What Don Lemon’s performance in his interview with Arsalan Iftikhar shows about Islamophobia

Don Lemon seems to the lowest hanging fruit of journalistic rubbish nowadays. Though the CNN anchor was listed to Worst in Journalism of 2014 by Columbia Journalism Review, it doesn’t look like the guy has any intention of changing his ways and is starting 2015 as if he’s going for a second year with the dubious “honor.”

In the aftermath of the awful Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, Lemon interviewed scholar and civil rights activist Arsalan Iftikhar about the subject of terrorism and extremism. Iftikhar made the excellent point that whenever something like the tragedy in Paris occurs, the media and mainstream culture turns to Muslim clerics and public figures, expecting them to apologize for the acts. Iftikhar pointed out that Christian priests and pundits aren’t given extra burden of having to somehow take on the guilt and responsibilities of extremists.

During the exchange, Lemon downplayed any anti-Islamic backlash in the wake of the shootings, and cited a Newsweek statistic that reported 16% of French citizens support ISIS. Iftikhar pointed out that some may sympathize with some of the ideology, but not with the tactics or murder. He then went on to explain that Muslims suffer a double standard whenever a crime is committed by a brown-skinned Muslim – Lemon, probably pressed for time, conceded to his guest’s point, but then insisted that he wanted to get “specific” and went on to wonder if the 16% polled were extremists.

And then I almost tripped on my jaw ‘cuz it dropped to the floor when Lemon asked Iftikhar, “Do you support ISIS?”

Iftikhar’s reaction was understandable. “Wait, did you just ask if I support ISIS?” He then went on to explain that one could sympathize with certain aspects of an ideology without supporting mass murder.

It’s easy to call Don Lemon an idiot – I won’t do that (I’m sure others will be more than happy to) – because Lemon’s shown himself to represent the kind of attitude that is prevalent throughout all of the West when it comes to Islam and its fear of terrorism. Apparently, we still haven’t figured out how to separate the behaviors of extremists from mainstream folks. After 9/11, Americans have whittled down the definition of terrorism” to a very narrow concept that would probably exclude the evil actions of individuals who aren’t Muslim; as Iftikhar pointed out, Christian extremists blow up abortion clinics and gay bars, yet we’d never expect a priest to apologize on behalf of Christian fundamentalists.

It’s terribly depressing that a man like Arsalan Iftikhar has to wake up in the morning and go on television and assure a journalist that he doesn’t support the slaughter of innocent people. But in this mythical post-racial world we live in, we still shine an unfair spotlight on Muslims and put on their collective shoulder the responsibility of a few.



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Filed under commentary, Nonfiction, politics, Writing

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