Islamophobia and the Media

Today in American society it is apparent some people have negative ideas and perceptions of Islam and Muslims. Hate crimes against Muslims have risen in the United States, leading to the introduction of the term ‘Islamophobia’ into the everyday vocabulary of Americans. Muslim people are classified as hate crimes as manifestations of Islamophobia. The word “Islamophobia” is a concept that refers to fear, inequality, discrimination, bigotry, hate or dislike of Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia has become part of a larger conversation about multiculturalism, racism, and diversity. There are many reasons why Islamophobia exists in America today. One explanation is the prevalence of xenophobia and racism in America. Another is that Islamophobia is the result of legitimate fear of Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001, and subsequent actions taken by terrorist organizations since. Yet another explanation and the one which I will focus on for my research is that negative and essentialist depictions of Muslims as terrorists in the media (newspaper) lead Americans to overwhelmingly associate Islam with terrible actions and ideals.Through the stereotypes and misconception that all Muslims are Arabs that is discussed in the media, some people mistakenly believe that Islam is just a religion for Arabs, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are converts to Islam in every corner of the world, according to many sources, more than 20000 Americans convert to Islam every year (Mohammad Sakib Arifin: June 2016). We can see that there are many converts in America as it is a diverse community consisting of many different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities. The media generally focuses on negative stories and events about Islam and Muslim. The majority of the stories about Muslim are about violence and terrorism: While 81% of domestic terrorism suspects are identified as Muslims in national news, the FBI reports that only 6% of terrorism suspects are Muslim. (Lee Bowman: 2015). Also, 80% of ABC and CBS and 60% of fox coverage of Muslims is negative. The discrepancy in that the amount of media coverage of violence committed by non-Muslims vs. acts committed by Muslims. Labeling acts of violence by Muslims as terrorism while similar violent acts by non-Muslims are not called terrorism (Adam Johnson: Feb. 6, 2017). Therefore, I would like to explore how Islamophobic messages in the media affect American converts to Islam. I am interested to know how stereotypes perpetuated by the media that all Muslims are Arab affect the convert community and their relationship to their American identity. Also, how have negative messages about Islam post-9/11 motivated or inhibited converts from converting to Islam? Literature Review: The international media coverage of 9/11 crystallized the image of Muslims as terrorists, becoming the central depiction of Muslims in American society and spawning Islamophobia.

In the article “Islamophobia or Restorative Justice – Tearing the Veil of Ignorance” What one needs to understand is that the 9/11 attacks were an attack not only on American citizens but also on the superpowers’ hegemonic ego (Amjad-Ali, 2006: 21). According to Ali, the trauma of an attack on American soil forever changed the West’s perception of terrorism and Islam which led the whole society to blame the Muslim community. Especially after the 9/11 attacks, many blamed the whole religion of Islam for preaching destruction and violence. Ali argued that now almost all terrorists are assumed to be Muslim. As such, people from Muslim countries and with Muslim identities have often profiled and assumed guilty (Ali, 2006: 125). To be clear about his argument toward Americans’ current views about Muslims and the Islamic religion. “The report found that 25% of Americans believe Islam supports violence, but only 2% of those surveyed stated that they were familiar with the scriptures and beliefs set forth by Islam. A fifth of respondents reported they believed Muslims should be held to higher levels of restrictions and limitations than other Americans” (CAIR: 2005).Searching for incidents of Islamophobia on a global scale riled by the worldwide anger which broke out over the publishing of certain biting cartoons described Islam’s holiest character, the Prophet Muhammad, in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. when cartoons rudely depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s holiest figure, the subsequent backlash from Muslims all over the world provoked a counter-attack as many in the West defended their rights of free speech and doubled-down on Islamophobic rhetoric. These images were re-published in February 2006 caused disorder in Muslim society, and again, Islamophobia became mainstream as the Muslim communities of the world protested violently and non-violently (Ferruh, Yılmaz: 2011).The role that media in the television plays in establishing America’s views of Islam has been widely discussed. Documents from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) produced by Gallup in 2009 concluded that “Islam is not only the religion that is most frequently mentioned in television news in the United States, but also a significant share of the coverage is negative.” Gallup’s report found that “media coverage mentioned Islam 36% of the time when a religion was being discussed, more than any other religion, and that two-thirds of the discussion about Islam associated it with extremism. The research also found that Islam was referred to negatively 40% of the time, while Christianity was spoken of negatively half that much” (CAIR: 2005). Some scholars proof that the media represented stereotyped about the Muslims as they are as violent, lustful, and barbaric (Karim: 2003: 110). Another scholar, Sajid says that the film industry is even more effective in the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in a manner that creates hate and prejudice in the hearts and minds of international viewers (Sajid: 2005: 13). Sajid also mentioned that the Arab and Muslim groups living in the United States have struggled to combat these negative images, but do not have the power … (Sajid: 2005: 13). Sajid makes reference to a United Nations special investigation on religion carried out by a Tunisian lawyer, Abdul Fattah Amor, who is 1999, reported that a pervasive Islamophobia existed in the United States and that it was fed by a “hate-filled” image of Muslims presented in the media (Sajid: 2005: 13). This shows that Islamophobia reflected both racial and religious intolerance for the Muslim community in the United States.

