In this interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, journalist Hannah Allam talks about her beat covering American Muslims for BuzzFeed News and her personal mission to offer a “richer” depiction of the diverse communities. CJR notes that “Allam’s work bears witness to a tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in modern America, and is intent on dissecting the challenges facing the multi-faceted and diverse religious community.”
Here are some snippets from the #mustread interview:
— For me a pivotal point in understanding how foreign Muslims are portrayed in mainstream media came in the aftermath of the San Bernardino killings. When that cluster of reporters went into the shooter’s home and they were marveling over ordinary items of a Muslim household, as if they were evidence of extremism, when in fact it was like a Quran or a string of prayer beads or a prayer carpet. Those are things that many Muslim homes have all across the country. I just thought about how little the reporters knew about Islam to point to those things as, you know, “ooh look here’s evidence.” It made me realize what we’re really up against in terms of portraying this community accurately and with nuance.
— I don’t think people understand how absurd it sounds to many Muslims. At least, Muslims I’ve interviewed, who say, “You want us to stop international terrorist plots that the world’s best spy agencies couldn’t detect? (laughs) You know, I’m trying to make rent and feed my kid. I don’t know what you want from me.”
— The other thing that I think gets lost in reporting these issues is that after these big attacks, American Muslims also feel grief, the same grief as any other American. And they say they’re sort of not even allowed to grieve with the rest of the nation because they’re already worried about the next phase which is the backlash or retaliation that they often face after a big attack.
— …so I’m covering these communities in a way that I hope is complex and accurate and fair, and that shows what it’s like to be Muslim at this point in America. And that doesn’t mean portraying Muslims as victims all the time. It doesn’t mean portraying Muslims as perpetrators all the time and only covering radicalization sorts of stories. But to show that this is, as studies have shown, the most diverse major religion in the United States. No single ethnicity dominates it.