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For some, Boston news coverage highlights need for Muslims in the media

As details continue to emerge about the two brothers suspected of planting bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday, many American Muslims are processing the treatment that this story has gotten in the mainstream news media. The brothers are ethnic Chechens from Russia, but little is still known about their motives or other affiliations.

Even before the suspects were identified, news shows and commentary programs on outlets such as Fox News, CNN and Glenn Beck speculated that the perpetrator of the attack was Saudi, Arab, “dark-skinned,” or Muslim. Fox News pundit Erik Rush provoked particular outcry when he tweeted “Let’s kill them all,” in response to a message about Muslims —a tweet that he later said was sarcastic.

“[The] Islamophobia machine is out there, it’s well-funded, well-oiled,” said Abdul Malik Mujahid, a Chicago-area imam and founder of SoundVision, an Islamic educational media organization. “Muslims have a responsibility to move forward and use the media which they have the freedom to use to say their opinion.”

Mujahid said the coverage has bolstered his belief that Muslims need to play a bigger role in crafting media coverage, whether by creating their own media outlets or by joining the newsrooms of existing ones. It’s a battle that Mujahid began nearly ten years ago, with the launching of Radio Islam, a daily, current affairs program that streams online and at 6 p.m. nightly on WCEV 1450AM.

A recent show focused on Muslims who were at the Boston Marathon as runners or as first responders. Mujahid said the idea is to counter a trend toward unfavorable attitudes toward Muslims.

“Despite the fact that Muslims have done a lot of effort to reach out to their neighbors, [perceptions of] Muslims and Islam in America continue to go on the negative side,” he said.

In the wake of the Boston coverage, Mujahid has stepped up a call for donations to expand Radio Islam’s programming. He wants to build a new studio downtown to increase the amount of programming, as well as foster the training of Muslim journalists.

“We’ve made this switch from more of a victim mentality, more of this idea of please don’t beat me up, and kind of scared and not knowing what to expect, as opposed to now taking a more confident and proactive position,” said Asma Uddin, an attorney at the Becket Foundation for Religious Liberty and the founder of Altmuslimah, a blog about gender and Islam.

Uddin said since 9/11, more Muslims have started to think like Mujahid, focusing on how to disseminate their stories through the media. She said she saw the effect of that in the media coverage of the Boston bombings. Although some news outlets rushed to connect the attack to Islam, she said many more were careful not to jump to conclusions.

“It’s become increasingly sophisticated, and part of that, is because Muslims are speaking up and nuancing people’s perceptions,” Mujahid said.

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.

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