In Journey into America, Ahmed interviews the wide range of the people who convert to Islam including African Americans, White Americans, and Latino Americans. Although some convert before gaining a clear understanding of the Islamic faith, they sought to learn more about Islam, its followers, and the meaning of being a true Muslim. According to Ahmed, converts ” also have some idea of Islam’s contributions to art, architecture, and culture: they recognize the Taj Mahal as a Muslim monument.” (Akbar Ahmed: 2009: 305). Beyond the negative media coverage, this shows that people who converted to Islam are attracted to its sense of justice and compassion. They do not just see Islam as a religion–they see it as something that can express their feelings and interests. Also, this shows how justice is represented in Islam which is a moral virtue and an attribute of human personality, Justice is close to equality in the sense that it creates a state of balance in the distribution of rights and obligations.Methodology: My research is going to explore how Islamophobic messages in American media affects the Muslim convert community. I am interested in talking about Islamophobia in the media particularly in the convert community because I think it is important to understand why some people convert to Islam. There can be many scenarios in which a person can decide to convert to Islam. In most cases, people convert to Islam after hearing or seeing something that impressed them, while knowing very little about the faith itself. For this research, I am going to do a fieldwork study focusing on learning more about the non-African American group who converted to Islam. Within my main research question, I will show how media be held responsible for propagating Islamophobia and shaping public opinion? Some challenges I anticipate to face doing this research are letting the interview become a one-way question and answer session, which would be too much about the interviewer’s experiences and not just about answering my questions. Another challenge I might face is some people might not be interested in talking about my topic, so I have to get their attention and interest to talk and share their experiences. Also, some people may provide the answers that they believe that I want to hear, rather than the most accurate answer, so I have to find a way to get them to tell the facts and not just make up some stories. This research is relevant because the world sees Muslim people as terrorists and within the frame of the global war on terror. Therefore, there is a need to better understand the Muslim world because it is more urgent than ever, and the media has played an important role in categorizing and defining Muslims to the world. Thus, it is very important to find a way to encourage the preservation of Muslim identity and make it easier for outsiders to understand that not all Muslims in this group is bad. Conclusion: This paper is looking at the consequences of the media’s perception of Islam shows on Muslims. Through this research, I want to get a better understanding of how Islam and Muslims can be reaffirmed rather than mistreated by the media in America, and particularly how this mistreatment affects the Muslim convert community. This is a very important issue because media has a very important impact on our belief system Therefore, we must be aware of where bias can come from as well as promoting change within media as the media has very large institutional impacts on our society.

References

  1. Akbar, Ahmed. “Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam”, November 18, 2011.
  2. Ali , Amjad. “Islamophobia or Restorative Justice – Tearing the Veil of Ignorance.” NGO Pulse, 28 Nov. 2006, www.ngopulse.org/article/islamophobia-or-restorative-justice-tearing-veil-ignorance.
  3. Bassiri-Ghanea, Kambiz. A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  4. Bowman, Lee, and Scripps News. “Research Shows News Overrepresents Muslims as Perpetrators of Domestic Terrorism.” WFTS, 9 Jan. 2015, www.abcactionnews.com/decodedc/research-shows-news-overrepresents-muslims-as-perpetrators-of-domestic-terrorism.
  5. Campbell, John C. “The Southern Highlander and His Homeland”. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, with a new forward by Rupert B. Vance and An Introduction by Henry D. Shapiro. 1921, 1969.
  6. Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). American Public Opinion about Islam and Muslims. Council on American-Islamic Relations: Reports and Surveys. (Washington, DC: CAIR, 2005)
  7. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States.
  8. Council on American-Islamic Relations: Reports and Surveys. Winter 2010. http://www.cair.com/images/pdf/2010-Islamophobia-Report.pdf.
  9. “Coverage of American Muslims Gets Worse.” Media Tenor, us.mediatenor.com/en/library/speeches/260/coverage-of-american-muslims-gets-worse.
  10. Ferruh, Yılmaz. “The Politics of the Danish Cartoon Affair: Hegemonic Intervention by the Extreme Right.” Communication Studies , 2011, www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10510974.2011.533340.
  11. Johnson, Adam. “How Corporate Media Paved the Way for Trump’s Muslim Ban.” FAIR, 20 June 2017, fair.org/home/how-corporate-media-paved-the-way-for-trumps-muslim-ban/.
  12. Karim, K.H. (2003). Making sense of the “Islamic Peril”: Journalism as cultural practice.Sajid, A. (2005). Islamophobia: A new word for an old fear. Retrieved February 17, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.osce.org/item/9735.html.
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