Following ISIL's recent release of the horrific video depicting the death of Jordanian pilot Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, the conversation at home has pretty much fallen on predictable lines: Islam has an internal problem that it must resolve, and there must be something inherently wrong with the religion. But what's missing in this convenient cop out is a real discussion about the layers of issues and the depth of the international challenge of combating extremism. As much as both pundits on the right and left would like us to believe that this is a conflict of 'radical Islam' vs. the rest of us, it's much more complex and nuanced than that childish line of reasoning. For starters, how about we actually begin to acknowledge the role that we, the United States, played in creating groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL? Or how we were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands (some argue millions) of Iraqis in an unnecessary war? Instead of a convenient storyline of us vs. them, cowboys vs. Indians, good guys vs. bad guys, it would be nice if cable news and mainstream outlets actually informed the public as opposed to hyping Islamophobia and dumbing us down. But wait, then we would actually have journalism holding power accountable and educating citizens as opposed to serving as pr machines for various interests. Imagine that.
If the average American was privy to the fact that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone cost them trillions of dollars at a time when so many were struggling to just put food on the table, they might object to our ever-increasing global military involvement. If the average American actually saw images of innocent dead children, mothers, fathers and grandparents blown to pieces, dead in the street, or missing limbs, they might oppose war. If the average American received news or popular culture that actually humanized Muslims instead of consistently demonizing and stereotyping them, they might want some answers. But when we are very strategically force-fed the same tired old narrative of the 'barbaric' or 'savage' Muslim, sooner -- rather than later -- people forget to question things or don't even care to question anything.
The death of Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh was an incomprehensible form of evil that no sane person can even begin to fathom. But to suggest that Muslims will now understand how bad 'radical Islamic terrorism' is (as the always unsurprising Sean Hannity stated the other day), is the most ridiculous BS I've heard in a while. Just because news organizations focus more on the tragic deaths of westerners at the hands of any form of terrorism, it doesn't mean that they are the predominant victims of it. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. It is Muslims that are dying in massive numbers around the world from acts of terrorism; not Christians, Jews, Buddhists or any other group. But because they are not humanized or ever depicted as victims (only as the perpetrators of violence), how can we expect people to know any better?
On the self-professed liberal side, you have coverage that still shapes the narrative around the idea that Islam has to have an internal battle about which direction it wants to go, as Lawrence O'Donnell discussed with his guests on his Thursday night broadcast. While many Muslim countries do in fact have an internal battle between extremists and seculars, or extremists and more mainstream followers of the faith, that battle has only been exacerbated because of our very own actions, and the actions of our allies. ISIL never existed before our destabilization of Iraq and the surrounding area that then created a vacuum from which they were able to grow and recruit. Before 9/11, Pakistan had only one suicide bombing in the entire country. As a result of our actions in Afghanistan and the disruption of that region, there have now been hundreds and hundreds of terrorist attacks throughout that nation. Libya, which had one of the highest GDP per capita rates on the continent of Africa is now sliding into civil war and is a virtual failed state following NATO's intervention in 2011. All across the so-called Muslim world, there has been a steady rise in extremism and volatility after foreign involvement either removed leaders or just dismantled entire regions. No one is arguing that people like Qaddafi or Saddam were saints (far from it), but to act like the environments we helped create in their absence were better is beyond laughable.
Now, factors like high unemployment, poverty, etc. almost always correlate to an increase in violence and crime. That goes for any nation, anywhere. Whether it's gangs in the U.S., or religious extremists overseas, the recruiting method is the same: prey on the most vulnerable in society who have nothing but a sense of hopelessness. When that sense of hopelessness steadily increases because of failing schools, infrastructures and surroundings, recruitment becomes a hell of a lot easier. When people have nothing else to cling on to but religion, it's very easy to use that as leverage to lure people into anything. And let's be brutally honest: when only Muslim countries are being bombed, and when Muslims are being killed by outside forces all over the proverbial Islamic world, it's not hard for extremist groups to make the argument that Islam is under attack.
Every day it seems like the news cycle gets quicker and quicker. People's attention spans are shorter than ever, and there's not enough time for them to research all the things done in our name around the globe. No sane person condones or ever excuses the killing of others, but sane people also must be educated about all the dynamics at play so that they can stop evil from existing. Sadly, journalism in the U.S. is still failing to perform its fundamental purpose by simply rehashing tired old narratives of 'radical Islam' or a 'fight within Islam.' The truth is much more convoluted than that -- and we have a direct role in creating the dangerous reality that so many Muslims have to live with every single day.
But you won't see that conversation on cable news, on the big screen, on talk shows or in pop culture because spin, after all, is a hell of a thing.