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Posted by on Oct 25, 2014 in Asia Pacific, Featured, Middle East |

Is the Media to Blame for Islamophobia?

Is the Media to Blame for Islamophobia?

 

1261832100_3157b05df5_nToday, not only is Western media guilty of shedding negative light on Islam, but so is the propaganda of Islamic fundamentalist groups like ISIS. We have all seen videos of or heard many Muslims trying to explain that the actions of these minority fundamentalist groups are not reflective of the community of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Yet, it is those very people who feel the need to justify their religious beliefs, as they increasingly seem to face anti-Islamic sentiment living in the West, whilst simultaneously the image of Islam becomes increasingly tarnished in the media.

Ever since ISIS’s rise in the news, Muslims, especially women, have been increasingly subject to harassment in the West. In Perth, a women said she was “scared to leave the house” after back-to-back assaults occurred, including cars and mosques being vandalized with anti-Muslim messages and a man who “tried to rip the scarf off a women’s head”[1]. She admitted that after hearing these incidents, she refrained from frequently leaving her house and when she did, she wouldn’t wear the veil. A women who owns an Islamic clothing shop in the UK said she fears for her own and her son’s safety, after she found her car with the tires slashed and a message scrawled accords the window saying “go back home”, and after her son had his Islamic school uniform ripped off on the bus [2].

Even worse, religious hate crimes have claimed lives by targeting Muslims based on their appearance. This past year, PhD candidate Nahid Almanea was stabbed 16 times and murdered in Essex for wearing an Islamic robe and headscarf [3]. Of course, murdering due to religion is nothing new – in the past few decades, Islamic fundamentalists have claimed many lives based on one’s religion, for example, ISIS’s extermination of the Yazidis. But the issue here is people being targeted based on their appearance.

223007721_c4d64e6eb7 2Statistically, Islamophobia is also increasing over the years. A study in the U.K, Germany, and France found that Muslims were the “least desirable” religious group people wanted to have as neighbors [4]. In the US, positive attitudes towards Islam declined from 35% in 2010, to 27% in 2014. According to the BBC, anti-Muslim hate crime has increased in the UK by 65% from last year [5]. In Canada, 54% of the population holds an “unfavourable view” of Islam, a figure that rises to 69% in Quebec [6]. With statistics like these and the rise of anti-Muslim assaults, it’s no wonder why many Muslims feel the need to explain to the greater society that ISIS and other fundamentalist groups are not reflective of their religion.

Disturbingly, members of other religious groups having been mistaken as Muslims and have been assaulted. Just this week, Sikh Australians claimed to have been the subject of religious abuse as their perpetrators have wrongly linked turbans and beards to terrorism. Harjit Singh, from the Australian Sikh Heritage Association, claimed that him and other members of the Sikh community walk down the street and get called terrorists or are told to “go home Taliban”[7].

Now, why do I claim that the media is largely to blame for all this hate? Bin Haji Mohd Yusoff Zalfiki notes that especially after 9/11, the “greatest amount of coverage” of Islam and Muslims was given to events of violence [8]. He notes that in the media, “Islam is made almost synonymous to ‘fundamentalism’, ‘extremism’, and ‘radicalism’, ‘terrorism’, ‘fanaticism’, ‘jihadism’, and ‘dogmatism’”. He also notes that the coverage of media depicts Islam mainly as a violent religion “which prescribes some so-called barbarian laws like cutting-off hands, beheading, stoning to death, and repressing women”. ISIS’s propaganda even further affirms these notions represented in the media. If we, living in the West, were not subject to such media representing Islam as violent by both the West and fundamentalist groups, our only perceptions of Muslims would be based off of personal interactions, word-of-mouth, and education.

