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Media don't get #MuslimRage

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
September 20, 2012 -- Updated 0240 GMT (1040 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newsweek's cover story about Muslim rage turned into satire on Twitter
  • Dean Obeidallah: The media need to be less sensational in their coverage
  • He says a small number of protesters should not define the entire Muslim population
  • Obeidallah: Let's hope media can focus more on accuracy and facts

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog "The Dean's Report" and co-director of the upcoming documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Newsweek's cover story "Muslim Rage" has inspired a comedic rage.

The magazine's newest issue features an article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who purports to lecture the West on how to best handle Muslim rage. Newsweek, in an effort to promote the article, turned to Twitter, asking people to tweet their thoughts on the article, followed by the hashtag #MuslimRage.

What happened next was not what Newsweek or Ali could have anticipated or wanted. Instead of an academic discussion about the article, or hate-filled diatribes by Islamophobes, it turned into something extraordinary.

Opinion: Should Google censor an anti-Islam video?

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Thousands of tweets bearing the hashtag #MuslimRage filled Twitter, showcasing satire at its best -- the type, by definition, which uses "wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly."

The tweets -- posted mostly by Muslims it seems -- are a comedic roast of the specious proposition that was peddled to us by Newsweek and Ali. Here are just a few samples:

Danya Hajjaji ‏@DanyaHajjaji

Pakistani Muslims protest against an anti-Islam video in Peshawar on Tuesday.
Pakistani Muslims protest against an anti-Islam video in Peshawar on Tuesday.

When everyone in history class turns to you once 9/11 is brought up. #MuslimRage

Protesters furious with anti-Islam film

AidWorkerAfghanistan ‏@petey_jee

Where is the 'Arab Spring' heading?

I told my shrink I was feeling suicidal and he reported me to the FBI #muslimrage

Actress: I was misled about movie

Dalia Mogahed ‏@DMogahed

When I wear a white hijab to a TV interview with a white backdrop. #floatingHead #MuslimRage

Juan Cole ‏@jricole

Television 'experts' saying Iran is an "Arab" country. #MuslimRage

Efe Ozturk ‏@Efe_Ozturk

Couldn't toss football around since the ball was made of pigskin #MuslimRage

And as University of California professor Reza Aslan poignantly and instructively tweeted:

Reza Aslan ‏@rezaaslan

Memo to those few violent MidEast protesters, this is how you fight Islamophobia. You make fun of it. #MuslimRage

We know that some Muslims were truly outraged by the anti-Islam video uploaded to YouTube that sparked protests in the Middle East. Some of those protests were peaceful, while others turned violent and deadly.

We also know that plenty of Muslims were horrified by the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya. The U.S. government is looking into whether this atrocity was premeditated or not.

What is disheartening is that some of the media coverage of the protests embodies the worst form of sensational journalism. There were headlines and stories that made it seem as though millions of Muslims across the world had taken to the streets, with Muslim countries in riots and businesses closed.

Free speech or incitement? French magazine runs cartoons of Mohammed

One of the most outrageous comments came from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, who said on Monday that Muslims hate us because of the religion itself. Scarborough, to the deafening silence of his co-hosts, further commented, "If you gave every street vendor, from street vendor to prime minister in that region, a chance to throw a rock at the U.S. Embassy, they would."

How is this different from a radical Muslim cleric telling his followers that every American hates them -- from street vendors to the president -- because of their faith?

Scarborough would be right if a majority of Muslims in the world had been protesting. But that is far from the truth.

In Indonesia, a nation of over 200 million, several hundred people took part in protests. Just a few months ago, 50,000 Indonesians bought tickets to see a Lady Gaga concert before it was canceled. So, what does this say about Muslims in Indonesia?

In Egypt, a nation of over 80 million, about 2,000 people protested on Friday. Of those protesters, a few hundred were arrested by the police.

In Lebanon, no protests occurred until Monday. Why? Because the pope had been visiting the country, and the leader of Hezbollah, which the U.S. has labeled as a terrorist group, didn't want to do anything to interfere with the pope's historic three-day visit.

A small number of protesters should not define the entire Muslim population of over a billion. The media should know this and report the truth accordingly.

Reaction to anti-Islam film fuels debate on free speech versus hate speech

Let's look closer to home. Monday was the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was marked by protests in a number of cities. In New York City alone there were over 1000 protesters, with 185 getting arrested. Do these protests imply that all Americans are protesting? Of course not.

And remember the Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day this summer, which was held to support the fast-food chain amid a debate over its president's opposition to same-sex marriage? It set sales records for the chain and attracted over 600,000 supporters on its Facebook event page. Would it be fair for a foreign news media outlet to report, "Americans rage against gay marriage"? No.

The U.S. media -- and we're not just talking about Newsweek or Joe Scarborough -- need to act in a more responsible way. It appears that our media are more focused on ratings than facts and accuracy. While the media jump on the story and then quickly move on to another story, their impact in defining a people and a culture can be lasting. Let's hope the wave of #MuslimRage responses prompts the media to think twice before they react.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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