sustained by the media that promotes the ideas’ and beliefs Randy Linn readily adheres and accepts as fact.
What this guy did was abhorrent and a disgrace to everyone who has ever earned the title of US Marine. The media, in its sensationalist one-sided reporting about Muslims and the platform given to Islamophobes, help shape and fuel the flames of hate against otherwise patriotic, law-abiding citizenry, simply because they have chosen Islam as their religion. It is easy to point the finger at individuals, groups, and organizations, but in order to move forward and achieve some measure of understanding, we have to examine the larger picture and everyone and everything that plays a part in this and other tragedies. The media needs to take responsibility for its role in portraying a portion of America’s citizens as the enemy.