Islamophobia and the Medias Influence
The Islamic faith has so far been the most controversial faith around the globe, partly due to its laws, beliefs and unpopular happenings. The faith has been linked to a great extent with acts of terrorism and extremism. As such the faith is often regarded as an extremist religion. The inclusion of extreme Shariah law into some states and the practice of extreme laws such as stoning adulterous women and cutting hands of people caught stealing has given the faith a negative image which has spurred the development of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia which is the fear or prejudice of Muslims or Islam has greatly developed especially, in the western world. This term was coined in the late 80s but its greater use developed in the period preceding the 2001 September 11th attacks on the United States twin towers that hosted the World Trade Center. The term is widely used to denote political dialogues which appear resistant in a prejudicial manner to any arguments that are pro-Islamic. The Runnymede Trust defines the term as hatred or dread of the Islamic faith and thus a dislike or fear of the Muslims in general. The term also encompasses the discriminatory acts of excluding Muslims from public, social and economic life of any nation. Islamophobia is characterized with views that Muslims have values that are not common with other cultural groups and their religion is characterized with political ideologies that are violent in nature and thus has more of a political tone rather than a religious one.
The fact that this phenomenon is growing so fast elicits some questions as to why there is a rapid increase of Islamophobia. There are various reasons that an be attributed to the increase of Islamophobia and these include the high magnitude terror attacks attributed to Islam, the increase of Muslim populations in the west and the increase in negative media coverage on Islam and Muslims. A rise in the spate of terror attacks including the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2005 London bombings and the September 11th terror attacks, have all been attributed in one way or another to Islamic extremists. This has so far been the greatest contributor to the growth of Islamophobia, however; it may not only be because of the attacks, but rather the media coverage that has accompanied these events (Akel 1).
Despite the fast growth of Islam in the west, the western world still has many misconceptions and stereotypes about the religion. The misconceptions have greatly shaped the image of the Islamic faith as portrayed in the west. The created misconceptions and stereotypes originate from media, ignorance and prejudice. A large number of people dislike Islam and Muslims because they do not comprehensively understand or acknowledge the true Islamic teachings. More often than not the media reports about Islam incorrectly due to ignorance and this is one among the many reasons that the west hates Islam. Despite the westerners misconceptions the Islamic faith is a peaceful religion which promotes no uncalled for terror attacks and fighting.
The current western world has little or no knowledge and understanding of the history of Islam and the Islamic faith. The â€œradical Islam views common in the western world depict Muslims as potential terrorists of fundamentalists. These ideas largely shaped by the western mass media. Reporters covering the Islamic work comprehend very little about Islam, Muslims and their world. This leads to the development of a distorted and negative image that is passed on to the masses which lack proper discretionary capacity because they too lack proper sources of information to make clarification and/or comparison. One of the major contributors to this misrepresentation is the ignorance and poor selection of words that are used by the western media houses when describing Muslims.
It is common for reporters to make use of words such as terrorist or extremist about Muslims. These terms mislead the public and they portray an anti-Islamic sentiment (Akel 1). Western media rarely apply terms such as progressives or revivalists. The western coverage of Islamic events gives an impression that the Muslims are going back to Islam. However, this is totally not true, because all Muslims have been in Islam and they have never left the faith and the faith has been a part of their lives. A just and accurate manner of stating this would be state that a revival of the religion is occurring as the faith becomes more influential.
Additionally, the western media more often than not fails to offer accurate background information on Islamic happenings and other events that relate to or are associated with the Muslim world when it reports on the Islamic world. One big mistake by the media is the inability to distinguish between Islamic religion and affairs of politics relating to the Islamic world or nations. For example, the actions of Saddam Hussein which led to the Gulf War in Iraq were totally wrong and not Islamic in anyway. In the first place Saddams attack on Kuwait was against fellow Muslims and not any other faith, but the media coverage of the sequence of events gives the whole story an Islamic tone. The medias reports portray Islam as a religion of war-crazed individuals.
In order to help create a clearer perspective, take the example of Hitler; he had a Christian background, but all that he did was not consistent with the Christian faith, and thus labeling all Christians negatively because of such events or persons would be a misnomer. Likewise, Saddam Husseins actions may have been evil, but it does not mean that they were inconsistent with the Christian faith. Another popular point touted by the media is the spread of Islam via violent means-Jihad. The western media has created an atmosphere of war around Islam using the term holy war from the QuranJihad may denote various aspects such as a struggle in the course of Gods work by spreading his word. However, the western media presents Jihad purely as war and nothing more, but in the actual sense Jihad means various things done or courses taken for the sake Allah and his word (Noorani & Gafoor 74) This is the main reason why most westerners only know jihad as a war, where Muslims slaughter non-Muslims and spread the faith by the sword.
The historical presentation of Islam in the western world implies that Muslim was spread only by means of war, but they fail to state that Christianity was also spread through papal crusades that left many people dead across Europe and parts of the Middle East. However, they (the Christians) spread their faith in a peaceful manner now, and this is what Islam does as well. Therefore, the terror caused by few individuals or groups of people with evil intentions and hidden agendas should be squarely laid on the shoulders of Muslims and the Islamic faith. (Farzanah 26). The holy Islamic book states that fight for the sake of Allah, those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Clearly there are no explicit instructions in this verse that would warrant wanton attacks on people of other faiths, because Allah loves no aggression. This sounds more of self defense in ones faith rather than aggression.
