What a difference a word makes: US-Muslim relations fall prey to linguistic slips
It’s been a bad week for US-Muslim dialogue and a big part of the miscommunications and misunderstandings have come from the lexicon used. It might be just semantics to some but whether you’re referring to “domestic terrorists” or calling Sikhs, Sheikhs, vocabulary plays a big part in the framework of US-Middle East relations.
While the families of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting were in mourning for the seven killed this week US TV network, CNN, were struggling to connect the attacks with Islamophobia.
Not content to see the tragedy in isolation, one female news anchor took the time to draw parallels between the two religions:
"No one knows why Wade Page allegedly chose the Oak Creek Sikh Temple," she said before adding "maybe" the shooter mistook the Sikhs for Muslims.
The implication was that Muslims were a reasonable target, given their history of involvement in terrorist activities. CNN went on to call Sikhs a “peace-loving community” with the opposite insinuation for Muslims.
The alleged gunman, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist, a man who believed that ethnicity and cultural differences merited mass killings.
It all sounded very familiar but this man was rarely referred to as a terrorist and only ever with the qualifier, ‘domestic’. When the London bombings occurred, the four men who carried out the attacks were all British. But weren’t given the same adjective. In fact mostly they were either just “terrorists” or “home-grown terrorists”.
The latter indicates that these men attacked their own country but leaves off the comforting “domestic” label applied to the Wisconsin case. Why is this? For Arabs the answer is clear: the 7/7 bombers were not white and they were Muslims.
The slurs continued when Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, made what many saw as a Freudian slip in a speech at a fundraiser at Iowa. Confusing ‘sheikh’ with ‘Sikh’ could be seen as a slip of the tongue but it displayed a level of ignorance unbefitting for a potential US president.
The right-wing political party has been developing something of a reputation for linguistic sloppiness. Former presidential candidate, John McCain was ridiculed after responding to yet another accusation that Barack Obama was ‘an Arab.’
“No, he’s not an Arab, he’s a good man.”
As Hollywood star, Ben Affleck, pointed out the two are not antithetical.