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When Americans Kill vs. When Muslims Kill

The news from Afghanistan over the last few weeks has been heart-wrenching, devastating, and infuriating.   An American soldier named Robert Bales (on the left in the image below) walked into the midst of an Afghan civilian community, and shot 16 people dead, including 9 children and 3 women.


The shooting in Afghanistan has eerie echoes of the Fort Hood Shooting from November 5th, 2009, when an American Muslim military member, Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire inside a military base, and killed 13 people.  

And yet the media coverage of the two episodes has been diametrically opposed.    When Americans kill, it is portrayed as an aberration, an act of a tormented and troubled individual.  When Muslims kill, it is covered as a signal of a communal, global genocidal tendency.    Let’s go over some details.

Here is how Fox covered the shootings by Major Malik Nadal in the Fort Hood shootings:

The murders at Ft. Hood are about the radicalization of individuals by an extremist ideology -- jihadism -- which fuels acts of terror.
The main question we should be asking is when did Hasan become radicalized and who indoctrinated him?


Fox’s “analysis” was written by Walid Phares, the same person that Mitt Romney had picked as his Middle East foreign policy adviser. 
The very same person who has been identified as a major Islamophobe, and involved in massacres in Middle East.

Phares and Fox News take great pains to point out that Nadal’s actions are not about one individual man, but part of a grander Islamist war against America.  Here is what they say: 

Instead it is part of a wider ideological war, generated by radicalization and inciting individuals to perform such acts.
"Lone wolf" or not, organized or not, fully self-aware perpetrator or not, influenced by overseas radicals or not, this massacre of servicemen has moved America from stage to another.

Of course future investigations would demonstrate that Hasan’s actions were indeed the actions of a lone person, not part of a broader campaign.   

In short, when a deranged Muslim kills Americans, Fox News tells us that it is “the largest terror act since 9/11,” and "it's jihadist evil and terrorism."  When a deranged American kills Muslims, such as the actions of Robert Bales in Afghanistan in February 2012, Fox News and its subsidiaries behave in an entirely different fashion.  We are offered the following litany of explanations and justifications:

*There was alcohol involved.
* it is an isolated act of a “troubled” person that in no way shape or form reflects on the noble ideals of America or Americans.
*The soldier was housed in the “most troubled” base in America.
*He was on his fourth tour of duty, and neither he nor his family wanted to go back.
*he simply “snapped.”
*He was experiencing martial difficulties.
The headline from Fox news read: “Money, career woes reportedly plagued Afghan Killing Suspect.”  
The first sentence of the article reads:  “Bypassed for a promotion and struggling to pay for his house, Robert Bales was eyeing a way out of his job at a Washington state military base months before he allegedly gunned down 16 civilians in an Afghan war zone, records and interviews showed as a deeper picture emerged Saturday of the Army sergeant's financial troubles and brushes with the law.”

In short, the assumption that when we Americans kill, it is an aberration from our good nature.  Even if the act is abominable, it is said to be purely an individual act totally disconnected from any larger institutional or political context.    However, when Muslims kill, it is a sign of a world-wide, evil ideology of jihad and terrorism.

I have searched in vain to find a commentator in the United States that grasps the above double standard, and have not so far seen that insight in a mainstream American press.   The only place I have seen it is in the UK, by Robert Fisk:   Fisk correctly points that that most Western journalists use descriptions like how Robert Bailes was “"Apparently deranged", "probably deranged", "might have suffered some kind of breakdown" (The Guardian), a "rogue US soldier" (Financial Times) whose  rampage was "doubtless [sic] perpetrated in an act of madness" (Le Figaro).

It is these types of double standards that are at the heart of the hypocrisy of our current situation vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims.   What we should be saying is simply this:  the life of each and every person in the world, civilian or military, American, Afghani, Palestinian, Israeli, Iraqi, Iranian, male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, carries exactly and identically the same intrinsic value.   Just as Dr. King taught us that the measure of a character is not connected to the color of our skin, we should be demanding that the measure of a human life is not connected to the nationality of the victim or the assailant.     All human lives are sacred, all are sacrosanct.   And all violations of human lives are equally morally repugnant.  