But the media and its effects are there, and there is not much we can do about it. The issue, however, in these attacks against Muslims is the generalization of the Muslim population and misinformation. In response to the viral video of Bill Maher attacking the Muslim community with statements like “Islam has too much in common with ISIS”, Reza Aslan impressively proves the ignorance of both Bill Maher and CNN reporters by calling them out on their generalization of the Muslim world [9]. Similarly, it is the sheer misinformation of people leading them to think that turbans and beards are related to being a fundamental Islamist. With basic research and education, one would realize that Sikhism has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, generalization is the root of Islamic prejudice and anti-Islamic crime, where people like Maher categorize the entire Muslim population based on the acts of a mere few.

Many Muslims feel that the burden of improving the view of Islam in the West lies largely on their shoulders. In September, 120 Muslim leaders and scholars wrote and signed an “open letter” to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proving that the Islamic State caliphate establishment and practices are not legitimate in Islam [10]. Included in their English-translated summary includes the explanation as to why “it is forbidden in Islam to torture” and that “it is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslims until he (or she) openly declares disbelief”. The religious scholars probably knew that in the unlikely case Abu Bakr read their entire letter, he would probably not drop his aspirations of creating a caliphate state. This letter was mostly a move to get the attention of the general public, and to bring attention to credible scholars who are proving this ISIS’s actions do not reflect Islam. Such public attention and support for understanding that fundamental “Islam” is not reflective of the Muslim communities we live amongst would surely reduce the prejudice they face.

Three corresponding linkages would drastically reduce the negative attitudes against Muslims living in the West over time. The first would be the decline of Islamic fundamentalist groups’ atrocities, which would hopefully link to a decline in the negative portrayals of Islam in the media, which would link to increased favorable perceptions of Muslims we live amongst. Yes, the media is not the only thing we are exposed to regarding Muslims. But if you think about seeing little to no negative press coverage of Islam in the media for years, you would have to base your prejudice off of the three aforementioned criteria: interactions, word-of-mouth, and education. And I’m very sure that most of you had not had negative first-hand experiences with a Muslim just because they were a Muslim. So before you judge someone based on the way they look because they reflect a religious affiliation, think twice about your sources and their bias, and the issue of generalization.

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Bibliography

[1] Olding, Rachel. “Women Bear Brunt of Islamophobia.” The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/women-bear-brunt-of-islamophobia-20141009-113r9o.html>.

[2] Flanagan, Ben. “Muslims ‘fearful’ amid Row over UK Hate-crime Stats.” Al Arabiya News. Al Arabiya Network, 5 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/10/05/Muslims-fearful-amid-row-over-UK-hate-crime-stats-.html>.

[3] Duggan, Oliver. “Essex PhD Student ‘murdered for Being Muslim’, Police Fear.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 19 June 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10910903/Essex-PhD-student-murdered-for-being-Muslim-police-fear.html>.

[4] Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.” Gallup Polling. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx>

[5] Flanagan, Ben. “Muslims ‘fearful’ amid Row over UK Hate-crime Stats.” Al Arabiya News. Al Arabiya Network, 5 Oct. 2014. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/10/05/Muslims-fearful-amid-row-over-UK-hate-crime-stats-.html>.

[6] “Islamophobia On The Rise In Canada‏.” On Islam. OnIslam.net, 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.onislam.net/english/news/americas/464776-islamophobia-on-the-rise-in-canada.html>.

[7] Simon, Marielle. “Sikhs Say They Are Being Targeted amid Anti-Muslim Tensions.” Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd, 28 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2772656/We-called-terrorists-home-Taliban-Now-Sikhs-say-targeted-amid-anti-Muslim-tensions.html>.

[8] Islam, Tazul. “Linking Islam with Violence: The Case of ‘Image Crisis'” International Journal of Quranic Research. By Zulkifli Bin Haji Mohd Yusoff. Vol. 2. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

[9] Zakaria, Fareed. “Fareed’s Take: Does Islam Have a Problem?” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://edition.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2014/10/10/exp-gps-1012-take.cnn&video_referrer=>.

[10] Markoe, Lauren. “Muslim Scholars Tell Islamic State: You Don’t Understand Islam.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/muslim-scholars-tell-islamic-state-you-dont-understand-islam/2014/09/24/3feb6236-442b-11e4-8042-aaff1640082e_story.html>.

 

 

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