The Double Standard Dilemna

No one likes double standards.  A common response to domestic tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings is the concern that while we feel sympathy for the victims and their families in the Boston Marathon bombings, why isn't there a similar response when far worse in human tragedy occurs daily around the world?  Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald said in a recent article:

“Regardless of your views of justification and intent: whatever rage you're feeling toward the perpetrator of this Boston attack, that's the rage in sustained form that people across the world feel toward the US for killing innocent people in their countries. Whatever sadness you feel for yesterday's victims, the same level of sadness is warranted for the innocent people whose lives are ended by American bombs. However profound a loss you recognize the parents and family members of these victims to have suffered, that's the same loss experienced by victims of US violence. It's natural that it won't be felt as intensely when the victims are far away and mostly invisible, but applying these reactions to those acts of US aggression would go a long way toward better understanding what they are and the outcomes they generate.”

This is an understandable sentiment and to a certain extent, I agree with it.  However, from another perspective, I part ways with this line of thinking because it asks the wrong question to the wrong people at the wrong time.

What is the Wrong Question to the Wrong People at the Wrong Time?

The wrong question is, “Where are your feelings of empathy for the death and tragedy around the world?” which is being asked at the wrong time (in the middle of a major local catastrophe) to the wrong people (the public which is still reeling from the local tragedy).  A similar question goes out to the media – where is your constant coverage of death and destruction around the world with the same urgency and alarm as what happened in Boston?

The problem is that many of us asking these questions are hyper-aware of the problems around the world, and the implication is that others know about them as well but simply don't care.  However, if we carefully consider this, we would realize the time the public becomes aware of major issues is when the media covers it intensely.  When any issue is covered around the clock by all media outlets, the public gains awareness, opinions are formed, and empathy is often gained during tragedy.

In contrast, when the media doesn't cover a tragedy, no one knows, and no one cares.  Not the American public, and likely, not even you.

What are You Doing to Bring Change?

I don't believe we have an empathy problem – we have an awareness problem and a responsibility problem.  The community is not aware of the problems going on in the world, not to a great extent anyway.  Some might argue it's the responsibility of the media to draw attention to the urgent problems of the world.

And that is the responsibility problem – we keep dumping responsibility for our problems on the media.  With notable exceptions, the media doesn't care about your kids, your family, and your communities the way you do.  When tragedies occur around the world, it's your job to raise the roof, cause a ruckus, and make sure you're heard.

The sad reality is we ourselves are so dependent on the media, that the only time we pay attention to our own tragedies is when the media itself makes a big deal about it.  People often ask why Palestine is so special.  In one sense, there is heavy focus because it is the location of one of our three holy sites, but the other side of that is when conflict occurs, the world is put on notice, the media kicks into overdrive, and we pay attention as long as the media pays attention.

Here's a simple question for you to consider – what are you doing to spread awareness about the situation with the Rohingya?  The mass rapes in Mali?  The human rights violations in Guantanamo Bay?  What are you doing to bring about change in these and other situations?  I'm not saying you should get involved in all causes, but are you involved in any cause at all?  Do you ever perform qiyam ul-layl and make du'a for the people of Syria suffering under Bashar al-Assad?  Have you reached out to anyone outside of the Muslim community to discuss the inhumanity of President Obama's drone strikes?

Or is the only time we remotely think about these issues when the media brings them up?  As of the writing of this post, 527 Syrians were killed yesterday, so how is your facebook wall / twitter feed this morning?  What were you doing about it?  No, not the community leaders who are picking up the tab for us on the Boston Marathon bombings, who are already making a great sacrifice for us in representing the collective Muslim public, whose families have to endure the trial of media and law enforcement scrutiny.  What are you, the person with more free time, doing about all this?

Concluding Thoughts

Comparing tragedies, especially when one has just occurred, is not the way to go.  Yes, it's a valid sentiment that other tragedies don't get enough airtime, but then again, I don't expect much from the mainstream media in terms of looking out for me and my issues.  I realize some may feel conflicted, and not out of callousness towards the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, but because no one likes a double standard.  Rather than making this an “either/or” proposition, let's make this an “and” proposition.  We can empathize with the victims of Boston Marathon bombings, and we can also take a more active role in bringing awareness to other human tragedies occurring around the world.

