Muslim Journalists Should Seek Beats Beyond Terrorism Analysis, Pros Urge

Rula Jebreal attends the Women in the World Summit at the David H. Koch Theater on April 4, 2013 in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

WASHINGTON – Rula Jebreal, a visiting professor at the University of Miami and former commentator at MSNBC, said her gender and Palestinian origin were used against her by the cable network.

“My ethnicity and my gender and my religion have been used against me as a weapon, that is accurate, and I say as a weapon because it’s exactly that. So I was a contributor for foreign policy for two years and suddenly the chyron underneath me was not even foreign policy analyst – ‘Palestinian journalist.’ I had never identified myself as a ‘Palestinian journalist,’ not because I’m not ethnically Palestinian but I happen to be an Israeli citizen and I happen to be an Italian citizen and happen to have a Christian mother and a Muslim father and a Catholic daughter,” Jebreal said during a discussion on “The M Word: Muslim Americans on the State of News Media” at the Sixth and I Historical Synagogue.

“If you have to stick something on me – you’re using this to impugn our objectivity … I think I’m the only Muslim woman that often gets invited to CNN and it’s always to defend. I am always on the defense team to defend how barbaric we are and how this happened and how that happened,” she added. “We are underrepresented in the political arena and in the media –  especially in the media – and it’s not a coincidence that these attacks happen when there is this lack of a narrative and story and information.”

Ayman Mohyeldin, host of The Breakdown and co-host of First Look on MSNBC, encouraged aspiring American Muslim journalists to cover any topics they are interested in pursuing outside of foreign policy.

“I would love to sometimes hear a covered Muslim woman who wants to go work for E! News and just cover the Kardashians – not because it’s what I want her to do or not want him to do, I want young people to feel they have a voice and they should go to cover whatever it is that they are interested in and not feel compelled that… if you were a Muslim journalist and you want to be a Muslim journalist and you love the NFL and want to work for ESPN and somebody is like, ‘No, can you come on and talk to us about terrorism?’ There’s an onus on that that rests with young journalists.”

Mohyeldin said if a Muslim wants to be a traffic reporter in Alabama, for example, they should pursue that job.

“I think if Alabamans woke up every morning and saw that there was a traffic reporter who cared as much about traffic and weather in the local community as they did, they’re going to be like, ‘Muslims are just like us. They care about weather and traffic, too.’ And that in itself is going to be groundbreaking,” he said. “The reality is, there is an onus on us as a community to encourage the next generation of Muslims to pursue their dreams and support them, no matter what that is.”

Jebreal, who teaches at the University of Miami in the International Relations and Global Politics Program, argued that Muslims are “only represented” in the mainstream media when “a crime or terrorist attack happens – then, of course, Trump will use it and ‘yeah, they’re all criminals, they’re all rapists, they are all this.’”

She urged politicians not to use harsh rhetoric to describe Muslims.

“When politicians use that kind of rhetoric, this opens the door for the killing,” Jebreal argued. “What we are seeing – the demonization, the criminalization of an entire group of people, the intolerance and hate speech and then you become desensitized so, yeah, some Muslim is shot somewhere and this is what opened the door for the Holocaust before World War II. Remember, that was the kind of language. I’m saying this and I’m shaking because yes, we are emotional about it. It touches people.”