Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Stop saying "seven Muslim majority countries"

Look, I get it. Donald Trump's order barring immigration from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen is deeply flawed.

But using the shorthand to describe the targeted nations as "seven majority Muslim countries" or "seven predominantly Muslim countries" -- as many news outlets have repeatedly done -- is not only unhelpful, it's potentially dangerous.

First, choosing to describe these countries by their dominant religion suggests that they are unique in being heavily Muslim. That's not true. There are 49 countries with a Muslim majority population

Do we describe the North America Free Trade Association as involving "three Christian majority countries." Would that be helpful?

Further, these thumbnail descriptions suggest that the countries were selected because they're majority Muslim. That's not true, either. They were selected because the Trump administration -- rightly or wrongly -- believes they are a major source of terrorists. If Trump was out to target Muslim countries with this order, there are much larger targets. In fact, out of the 10 countries with the most Muslims, only one (Iran) is on the list.

The worst part of this is that by emphasizing the religion of the barred countries the media is fanning the flames of a wider religious conflict. I don't blame the people from these seven countries for being upset, but turning this into a Christian vs. Muslim issue could is inflammatory and could lead to bloodshed.

How else can news stories refer to these countries?

They could simply say "seven countries," and then list the countries in later on. You could say "seven countries in northern Africa and the Middle East," although with the same number of words you could just list the countries.

You could say "seven countries that the Trump administration believe incubate terrorism." That's a little wordy, but at least specific and accurate.

At the very least, all stories should list the countries. I've seen several stories that say "seven majority Muslim countries" or "seven predominantly Muslim countries," but never say what the countries are. That's poor journalism.

Or here's a crazy way of doing it. Just list the countries.  Consider a story from CNN that says this:

"Trump's executive order on immigration bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days."

Instead, just say this:


"Trump's executive order on immigration bars citizens of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days."


That works, is specific, and is useful for the reader.





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