Du'aas and retweeting/resharing are just the start – consistent, enduring effort, forming partnerships with like-minded groups, and more are required to bring about not only awareness, but change itself, and if you don't care enough to go the extra mile for your own people, there's no sense in expecting it from the media and a largely unaware public.

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27 Responses

  1. r

    Asalamualaykum wrwb,

    I support your call for us to do more than just talk about the wars and massacres occurring in the Muslim world, but I just wanted to point out that the reason Muslims compare tragedies in the U.S. with the ongoing Muslim suffering – especially to non-Muslims and usually in the aftermath of a new tragedy – is because it is not just an information problem, it is actually an empathy problem, and Muslims sense that.

    Yes, the media is never going to cover the bloody aftermath of their own wars and we don’t expect them to, but even the information that the general public does have about Muslim suffering in Guantanamo and drone strikes or Palestine (issues that do sometimes make news) do not pull heartstrings in the average person. When the horrors of Abu Ghraib were first revealed everyone was looking things up on the internet and most Americans knew a lot of the sordid details, but if you spoke to people you would realize that there is still a “them” mentality about it where the lives of foreigners are just not as important. There is a definite disconnect, which is why it was okay in the minds of most people for the U.S. to invade Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. Many writers and political analysts write about this phenomenon and I don’t think that it is going to change. Most non-Muslim (and sadly many Muslim) people just have no respect for human or animal life except where it directly concerns or threatens them. How do you think our food system is the way it is, with the catastrophic injustices to animals? Or even the economic system, with the majority of the population working back-breaking hours for peanuts?

    So, it may not do much good overall when we compare these things because most of the time empathy will not be awakened by such comments, but the comparison is valid, and I wouldn’t criticize anyone who did.

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    • Siraaj

      “I support your call for us to do more than just talk about the wars and massacres occurring in the Muslim world..”

      My problem is actually something more fundamental than this – for the most part, we don’t even talk about our own tragedies with the same urgency. Just two days past we learned over 550 people were slaughtered in Syria, and I can say at least on my FB wall which has 1100+ muslims, the discussion on there compared to what came before on the Boston Marathon was essentially radio silence.

      So my argument is this – if we don’t even care enough to generate awareness, if we’re not even able to drop a comment or two, to retweet or reshare something, to speak up as we did over Boston, why will anyone else care when we don’t?

      It is natural that you pay attention and have more empathy “for your own”, so to speak, and I agree that you’ll never get the collective attention of the entire nation to sympathize for one of our causes, but we could definitely be doing better and generating a great deal more support than what we have now.

      Siraaj

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      • Gibran

        Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        Isn’t it the community leaders who are supposed to bring awareness to us to spread awareness? Why don’t you Siraaj, ask community leaders you can contact to take the lead in spreading awareness of the atrocities that are happening around the world. Since they are our leaders, they should take the lead. Burma, Syria, Ethiopia, Kashmir, Thailand, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on…

        Also, as they condemned the brutal attacked of the two Chechen brothers, why not also get them to spread awareness that we Muslims also need to condemn these attacks and make it clear to everyone that these bombings have nothing to do with Islam? Actually, that part is already done so….

        Why not also get them to also condemn our government every time a drone strike slaughters our brothers and sisters and their children. The community leaders should be good at raising awareness among us and motivating us to condemn these actions as well. We have to condemn all injustice, WHOEVER commits it.

        I like your article because it essentially says, we aren’t doing enough. We should take action. But I say, shouldn’t our leaders be in the front? Isn’t it that they do it first and the rest follow?

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      • Siraaj

        I agree with you in principle, that leaders need to lead. However, they can only lead people willing to be lead. When the people show critical mass on an issue, leaders will be empowered to speak up, but if the community doesn’t support those leaders, then they have to play to their strengths and where they can make leadership contributions.

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      • Gibran

        Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        Good answer, jazzakAllahu khair

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      • MuslimNJ

        Asalamu Alaikum – I honestly think people are overloaded with daily information about tragedy…whether fair coverage or unfair coverage.

