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Sumbul Ali-Karamali Headshot

Crying Wolf at the Inauguration

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President Obama, judging from his inaugural address, knows the difference between terrorists and Muslims, but apparently CNN's Wolf Blitzer still hasn't figured it out.

In his somewhat solemn inaugural speech, President Obama issued a strong statement to terrorists: "...for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

Two long paragraphs later, after having changed the subject from protecting our legacy (and the terrorists who would damage it) to the strength of our American diversity to a new era of peace, then he said, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

And yet Blitzer, in commenting upon Obama's speech, deliberately combined the two statements. So according to Blitzer, Obama was addressing the Muslim world both when he made the remark about the terrorists and and later when he specifically addressed the Muslim world.

Well, Blitzer made that up.

Specifically, Blitzer stated: "To the Muslim world, [Obama] had a double message. He said this, he said, 'For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.' But then a couple lines later, he said this: he said, 'to the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.'"

Obama never said America's enemies were "the Muslim world." Obama's statements were separate. The first addressed our enemies. The second, much later statement, addressed "the Muslim world." But Blitzer seemed to think it was the same thing.

No one called him on it. The three commentators sitting with him nodded and moved on.

Why do I even care about this point on such a momentous day of rejoicing? Aren't I nitpicking?

This incidence is important because it represents the entire subtext of the public discourse when it comes to Muslims. It's one of tens of thousands such statements that are taken for granted as true, never challenged, daily mainstreamed. The continual pairing of terrorism and Islam has contributed to a national hysteria unseen since McCarthyism.

Those addressed in the first statement above, those who induce terror and slaughter innocents, are not indigenous to "the Muslim world." Such criminals flourish all over the world and throughout history. Moreover, such criminals are the enemies not only of Americans, but the enemies of Islam, whose law condemns terrorism and never permits any slaughter of innocents.

The media watchdog group, FAIR, recently issued a report entitled "Mainstreaming Islamophobia", showing how Islamophobic rhetoric has become such a mainstream part of our conversation that we assume it's the truth. Some examples, like Ann Coulter's exhorting Americans to "invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" are so obviously xenophobic that they need not be discussed. It's the statements like Blitzer's, which pervade the media and the public discourse so thoroughly that we don't even notice the conditioning, that I find more divisive and more damaging.

America's enemies do not consist solely of Muslims. "Muslims" are not America's enemies. America's enemies are terrorists and those who use violence and oppression as their tools. As an American Muslim, I -- alongside the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide -- am all for defeating those.

As for Blitzer, perhaps he should take another look at Colin Powell's famous interview of October 2008; it might help him learn the difference between "Muslim" and "terrorist."

Sumbul Ali-Karamali is the author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing (White Cloud Press, Sept. 2008)