Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Moral Panics...

Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon, I was writing an essay for Sociology class on racial profiling. During the research phase (and these things never turn out the way you would hope- despite doing an outline and researching sources, during the actual writing phase I ended up referencing almost twice again as many additional sources that I had found to reinforce specific comments) I came across a series of interesting pieces of information that combined and clicked in my head.

Specifically, I was reading an interesting article about 'moral panic', which seems to be more prevalent then ever among today's societies; and how it relates to racial profiling (specifically of Arabs and Muslims.)

The article specifically used as an example school shootings: in it, it called to question the myth that there is an epidemic of violence. Quite the contrary; incidences of youth crime (in the United States) in all aggregate statistical indicators, has dropped by almost 35% in the past twenty years. There is now and always has been a greater chance of being killed by lightning than in an act of school violence.

This follows hot on the heels of a study in which large population segments in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada all claimed increasing crime was of vital concern, when in Canada crime is at a thirty year low and in the United Kingdom it is at a fifteen year low and in both cases on a decreasing trend.

In fact, one of these studies pointed out that (and I am quoting from memory, so I may have the figures slightly off) while 4/5 individuals felt that all the Muslim individuals they personally knew were no more or less trustworthy or moral or law-abiding than anyone else, less than 40% felt that Muslims in general were equally as trustworthy, moral, or law-abiding.

A book I sourced for a paper earlier in the year reinforced this- it was entitled The TV Arab, and it studied mainstream television programs over the past ten years. In more than a hundred television programs, the vast majority of Arabs were portrayed as terrorists. In fact, this book was published in 1984; the view is not new.

An article in the 2003 Osgoode Hall Law Journal by Reem Bahdi pointed out the disturbing trend of conflating Arabs and Muslims as the same stereotypical group, while according to the latest census data available at the time of that writing, 60% of Canadian Arabs were Christian, not Muslim. Another source suggested that 35% of Canadian Muslims were not Arab, while a third suggested that globally, the figures were very different- suggesting up to 75% of Muslims may be other ethnicities, specifically East Asian, African, and Eastern European.

Indeed, it quite appears that the situation has every hallmark of a moral panic- a widespread public fear of a certain group or occurrence, often without any logical or reasonable justification for the efforts made to 'crack down' on whatever is supposedly causing the moral panic and to re-establish the 'moral order', whatever that may be, and in doing so, appears to have linked together two groups which appear to be quite different.

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