In addition to making misrepresentations the media often identifies the Islamic faith in Muslim related conflicts. The same media rarely points out other faiths in their conflicts. It is common to hear news statements such as Six Israelis have been shot by three Muslim extremists instead of Six Israelis have been shot by three Palestinians. These kinds of misrepresentations not only exist in conflicts but they are also found the representation of womens rights in the Islamic world is also distorted. The veiling of Muslim women with the hijab and womens rights to power and education are major topics of highlight in the western nations, and these are often misrepresented. In the eyes of the western media, Islam is a religion dominated by males and the men have absolute authority and their societies discriminate against their own women and the women are side lined in matters leadership and authority.
Ironically, the Islamic religion offers women rights that were never available in most other societies since along time ago. For example Islam offers women the right to inheritance of property and control of their property and the right to be educated and participate in economic, social and political activities (Farzanah, 62). Any denial of the rights in the present day is as a result of cultural traditional differences rather the Islamic faith, and as such the faith should not be correlated in such scenarios to the denial of any rights (Akel 1). Muslim women are entitled to these rights, however; the media fails to let the audience know this fact. They also never report about the high illiteracy levels in these Islamic nations. As a result, the high level of illiteracy cannot allow these women to stand up against the male dominated culture and authority, because these women do not understand the difference between actual Islam laws and traditional cultural customs. The western media would do well if it highlighted why and how various governments in Islamic regions have contributed to the fact that their women are denied rights offered to them rightfully by the Quran. A large number of Islamic nations are corrupt and these contribute to the illiteracy levels because they cannot afford to accord their women proper and sufficient education.
However, such facts are not highlighted and instead this lacking scenario is given an Islamic denotation, portraying the religion as being suppressive. Another aspect contributing to misrepresentation is the lack to highlight positive developments in the Islamic or Arab world (Habib, 19). Whilst the media concentrates on discriminatory and negative images more than positive achievements it fails for example to highlight that there are three Islamic nations which have had female presidents-Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Contrastingly, most western countries including the U.S has been unable to get a woman head of state despite its long history of independence (an estimated 200 years) and a long line of male heads of state. These countries condemn Islamic oppression of women, yet they have never had a single female head of state (Greenberg & Peter 82).
The Islamic faith has so far been victimized to some extent, partly due to its laws, beliefs and unpopular happenings. However, it also has to take responsibility of the few radical elements within it having negative ideologies. These few elements are making a negative use of the faith by justifying their evil deeds and actions through the faiths teachings. The faith has been linked to a great extent with acts of terrorism and extremism all of which are perpetrated by non other than Muslims, therefore; it would be totally wrong to say that it is wrong for people to associate Muslims with terrorism. However, we recognize that coverage of has only been overdone, though it may partly be right. As such the faith is often regarded as an extremist religion. The inclusion of extreme Shariah law into some states and the practice of extreme laws such as stoning adulterous women and cutting hands of people caught stealing has given the faith a negative image which has spurred the development of Islamophobia (Greenberg & Peter 46). Therefore, the faith is to blame for its negative image, because of a few of its radical members.
The media has the power to shape the mindset of the audience that it serves, and with this there should come greater responsibility, accountability, justice and truthfulness. Biased representations and distortions aberrations on peoples perceptions about certain facts and this may be for a healthy or unhealthy course. The current rise Islamophobia may be attributed to various reasons including heightened terrors attacks and alerts as well as the rise in Muslim populations in the west, but these are not the main reason, but the medias coverage and portrayal of Islam and Muslims.
The misrepresentation occurring in the media takes various forms including use of inappropriate reporting language, over emphasis on highlighting negative aspects related to Islam or Muslim people, making improper associations between negative events and the Islamic faith as well as giving inaccurate accounts of facts about the religion to the general public in the western world. Additionally, the western media only portrays the negative side without offering an alternating view of the Arab or Islamic world by offering positive news about any good advancement made in these nations. Positive highlight may serve to show that there is a positive side to Islam and Muslims, but this is virtually lacking or very minimal, thus leaving the westerners thinking that the Islamic world is made of nothing but bad people.
Akel, A. Islam and the Western Media, Islam for Today, 2010, retrieved on 7th January, 2011 < http://www.islamfortoday.com/media.htm>
Asmal, Farzanah. Islamophobia and the media: the portrayal of Islam since 9/11 and the analysis of the Danish cartoon controversy in South Africa. University of Stellenbosch, 2008, Print
Greenberg, Gabriel and Gottschalk, Peter, Islamophobia: Making Muslims the enemy. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008, Print
Habib, Ed. The media bias in covering Islam contributes to Islamophobia, ezine articles, 2011, retrieved on 7th January, 2011 < http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Media-Bias-in-Covering-Islam-Contributes-to-Islamophobia&id=5612978>
Nielsen, S, Jorgen and Allen Christopher; Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001: summary report, EUMC, 2002, Print
Noorani, Majeed Abdul and Gafoor Abdul, Islam & Jihad: Prejudice versus reality, Palgrave Macmillan Publishers, 2002, Print
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