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What if Jared Loughner were a Muslim?

14 January 2011 General 4 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah is an award-winning Arab-American comedian who has appeared on various TV shows including Comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” special, ABC’s “The View,” CNN’s “What the Week” and “The Joy Behar Show.” He serves as the executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and The Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival.

New York City (CNN) — When the news first broke that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot at a political event, all Americans were united in our response of shock and outrage.

Shortly afterward, the media reported that a 22-year-old male had been arrested in the shooting. His name had not yet been released. I believe your reaction to that piece of news depended greatly on your status in American society — namely, whether you’re a Muslim.

If you are a typical white person, I would imagine your initial response was relief the suspect was caught, and an attempt to make sense of why he committed this horrible crime.

But if you are Muslim or of Arab heritage, your reaction to the news of the arrest was likely: “Please don’t let him be Arab … please don’t let him be Muslim.” Believe me, that was my reaction.

This reaction in not unique to American Arabs and Muslims — most minorities in America have a similar response when a horrific crime has been committed and the identity of the suspect is still unknown.

We desperately don’t want the person to be one of “us,” for fear that our entire minority group will suffer a backlash.

I doubt any white people hope a suspect isn’t one of them — it’s just not relevant. They don’t suffer as a group because of the actions of a few bad white people such as Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.

Americans are trying to figure out why someone committed this heinous act. Was it because he was ostracized by society, or because his parents didn’t hug him enough?

But let’s be brutally honest. If the suspect’s name wasn’t Jared but was Jamil or Mahmud instead, America’s reaction might have been different. What if a Muslim-American had made anti-government statements and shot a U.S. congresswoman at a political event?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this week called the suspect Jared Loughner an “extremist” — but not a terrorist. Would Clinton and others be so hesitant to apply the terrorist label to an American Muslim or Arab-American?

By the way, what is Loughner’s religion? It’s not part of the news coverage, but we certainly know he isn’t Muslim. If he were, the media, elected officials and law enforcement would be discussing that issue extensively. When a terrible crime in America is committed by a non-Muslim, the suspect’s religion is simply not relevant.

In contrast, after Nidal Hasan, a Muslim-American, committed the despicable Fort Hood shootings, many called for him to be labeled a terrorist, including Rep. Peter King, R-New York.

Indeed, in King’s op-ed in December 2010, he labeled Hasan a “home-grown terrorist” and a big part of the reason his Homeland Security Committee will investigate “the radicalization of Muslims in America.” It’s unknown whether King has any interest in investigating non-Muslim threats to America, such as the ones that led to the attack on Giffords.

Yes, I know Nidal yelled “Allah Akbar” at the time of the shooting, but does that mean he had a political agenda or was he just a delusional, sick person no different from Jared? When you compare the psychological profiles the media has painted of both, they are very similar: “Outsiders,” “troubled,” “loner.” Even their photos share the same crazed look in their eyes, but because one American is Muslim and the other isn’t, the presumption of terrorism differs.

Why can’t a Muslim-American be considered a crazed lone gunman? I’m not a psychiatrist, but I doubt mental illness distinguishes between religions.

And why is that every time a white American commits a horrible act — be it flying a plane into an IRS building or attacking a Muslim cab driver in New York City because he is opposed the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero — the presumption is that he is not a terrorist, just a poor delusional guy who has lost his mind.

My point is not to divide us as a nation any further — we are polarized enough by angry politics, race and, sadly, religion. But as we look for ways to heal our nation, which desperately needs it, applying the same standards to all Americans would be a great step.

If a Muslim-American is a terrorist under U.S. law, I have no problem applying that label, if the same goes for a non-Muslim.

As our Declaration of Independence famously states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” and I believe they should be treated that way as well.

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

Original post: What if Jared Loughner were a Muslim?


  1. I (a white non-Muslim) agree. And for what it’s worth, two days after the shooting a Facebook friend of mine posted the question, “Why is this guy not being called a terrorist?” and it sparked a long and interesting discussion. My friend is a devout Christian. He does happen to be black, so maybe he’s responding as a minority just as you portray.

  2. Trust me, the Latino community breathed a collective sigh of relief as well.

    If a Muslim had posted a picture of a politician with a image of crosshairs over it saying, “Don’t retreat, reload,” and that politician had gotten shot, he would be UNDER the jail right now. If a Muslim had done the actual shooting, the nation would be a DEFCON 5 red alert terrorist level and white people would be crying how the country isn’t safe anymore. No need to apologize for telling the truth.

  3. Perhaps you should also write an article entitled, “What if Jared Loughner were a conservative Republican?”

    Oh wait, he isn’t. Sure doesn’t seem that way from all the media reports immediately after.

    As far as whether Jared should be tried as a terrorist, I don’t believe that is applicable here. He seems to have had no agenda, and the senselessness of his actions make him unfit to be tried as a terrorist; trial as a murderer is appropriate.

    As far as Major Hasan is concerned, he WAS a terrorist. His yells of “allahu akbar” are enough to reach a conclusion that his agenda was to promote radical islam over his allegiance to his uniform.

    I’m tired of Muslims pointing the finger saying “woe is me that all these Americans think I’m a terrorist.” Hey, how about you start pointing the figure at your own kind for what they did to you. The faster we can get moderate Islam to fight extremists Islam, the faster the rest of us non-muslims can go to work in a business building or place of socialization without fear of getting blown up.

    I fear that before we get moderates to combat extremists, we will see radical Christians blowing up Muslims first… =(

  4. A delusional, sick person can be of any color, religion, or political party. Rep. King has NO interest in discussing terrorism unless we are talking about Muslims.A Duke University/UNC capel Hill study showed that from 1980-2005, only 6% of terror attacks in the US were carried out by Muslims. In other words, Rep. King’s hearings will ignore 94% of the terror threat to the US–our tax dollars at work!

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