Taking that type of an approach would restore a sense of dignity and honor to our standing in the world community, and it would allow us to recover the moral dignity that we have squandered over the last ten years.   

Image of Robert Bales is from:

Image of Nidal Malik Hasan is from: 


Tags: american, civilian, fox news, islam, muslim, nidal malik hasan, robert bales, terrorism


  1. The author limits himself to criticizing only the double standards in the media. He also hopes that, “future investigations would demonstrate that Hasan’s actions were indeed the actions of a lone person, not part of a broader campaign.”

    I feel that he could have made a more incisive argument there, questioning if the Fort Hood issue should be seen as a “Muslim” issue at all. Furthermore, he could have scrutinized the pressure and politics that compell American Muslims to respond to Fort-Hood-like events in an apologetic way. In other words, why is it that American Muslims as a collectivity feel threatened and compelled to issue apologetic statements (to the general Americans) anytime someone does something in any part of the world.

    Also, are there good and bad Muslim causes from an Islamic perspective, some of which may have resorted to violent struggle as their mode of resistance? Would the American Muslims support the good resistance causes that involve killing of oppressors—for instance, that in Palestine and Lebanon? And how would that synchronize with the moral compass that Safi presents at the end of his piece? Could such a compass also de-legitimize the legit movements (in addition to removing the messy history from the equation in each case, putting the oppressor and oppressed, powerful and powerless, all on the same level)? (On these critical questions, also see: “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: Cracking the Media Code” in

    There may be a lead in the MLK quote that Safi refers to while describing his moral compass. To quote MLK in full: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The “content of character” may be a way to add the needed distinctions to Safi’s moral compass. How do we judge the good and bad character and from whose perspective and with what politics would the key questions.

  2. It is a difficult topic to comment on, especially from afar.
    But one issue strikes me in this rather unfortunate comparison you make between
    the reactions to the cases of Hasan and Bares: You do not mention the big green
    elephant in the room with one word: Islam.

    Hasan committed his atrocity openly in the name of Islam, and in this he follows a pattern based on Islamic scripture and repeated example by the very founder of Islam.
    Muhammed and his followers are in a very exposed position.

    The generalisation or prejudice you lament, which can be traced back for centuries in both East and West, is the result of Islamic expansionism, Islamic supremacism, Islamic discrimination and serial violence against both non-believers and women. It is the result of the most horrible acts of mass slaughter and terrorism in the name of the Islamic deity and overt expansion of Islamic ideology.  All this follows on the solid basis of Muhammed’s revelations and his own recorded activities.

    Indeed it may have been wiser to record the Koran, the Sira and the Hadiths in a language only the inner circle understands - and to never translate it into any other language.

    But following this oversight Islam stands naked amidst the bloody mess created in its name, and it leaves itself no room for a fourth choice.

    Until the world leaders of Islam come together one day and jointly make a new beginning along the lines of Sam Solomon’s ‘Charter of Muslim Understanding’  you will not find much sympathy for your lament concerning Western and Eastern prejudice against Islam. It is indeed well deserved.

  3. dear Raoul, bless your heart.

  4. @Omid Safi: Maybe the solution is for Muslims to stop using Islam to justify their actions and for the Muslims collectively say, “I do this because I want to” rather than bringing along the faith for the ride. It seems to be an ongoing theme by many Muslims - they do something but they never seem to say that they did it because they chose to but rather they did it in the name of Islam - that some how Islam is some sort of universal justifier for all actions. Maybe local imams should start each Friday prayers with the following statement, “if you’re going to do something don’t use Islam to justify it”.

    As for your example relating to Robert Bales, did he justify his actions in the name of ‘American Nationalism’? did his church rally around him and defend his actions? did his government rally around and defend his actions? did his community stone wall investigation regarding the matter? that is the reason why there are two standards - on one side you have individuals who invoke Islam to justify their actions (whether there is a theological basis for it is another question entirely) vs. a random mad man who shoots up a village and invokes neither religion or nationalism in justification.

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