Saturday, February 20, 2016

'Harmless Curiosity': Media Downplay Muslim Women Casing Florida Synagogues - Tiffany Gabbay

by Tiffany Gabbay

"If you see something say something" - then have your legitimate concerns trivialized and dismissed outright by authorities and local media alike.

That is precisely what is happening right now in the Miami metro area where a pair of Muslim women (we are unclear if it is the same pair or different pairs) -- donning hijabs and carrying a Quran -- have been casing multiple synagogues -- at least three to date -- asking suspicious questions about when large crowds gather for different kinds of services.

Below is how the incident was first reported by the local CBS affiliate on February 17:
“These two people came into one of the temples in the community. One, if not two, walked inside the temple,” said Yona Lunger of the two Middle Eastern women in question.
A police report shows two women pulled up in silver Nissan Altima to Beth Israel at 770 W 40th St. The driver remained silent while the passenger was standing just outside the car. The woman that was standing outside the car asked, “Did you have services already?”
The people they engaged replied, “Yes.”
Then the woman asked, “When are you saying Yizkor?”
The men found the question unusual because Yizkor is a prayer that is only used a few times a year such as Yom Kippur.
They replied, “We only use it a few times a year.”
The woman then asked, “Do you also get together during the week?”
They replied, “Yes, in the evenings.”
According to the CBS report, Lunger said that at first he did not think much of the incident until the next day when his mother told him that a similar incident occurred at a different temple in the area. Understandably, Lunger became more than a tad concerned. The report continues:
A picture of what appears to be two Middle Eastern women who walked into several temples and engaged with temple members has circulated in community websites and newspapers.
“Showing the Koran, asking certain questions that raised concerns, enough to alert the police department,” said Lunger.
A similar incident occurred in Miami Beach. Again, two women pulled up in a car and asked similar questions about meeting times and services.
What is very troubling is that CBS reports one of the hijab-clad women showed a Quran and other reports state that the women openly identified themselves as "Muslim" upon entering the synagogue. Yet the written CBS report cited above states only that the women, "appeared Middle Eastern."

Now observe how the incident was reported a mere day later (February 18) by the local NBC affiliate (video reports also posted above) after law enforcement investigated:
Given the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, many people are on high alert about what they think appears odd in their neighborhood. That led to two women's harmless curiosity about religion landing them in police questioning.
Note the reporter's bias in issuing the definitive statement: "That led to the two women's harmless curiosity..."

Reporters (not pundits) are never to draw conclusions about other people's intentions with definitive statements like that. That is why words like "seemingly," "reportedly," "allegedly," or "apparent" are used. And in fact, in the second video segment posted, the correspondent actually says, "apparent curiosity," but the coinciding written report omits that in lieu of the definitive, "harmless curiosity."

The NBC follow-up report continues:
Multiple calls came into police about Nabila Ouakka and her mother last week, concerned over recent visits they made to local synagogues and churches.
"People are concerned when they see something they're not used to seeing in their neighborhoods and call the police and that's what happened," said Major Richard Rand with North Miami Beach Police.
On Feb. 12 and again on Feb. 14, Nabila visited temples and churches with her mother asking about religion, the Torah and the Bible.
This is what Nabila had to say when asked why she did that: "My intention was to say, 'Hello it's me. I'm here to say love and peace. We are brothers and sisters because we are one blood.'"
Nabila said she suffers from terminal cancer and was curious about other faiths. She said she considers herself to be Muslim, Jewish and Christian, and didn't mind police questioning her actions.
"I wanted to meet new friends, and get in touch with my brothers and sisters," she explained. After several interviews, which included the Department of Homeland Security, police said no crime was committed.
"We got a report of a suspicious person and investigated. She's a human being and her mother, like the rest of us, and we have found they pose no threat to anybody," Major Rand said.
In terms of the investigation -- it is meaningless. If the woman or women in question have no prior criminal background and technically committed no crime of course law enforcement will write the case off. That does not mean, however, that the women had innocent intentions.

What's more, reporters (nor apparently law enforcement) never even bothered to question Nabila's absurd explanation.

The local CBS affiliate's follow-up report on February 18 reads along the same bias lines and also makes a definitive statement, this time regarding the woman's health:
Suffering from terminal cancer, Nabilla stopped by the temple with her mother to find out about other religions. They also went to a church.
Again, the report never uses the word "alleged cancer diagnosis" or any similar language. Does local media have a copy of the woman's oncology report and recent PET scan? Hardly.

While it may sound harsh, medical records are confidential thus making it easy for anyone to lie about their health in order to obscure their nefarious intentions. Instead of focusing on the suspiciousness of the incident, now people's heartstrings have been pulled and will focus on the "plight of a poor woman dying of cancer."

And just like that, Nabila has turned the tables, engendering sympathy instead of suspicion.

Conversely, Nabila may very well be suffering from terminal cancer. If so, it is incumbent upon everyday people and law enforcement alike to weigh the possibility that the afflicted has "nothing to lose," thus might be willing to carry out (or at least aid in facilitating) something as drastic as a terror attack.

After all, it is not an unreasonable suspicion. The number of documented cases of female suicide bombings is far from trivial. The University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism reports that female-driven terrorism has resulted in 2,180 deaths and 4,818 wounded from 1982 to 2015. Of course these are just the incidents that have been reported.

Worse still, female suicide bombings and jihadi attacks are drastically on the rise, mainly for the fact that women typically engender less suspicion than do men. According to the same analysis, female jihadi attacks claimed the lives of 400 more people in 2015 than in 2013.

A fair and honest reporter would also have noted this glaringly obvious fact.

The truth is that Nabila's story is absolutely ludicrous. Anyone who understands even basic tenets of Islam knows that if you are religious enough to wear a hijab and carry a Quran, you are not "religion-fluid" (i.e. the woman stating that she is Christian, Muslim and Jewish). If Nabila truly wanted to know more about the Jewish faith, in this case, she would have asked to speak to the rabbi or called to inquire if the synagogue offers classes. Instead, she asked about the specific times when large crowds of congregates gather.

Troubling also is that reports indicate there are different pairs of Muslim women who
are visiting these synagogues, yet no one is bothering to mention the suspiciousness of that very fact alone, nor is anyone questioning how that corroborates Nabila's story.

It is critical to condemn bias reporting like that cited above, which minimizes threats by making definitive statements about so-called "harmless intentions." Many people read these reports and take them at face value, thus lowering their guard when the opposite - vigilance - is needed. Such reporting is irresponsible and absolutely reckless, as it can get people hurt or even killed.

I hope that Jewish communities across the country, not just in South Florida, remain ever-vigilant despite threats like these being downplayed by law enforcement and the mainstream media. We should not forget the painful lessons of San Bernardino so soon.

Tiffany Gabbay


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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