        Also, “Our Tragedy” versus “Their Tragedy” also becomes confusing. Without TV and Mass Media “Our Tragedy” was probably a person’s family and local community. Maybe a national issue here and there. With TV and Mass Media it becomes confusing. A person might be a Muslim, an American, a citizen of another Foreign Country, member of a Charity and is of course also a Human Being. So which tragedy is “Ours” versus “Theirs”. Add to that the phenomena of the “Media Magnifying Glass” you were discussing in the article, and a person can get very confused as to what issue or cause they should focus their energy on.

        Anyway, I DO think we also have an empathy problem. Like you said, many people are hyper aware of the issues around the world, but how much empathy does a human being possess to be able to deal with all of these problems? How much tragedy can one human being take? Unjust wars killing millions, threats of Nuclear war, terrorism alerts, national economies collapsing, liberation movements turned violent and genocidal, corruption in elections, 50 vehicle fatal accident on the turnpike, armed robberies, racist police officers, privatization of prison systems, mass corporate layoffs, rape and molestation by teachers in middle schools, mass shootings in schools, mass rape, famine etc. etc. etc….A person can find a way to help for all those problems mentioned above, but which one should they choose??

        What is the responsibility of a human being, a citizen, to respond to mainstream news, media and even alternative media? And how much can one person really handle? Is there an eventual limit of bad news the the average person’s brain or soul can handle? Should the responsibility of a person be limited to the geography of an incident? Local v. Global? Or the size and impact of an incident? Mass famine in Africa v. Local citizens not being able to get a hot meal temporarily?

        Just some thoughts…

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      • Siraaj

        These are all very tough questions and great food for thought. There really is an upper limit on what we can do and process without turning into emotional mush.

        I think each person should ask themselves what they’re capable of and go from there. I wrote the following a couple of years back addressing some of the questions you ask:

        http://muslimmatters.org/2010/01/20/paralysis-by-analysis-a-rant-on-beating-down-inaction/

        In this article, what I wanted to establish was that empathy is not simply due to racial, ethnic, or religious callousness, but that generating empathy requires a conscious effort, and we have a long way to go if we’re expecting that from the public.

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      • r

        I read a very interesting book recently called ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’, written in the 1980’s when the TV was becoming the main vehicle of American political and social discourse. Essentially it shows you how the medium you use to communicate will decide the nature of the debate at hand – in our case national and international tragedies and our role in them – and when we use the TV it makes our understanding of the world and our ideas of what we ought to do with ourselves starkly different and much more shallow. Now, of course, with the internet and twitter, the author’s ideas have become even more fascinating. Have you noticed how media splices clips of massacres and tragedies with extremely mundane pieces of news, so much so that if you weren’t so used to it, it could strike you as almost psychotic? He argues that this method of reporting has a calculated effect on our minds.

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  2. azmathmoosa

    I’m an average young ignorant muslim youth from the muslim world (India) and I must say this article was an eye opener. Its this Double standard that makes me hate “innocent” americans the most and wish for more such horrific tragedies amidst them afflicting their even more innocent children such as connecticut etc., it hurts the most. But that is just an emotional, irrational unislamic response from a bearded muslim.

    These are tough questions and honestly I just realized i didn’t have an answer.
    “what are you doing to spread awareness about the situation with the Rohingya? The mass rapes in Mali? … etc”

    Its just easy to hate and curse at, i guess.

    What hurts the most and pisses ppl like me the most, is when muslims fall for the “poor 8 yr old…” propaganda of the media and talk and tweet like this is the worst tragedy carried out by the worst creatures to the most noble of mankind. and don’t spare a thought for the millions of iraqis or the afghans dying right now. The media has a double standard yes. but when i see muslims falling for it, it pisses me off more.

    I can understand that non muslims don’t have the truth and take nationalism, that pride based on imaginary boundaries drawn around a piece of land that practically only segregates administration, as an objective reality and don’t have any empathy for foreign lives. but when muslims, with the truth, take sides in this double standard, it evokes an inextinguishable anger.

