Civil Liberties

It Took Just Hours After the Malaysian Plane Disappeared for Suggestions Muslims Were to Blame to Spill Out

Islamophobes like Rupert Murdoch were quick to target the blame.

The world continues to search for Malaysian Airways Flight 370, the Boeing 777 jet which mysteriously disappeared last Saturday. As international governments continue to investigate, a small cottage industry of Islamophobes has appeared, grasping at tenuous information to spuriously claim that Muslim terrorists must be responsible for the disappearance of the airplane.

Far-right writer Theodore Shoebat, son of self-styled "terrorist turned peacemaker" Walid Shoebat wrote that the “airplane was coming from Malaysia, which is a Muslim country, into China. Malaysian Muslims have a generally collective animosity toward non-Muslim Chinese people. Out of 227 passengers, 152 were from China. Let us see the conclusion as to who did this evil and wicked act. That this was due to Islamic terrorism, cannot be canceled out.”

The United Kingdom's Mirror Online claimed that “Islamic militants in China...could be linked to missing Malaysia Airlines flight”; the only bit of evidence the Mirror had to link China's Uighur ethnic group to the attack was the fact that “two passengers appeared to have been traveling on stolen passports” – and that's without even knowing if the men were in any way tied to Islamic militancy in China.

While stolen passports are a fairly common phenomena  in international travel, it wasn't long before they became the nexus of Islamophobic theories particularly once it was revealed that the two passengers carrying them were Iranian. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake openly mused on Twitter that Iran was responsible for the attack before backing off and asking readers to forgive him because “it's an obvious tragedy and we should wait till all the facts come in.”

Waiting for the facts is the opposite of what conservative media kingpin Rupert Murdoch did. He tweeted on Sunday: “777crash confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China. Chance for US to make common cause, befriend China while Russia bullies.”

Unfortunately, this scapegoating attitude shown by right wing commentators is not new. Case in point: the false branding of a Saudi national after the Boston Marathon bombings, who received death threats for days. And recall that just hours after the horrifying bombing by a white supremacist in Norway, think tank scholars at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and American Enterprise Institute were blaming Muslims, as was the Wall Street Journal editorial board and the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin.

Although this Blame Muslims First attitude has spiked following the 9/11 attacks, it actually predates those. Following the Oklahoma City attack in 1995, the news media reported that two “Middle Eastern” men were sought for questioning; a Jordanian American man from Oklahoma was stopped in London and questioned.  Commentators piled on. “It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East ,” wrote columnist Georgia Anne Geyer. In due course, we'll learn which particular faction the terrorists identified with—Hamas? Hezbollah? the Islamic Jihad?—and whether or not the perpetrators leveled specific demands,” intoned the New York Post. Syndicated columnist Mike Royko was perhaps the worst, writing that he would “no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. . . . If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it's likely it did something to deserve it anyway.”

“It was as if we were accomplices to what happened in Oklahoma City, while all we wanted to do was unite with other Americans in the healing process,” said the  Muslim Public Affairs Council's Salam Al-Marayati at the time. A mosque in Indianopolis was shot at, and the Islamic Center of Southern California logged at least a dozen death threats.

Although we have yet to know the truth about what happened to Flight 370, Interpol has ruled that it was unlikely that terrorists were involved. While right-wing commentators continue to engage in the same scapegoating they did in the past, they may find a less and less receptive audience.