How false reports confirmed racist biases.
Mohamed Belkhadir was clearing snow from the steps of the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City on Sunday night when an armed white man slipped past him into the mosque and started shooting people.
Mohamed, a 29-year-old Canadian university student, didn’t see the man enter?—?he was too focused on cleaning the stairs. But when he heard the shooting, he ran inside the building to call 911 and to help people who’d been shot.
While giving first aid to a victim, Mohamed saw someone with a gun and got scared. Thinking it was the killer, he ran out of the mosque. Before he knew it, police officers were arresting him and hauling him to jail, where he was detained for 12 hours. (The person with the gun Mohamed had seen turned out to be a police officer.)
As he spent the night in jail, the rest of the world began dragging Mohamed’s name through the mud. Police told the media they’d apprehended a “man of Moroccan origin” who they believed may have played a role in the shooting. (Note: Mohamed is Canadian with Moroccan ancestry.) News outlets in Canada, the US, the UK, Europe and elsewhere ran with the story, tweeting to their hundreds of millions of combined followers that a Muslim man was suspected of massacring other Muslims at a mosque in Canada on a snowy Sunday night.
It wasn’t a logical move?—?as the reports weren’t verified?—?but it seemed to confirm peoples’ preconceived biases that Muslims are dangerous and can’t live peaceably in Western nations.
Police cleared Mohamed’s name within hours of arresting him. Some news agencies issued retractions immediately; others took longer. In the case of Fox News, it took prodding from the Canadian Prime Minister’s office to get the network’s tweet about Mohamed taken down.
Earlier today I sent an email to @FoxNews about their misleading tweet yesterday. We will continue to stand up for our citizens (1/3)
But the damage had already been done. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and others cited the mosque attack as justification for Trump’s Muslim ban, even after police had cleared Mohamed’s name.
Unbelievable. Spicer just used the #QuebecMosqueAttack which murdered 6 Muslims as justification for the #MuslimBan https://t.co/uBrpUxKy7v
As a direct result, in the coming months and years millions of people will associate this attack with Muslim violence, even though?—?by all accounts?—?this was an episode of a racist white nationalist murdering peaceful, unarmed Muslims. His name was Alexandre Bissonnette. Look at his photo.
Then ask yourself: When a person like this shoots 14 Muslims while they’re praying, and our reaction is to blame Muslims, what does that say about us?