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    • Gibran

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      I agree with you brother! It seems like with the passed few articles on this, Alhamdulilah Muslims are beginning to open their eyes…

      Of course, you will get thumbs down but don’t let that put you down. It’s more hasanat inshaa Allah when you meet Allah aza wa jal. It’s really better for you in the long run inshaa Allah.

      “but when muslim, with the truth, take sides in this double standard, it evokes an inextinguishable anger.”
      You speak the truth. I get so enraged…subhanAllah these are my thought. A double standard from mushrikeen, understandable, it’s not like we should hold them to a higher standard, they are mushrikeen, and empathy from them we should appreciate. But when MUSLIMS act this way subhanAllah….it is so enraging. Sabr brother sabr. You basically got my thoughts.

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    • Hassen

      The evident double standard shouldn’t lead to hate. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and no human being with a tiny speck of mercy in their hearts would wish for violence to be inflicted on innocent people (regardless of religion or nationality).

      The real problem is that the average American (including Muslims) isn’t exposed to the reality of suffering of innocent people around the world (which isn’t their fault). This is partly due to the lack of media coverage but I think a greater factor is the general disconnectedness between life in the West and the violence taking place in a far away place (so it won’t affect us) where wars are always happening.

      Also, although the Muslim community should ideally bring awareness to the injustices taking place around the world just as much as we condemn events like the Boston bombing, it’s natural that there be a greater emphasis in speaking out against domestic terrorism carried out by Muslims. The the average American needs to be reminded and assured that the Muslim community is completely against these acts.

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  3. anon

    actually when tragedy strikes America it is the RIGHT time to make them aware of the emotions stirred up BY AMERICAN AGGRESSION OVERSEAS—-how else are they going to feel empathy?—only when they experience the emotions themselves will they even get an inkling as to the wounds they have caused others!!!!

    And Americans must also confront the dark side themselves—-A whole generation of American children have grown up with islamophobia—-the message that they may be Americans born and bred—but they don’t belong—-they are the other!
    Such a message can damage children who are searching for identity and belonging…………..

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    • Siraaj

      It may have an effect, but if that is coupled with, “Why should I feel sorry for you, look what you’re doing,” the message you’re sending them is that what happened is justified. I would never want to send that message because innocents are by definition, well, innocent.

      I think we’re better served by consistently putting our message out to begin with, and when disaster happens to them, we say to them, we empathize with your loss as we empathize with the lopsided civilian losses exacted by the US government / military / interest groups.

      Siraaj

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      • O H

        What we can also tell them is that such incidents occur & can be explained by their horrendous foreign policy in Muslim lands. This does not equate to any justification because no rational being will justify attacks on innocent lives but it explains it. Once they stop their continued massacre of Muslims & invasion of sovereign lands such trends may become a rarity. They ought to listen to Micheal Scheuer (former CIA intelligence officer) more often & his recommendation to the US government of what it should do to halt their War of terror

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  4. ZAI

    Salaam Siraj,
    I agree with your sentiments that we don’t do enough to spread to spread awareness and/or actively seek solutions to these problems. Chris Hedges, for example, has been making a similar case to Western liberals who talk endlessly and empathize with the victims of Western violence…but in the end do nothing to actively change the status quo. I think Shaykh Hamza has recently made the same point in many of his recent presentations, including “Start Practicing or Stop Pretending”. You’re right, it has to be the total package. We have to go beyond empathy and to actual action within responsible and ethical limits to do what we can to change things.

    That being said, let’s NOT discount the empathy deficit bro.
    We have to hit all THREE areas: action, awareness AND empathy. It’s a total package, and sad to say empathy is lacking on all sides amongst too many people. There IS a deficit.

    Ultimately, there is a nationalistic or religious tribalism at work here.
    I find it precient that the Qur’an spends so much time warning against making our whims or desires our idols, worshipping the self or condemning ‘asabiyyah. So much time warning against the ego, the self and rationalizing one’s wrongs. You see this all over the world today…yes, including amongst Muslims.

