If you are a Muslim Arab, the western media will show a great deal of interest in reporting any crime you commit, although the very same media outlets will likely overlook similar criminal acts of non-Muslim culprits. In brief, this is the message of Image.
The 2014 film tells the story of a young Belgian journalist who seeks to produce a documentary to change the mental image of Arabs and Muslims by casting light on humanitarian aspects of their lives. She is embattled by the media in her country, with viewers finding news stories depicting Arabs and Muslims as barbaric extremists more appealing.
Image reflects a reality that a report issued by the US-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) has delved into, revealing that the international media pays attention to crimes committed by Muslims seven times more than the same crimes that are perpetrated by non-Muslims.
Not only does the report -- titled "EQUAL TREATMENT? Measuring the Legal and Media Responses to Ideologically Motivated Violence in the United States" -- focus on media biases towards Muslim defendants and convicts, it also stresses that the judiciary discriminates against them. Muslim perpetrators who are ideologically driven receive jail terms that are four times longer than prison sentences non-Muslims are handed after being convicted on the same charges, according to the report.
Eight researchers have worked on this report, including Kumar Rao, Carey Shenkman and Dalia Mogahed. ISPU, whose headquarters is in Washington DC, highlights in its report stark inconsistencies in the way the judicial system and media institutions in the US have dealt with cases of Muslim defendants and convicts. Religion is the reason for this blatant impartiality.
How Was the Report Produced?
The ISPU report is based on persistent efforts exerted for over a decade to research and observe cases of ideological violence in the US, whether the cited criminal acts were executed or foiled.
The research team has accessed public ideological violence databases covering criminal cases in the US between 2002 and 2015, including a database founded by The Intercept, to draw comparisons between the sentences handed to Muslims and non-Muslims.
The researchers have analyzed the crimes, including planning to bomb certain sites, attacking governmental buildings and possessing arms with the intention of carrying out attacks against civilians. They have also singled out attacks that each has led to the death of two victims or more.
The research team has used seven variables to determine the seriousness of the crimes committed by Muslims and non-Muslims, including whether or not these crimes led to the death of civilians, involved lethal weapons and were committed with the help of accomplices.
Staggering Information and Figures
The report includes a myriad of percentages and figures that are by far staggering. For example, the researchers have found irregularities in court rulings on the cited cases. For Muslim defendants, prosecutors recommended prison terms three times longer than what non-Muslim defendants faced in similar cases.
For crimes committed by Muslim defendants, prosecutors pushed for jail sentences that amounted for 230 months, whereas suggested prison terms for non-Muslim defendants did not exceed 76 months.
After conviction, the jail terms Muslim defendants received were four times longer than what non-Muslims were sentenced to in similar cases, with their average prison terms estimated at 211 and 53 months respectively.
From 2002 to 2015, jail terms Muslims received were four times longer than what non-Muslims were sentenced to in similar cases
US authorities have been for years encouraging the media's interest in crimes committed by Muslims
Furthermore, in two thirds of the cases in which Muslims were found guilty, governmental secret agents had provided the convicts with explosives or firearms to criminalize them. This technique was used in only 16 percent of the cases in which non-Muslims were convicted.
In other words, Muslim convicts did not create the weapons they used while carrying out attacks. Still, they faced extra charges and received harsh sentences. Conversely, the non-Muslim assailants mostly produced explosive devices and possessed firearms, yet received lighter sentences and were underreported by the media compared to Muslim criminals.
What Happened to Mohamed and Michel
One of the cases the report has documented is of a 21-year-old Muslim man called Mohamed Osman from Oregon. He was sentenced in 2014 to 30 years in prison after being convicted of planning to execute a bomb attack.
Governmental agents had spurred the young man to commit the crime and provided him with the needed materials.
The report compares this case to another that took place last autumn in the US, when a man from North Carolina named Michael Christopher Estes tried to "fight a war on US soil", intending to bomb Asheville Regional Airport. In January, the man was charged with possessing an illegal explosive device. The maximum penalty for this charge is five years in jail.
The reports chalks such a gap up to the fact that Muslims in this kind of trials are usually charged with possessing "weapons of mass destruction", which is a much more serious crime than acquiring explosives.
The US media hardly reported Christopher's case. American politicians also did not capitalize on it to promote themselves by discussing issues like immigration and national security as they had done on previous numerous occasions when the convicts were Muslim.
According to the report, the press coverage of cases related to Muslim defendants was unbalanced for over a decade. The research team has analyzed the coverage of New York Times and Washington Post from 2002 to 2015. Both papers reported cases of intended violent acts that were foiled, with cases involving Muslims covered 770 percent more than cases of non-Muslims, the report reveals.
The report puts the media's increasing interest in cases incriminating Muslims down to many reasons, including the government's encouragement. The report explains that the Department of Justice issues press releases detailing foiled attacks planned by Muslims six times more frequent than when the schemers are non-Muslim.