As soon as reports came in Friday morning about a bombing and massacre in Norway, the knee-jerk rection by media organizations around the world was to speculate that “Muslim terrorists” were the perpetrators.
By the evening, it became apparent that a 32-year-old Norwegian Christian man named Anders Behring Breivik was responsible for the attacks.
The error was clear, and yet many continued to try to link the attacks to al-Qaeda’s influence.
Some were not so keen to let the blame continue. On Twitter, YouTube comedian and activist Strange Sanun started a satirical hashtag #blamethemuslims to “highlight how ridiculous it is to blame Muslims for every problem in the world.”
The hashtag shined a light on Europe’s Islamophobia and the media’s mistake. By Sunday, the hashtag had become a trending topic after a series of satirical tweets by Sanum went viral, including:
“I don’t have a job #blamethemuslims”
“Friday by Rebecca Black? #blamethemuslims”
“‘Wheres your homework?’ ‘I made it into a paper aeroplane and it got hijacked.’ #blamethemuslims”
Those who saw the hashtag but didn’t understand the irony reacted with outrage. Some even sent Sanum death threats.
But many others joined in on the joke:
#BlameTheMuslims for Mondays. In some deep mysterious way I just know it's their fault.
Commentators around the world soon began to criticize the media’s response as well.
Ahmed Moor at Al Jazeera wrote that the Western media’s response “demonstrates the extent to which reactionary bigotry” and anti-Muslim sentiment have “infected mainstream thought.”
And the New York Times was criticized by Glenn Greenwald at Salon for using the word “terrorist” when referring to Muslims but switching to the word “extremist” when the perpetrator turned out to be Christian.
As of Monday afternoon, #blamethemuslims was still going on Twitter, with arguments made on both sides.
FirstPost.com wrote that unlike the arguments of commentators, the success of the hashtag was debatable because the message may have gotten lost in the medium.
But as of this writing, there were almost no tweets in which anyone responded by blaming Muslims. Those who used the hashtag either defended Muslims against blame or participated in the satire.
So in that way, Strange Sanum — more than any commentator — just may have made her point.