    Psychologically, both individuals and societies simply do not want to face up to the fact that they’ve done or are doing wrong,..or that loved one’s have. Whether it’s military action, terrorism or whatever else…an American whose son is in the army or who voted for some politician or another does not want to believe he/she/they have done wrong just as you will see some suicide bombers family not wanting to accept their son or brother in faith did something wrong. We fall into rationalizations, self-justifications and denial to protect ourselves psychologically or protect those (including nations) whom we love and ultimately that leads to a dichotomy of “us” vs. “them”, equivocations and even hatred. I think it was Tacitus who said “We hate those whom we have wronged”.

    Are many Americans guilty of this? Sure…enough that our government can keep getting away with these things. Sadly though, Muslims are NOT much better…and that includes nationalism which we just hide, badly, under a veneer of Islam. Same tribalism and nationalism masquerading as religion or ethics/morality. Same double standards. Same rationalizations, justifications and denials.

    Afghanistan is a telling example of this tendency. It’s really easy for Muslims to criticize NATO and the US in Afghanistan (they’re “them”)…but what about the Afghan Taliban? They are completely atrocious, but saying that goes against the “US is bad and we’re victims” narrative many Muslims have constructed for themselves. If they’re fighting the US they’ve GOT to be good! How about BOTH sides are horrid in their conduct there? It IS possible to see it that way, but many Muslims just don’t. A religious tribalism rears its head and becomes entrenched.

    Beyond that there is also the question of Pakistani nationalism and “interests”. Just replace “USA! USA! USA!” with “Pakistan zindabad” and the army/media/government can justify whatever it wants. 95% of Afghans despise the Taliban and do not want them back. We want NATO and the US to leave as well and also despise the corrupt Karzai kleptocracy, but that does NOT translate to loving the Taliban. They are a horror. But how many Muslims or Pakistanis especially, are willing to acknowledge that?

    Zaid Hamid is nuts…but he is an “expert” on Pakistani TV, so the difference with FOX is what? Supporting religious fanatics across the border for “interests”…that’s different from US “interventions” how? Americans are not empathizing with the plight of x,y, or z…Well, how many Pakistanis, with the exception of a few like Ahmed Rashid, are criticizing their government and military’s actions in Afghanistan for the past 20+ years? How many Pakistanis say “The Afghan Taliban are good, but the Pakistani Taliban are bad”? Sounds the same as “Our collateral damage is justified” to me.

    …and it is the SAME elsewhere in the Muslim world. Where is the empathy with the Bahrainis? With the Baluchis? With the Kurds? With the Darfuris? Berbers? Guest workers in the Gulf? I won’t even go into empathy with NON-Muslims…we don’t even have empathy for fellow MUSLIMS who are being oppressed, killed, etc. for nationalistic, sectarian and tribal reasons….unless it’s non-Muslims doing the oppressing and killing ofcourse. And it’s the SAME in the west….3 people were killed in Boston and it is tragic, but where is the manhunt for thugs on the south side of Chicago killing babies and children. That’s terrorism too if I’ve ever seen it. But we don’t want to acknowledge that here in America. Only “those people” from overseas carry out terrorism or warrant our attention and venturing out from our bubble.We don’t want to admit we have moral/ethical decay and societal failure abroad or even at home…Let’s just ignore it all and concentrate on THOSE people doing x, y, or z.

    This tribalism, self-adulation and self-justification is ultimately a HUMAN problem and it IS a problem.I don’t think as a SPECIES we can expect much change unless it is relegated to a dark corner somewhere and we begin to respect each other as HUMAN BEINGS. The empathy will NEVER come without that because as long as we hold to nationalism, including RELIGIOUS nationalism, we are ALWAYS susceptible into descending into tribalism and justifying it…

    The Qur’an says “Stand for the truth EVEN if it is against YOURSELF”…it really is that simple, alhamdulillah. But unfortunately the human being has shown itself simply unable to learn this simple lesson and take it to heart with the exception of a few brave and ethical people in every society. Majority of us have failed before we can even approach spreading awareness or responsibility of action, myself included.

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    • Hyde

      You’re right about the double game Pakistan plays. Especially “neo-cons” like that despicable fool Zaid Hamid. “America’s big plan is to destroy [breakup is the word that gets thrown out a lot in the media which is funny, because Pakistan by definition is broken-up] Pakistan” and after he rants about that, he turns around says, “Well Pakistan’s destiny to capture India”. Every conspiracy theory is based on America and the fact they live the in probably the worst country on the planet eludes them…I agree with Siraj’s article but sooner or later the Muslim “world” needs to muck through this obsequious “homeland-back home” frevor.

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  5. O H

    I would be a bit cautious jumping to conclusion about ‘hundreds’ of insurgents (as been reported in the news ) in Mali & the alleged rape cases when similar sources paid little or no regard for France entering the country without right & crushing hundreds of Muslims in the process without gaining any sort of permission from UN, all this because they are so-called militants! They take the role of judge, jury & executioner with devastating effect on Muslim lands! There is clear double standards in such incidents from the media which we should always try to point out. We should try to isolate such cases for greater awareness whether it be to people whom we know or on such public platforms. I know it’s drifting a bit away from the topic but some key parallels can be drawn. There have been way too many cases in the past of the media exaggerating what Muslims do & reporting falsely altogether & the Boston incident is an example even before the suspects were identified. Allaahumma Ansurul Muslimeena fee kulli makaan ( Oh Allaah grant Nusrah/Victory to Muslims everywhere)

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  6. 1 Muslim Nation

    Good article bro. Siraaj.
    Good discussions also going on in these comments. Just wanted to drop in a comment and say I’m reading your writing and comments and learning. Jazakallah

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  7. RCHOUDH

    Good post and I generally agree with your advice towards making others aware first about the various issues around the world, and that this awareness shouldn’t be made right when people are grieving over a tragedy. What I generally do, is I try to link how issues affecting others winds up affecting too, such as how the current ongoing economic crisis around the world was and is still being caused by the disastrous wars (both past and present) being engaged by the West. This is also related to making average citizens aware of how todays political and economic systems everywhere are geared towards benefiting the top 1% elites of the world and not the average citizen, whether they’re from the middle class or below. It also helps to make people aware of how our actions in the West often times contribute to less than ideal circumstances around the world. Just recently I put up a Bloomberg article up on Facebook about how Western consumers’ desire for cheap clothing ultimately led to the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh. Only a misanthropic fool would not feel some semblance of remorse for those deaths. So really, one effective way to make people aware of different issues elsewhere is to link it to how it winds up ultimately affecting them too, even if indirectly.

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  8. alkh3myst

    If this isn’t the right time to ask this question (“Where are your feelings of empathy for the death and tragedy around the world?”), when IS the right time? The fact is, decades of American history have shown conclusively that most Americans, particularly white Americans (yeah, I said it, I’m a veteran, and know first-hand) don’t even regard foreign Muslims as fully human. This is the dehumanization trend we always see in the USA. The people of Vietnam weren’t human beings, they were “gooks” and “slopes”. Napalm was fine, as well as killing a million of them. After all, they were gooks. Muslims are “rag heads”. It’s okay to kill a Nip, a Gook, or a Rag Head, they’re not really people. So, I’m not tip-toeing around the hurt feelings of people whose sentiments are those of a pack of vicious beasts.

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    • O H

      Cmon man it’s not right to make comparisons. It does not make sense to compare the 3 dead with thousands dead all over the Muslim world. Numbers don’t matter & the scale of destruction is irrelevant. What will the non-muslims say & how will they view us? We will have to go out of our way to appease them & prove we are peaceful people, especially in cases when the victims are not us Muslims.

      Note: Sarcasm intended. Frustrated…

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      • doesn't know much!

        I sympathise with your frustration. You seem to look at what’s happenning in the world ‘objectively’ rather than like the most people who are ‘subjective’. Is it true what you said earlier with France going into Mali… I’d suspected that America isn’t alone in their actions towards Muslim nations.

        Even someone like me who doesn’t know much gets frustrated. Because, I see Muslims fighting Muslims. When they (Muslims) do this to other Muslims it is called politics and if they do it towards a non Muslim nation it is called….I don’t know what they call it any more! I can’t bring myself to care much neither. I m exhausted with frustration… I want to scream “Am I missing something?? Can someone explain themselves to me??” I want to say “leave my religion out of political games!!” SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, put a stop to this!

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  9. suhail jee

    killibg must be condemed whether in Boston or in pakistan by the american drones

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