Islam and the media

Hannah Washington
– 1605408

 

‘Representations
of aspects of Islam in the western media are highly problematic’. Critically
assess this claim giving specific contextualised examples.

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To look at
any religion accurately, one must look first without any reservations or false
preconceived ideas of the way in which that religion functions. Though this may
seem quite simple for some, many would say that the western media’s
representation of religion and religious ruling is too problematic to be a
reliable source of information due to the inaccuracy and poor portrayal when it
comes to non-Christian faith. Islam is the monotheistic faith of all Muslims,
derived from the prophet of Allah known to us as Mohammed. Muslims currently
stand at 23.2% of the world’s population, and according to the PEW Research Centre
this percentage is expected to rise to 35% by the year 2100 (Lipka and Lipka
2017). With such a large representation of faith comes a larger attack of
hatred and fear through false education and distorted truths, especially from the
western media, which for many is a direct and main source of global and local
information that may shape their opinions and own versions of reality. The
western media’s representation of minority groups and the issues they face not
only influences viewers, but can also influence the behaviour of non-minority
individuals depending on the opinion of the media they access. The British
Media and Muslim Representation found that media today has a ‘pivotal position’
(Ameli et al 2007) and shapes opinions with its version of facts when it is
presented to the public. The media’s central position in defining frameworks in
which we understand issues relating to minority groups means that their
representation of minorities, or even the sheer lack of representation, is
important and yet this always falls into restricted and poorly stereotyped
contexts.

From a young
age, children are given a western media’s portrayal of a stereotyped Muslim
individual through TV programmes, through cartoons and series, and through
films whether these are older or modern. Brian Whitaker, British journalist and
long-time editor of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, notes in his conference on Islam
in the media in the Central London Mosque that there are usually four main
stereotypes seen within western media that ‘crop up time and again’ (Whitaker,
2002). Usually these show that Muslims are cruel and violent, highly
misogynistic, shamefully intolerant and often very strange and different in a
negative and feared way. Examples of this come from US TV series such as Family
Guy and American Dad, written by Seth MacFarlane. With no limits when conveying
stereotypes, MacFarlane takes multiple opportunities to test television limits.
This is evident in the episode called “Turban Cowboy”, an episode used to push the
uneducated ideas on Islam that many believe onto viewers, especially in the US
where media and politics interfere plenty into popular beliefs and create fear
of Islam. To create characters and jokes at the expense of Muslim culture is
not questionable for MacFarlane or those who air the television series. A clip
taken from the episode takes Peter, created from an American father stereotype,
and shows his seemingly simple transition into becoming a Muslim. Peter is
astonished at MacFarlane’s false advertisement of Muslim culture, attracted,
for example, to the way that the wife of his new Muslim friend runs errands for
her husband without questioning: “of course, anything for you husband”
(MacFarlane 2013). His stereotypically strongly Middle Eastern accented friend
later reveals he was a part of a terrorist plan all along, another stereotype
of Muslim behaviour, and Whitaker’s four main stereotypes would fit with MacFarlane’s
stereotypical storyline when seeing the character turn from in the beginning
strange and different to what he knows to then cruel and violent with plans to ensue
chaos and a short reign of terror. This is highly problematic for a television
show as it is not only highly influential on those viewing it, but it also
shows that those broadcasting such material have no problem with this racist
and inaccurate representation of both the middle eastern and Muslim individual.

Muslims are
reported on mainly when ‘they cause trouble’, according to Whitaker, and even
though ‘negative stories often come from other countries, they obviously have
some effect on readers’ perceptions of Muslims in Britain’ (Whitaker, 2002). In
the US this usually comes from news of terrorist attacks, and this exists in UK
and European news too. Prior to the September 11th 2001 attacks on the twin
towers in New York, United States, there was little practical research within
media and newspaper depictions of Islam and Muslims, with the high majority of
available jobs and work ‘employing non-systematic anecdotal evidence’ when
attempting to demonstrate general trends within the western media. (Richardson,
2004). After this date of course it was then seen that newspapers initiated their
dedicated and unprecedented amount of time and attention to, in particular, British
Muslims, as well as their variances from other Muslim individuals and on top of
this the concentration the apparent threats they could pose to others around
them. Before this time, it was not seen that Muslims were to have occupied such
a dominant position in the western media, especially when looking at their previous
absence from representative positions within  media such as regular soap television, different
pieces of literature, reality television and normal roles in film and representation
as reciters of news or even comedy shows.

A commonly
reported contemporary global event that causes problematic media influence on
the US against Muslim societies is the war against ISIS. The disaster group the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS, was said to be founded
by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi around the year of 1999. Since they have attempted many
reigns of terror in the forms of threats and attacks, mainly on the US, and when
this has been reported in the western media the US takes this opportunity to
produce uninformed and untrue beliefs about Islam which is problematic and
quite dangerous for the Muslim community who are in no way followers of the
terror group ISIS. Paulo Freire, Brazilian philosopher and educator, wrote that “teacher
preparation should go beyond the technical…and be rooted in the ethical
formation both of selves and of history” (Paulo Freire 1998). By this he is
essentially saying that as we live in battles of conflict, with groups such as ISIS or those who attempt to
tarnish the names of minority groups with fear and false information, all must
evaluate and address how portrayal and surveillance of terrorist suspects will sculpt the formative minds in the
classrooms in western culture. To share
information through the media is to inform and teach, but this cannot be done without
ethical thought and historical accuracy. To inspire critical and fair thought,
a sense of compassion for all, and appreciation for the diversity in the world
and among the younger generation who will soon influence a new generation of minds, all must
educate themselves with facts and teach others about
Islam in a way that is not problematic or backed by false representation.

Stereotypes
and negative perceptions stick with individuals within their life, and this
does not matter whether they are sourced from the UK or elsewhere. Many US
views, stereotypes and media representations of Muslim culture and behaviour
become highly influential within all forms of western media, and can reach
people of all ages in multiple other countries unaffected by the stories and
fears spoken about.  The top 10 countries
with the largest Muslim population are all outside of Europe, the US and UK
(Lipka and Lipka 2017), and these lesser Muslim populated places are therefore
those most at danger of being falsely influenced by media when looking to
educate themselves on Islam and Muslim life. By the year 2100, not only will
the Muslim population be expected to have risen by a staggering 11.8%, but this
will overtake the total Christian population which will sit at 34%. Though only
a 1% difference, this shows a fast incline for the Muslim population. With this
rise should come further education, but currently many show more fear than
willingness to learn due to false facts and dangerous propaganda.

Those within
a structure of power to inform cultural and religious information will affect
not only societies views but also those of power relations. Both western media
and social media influence have taken over importance when it comes to educational
materials, and even those such as the president of the United States is an
example of this. Donald Trump, twitter enthusiast and originally a television
star, uses his platform as a power figure to educate. Unfortunately, this is
not always factual education, and plays more on the fears of the American
people and the modern society watching him from around the world. Not only does
he spread fear through racism, but also through terrorist ideology as a general
viewpoint of all those who follow Islam. Such fear of these ‘terrorists’, as
Trump sees Muslim’s to be, charges the ideas behind unfair and cruel campaigning
against the Muslim community such as his recent idea for a ‘Muslim ban’ after
London terror attacks. Trump used the social media site Twitter to ‘promote his beleaguered travel ban on
residents of six Muslim-majority countries’ (Shugerman 2017) as reported by
journalist Emily Shugerman of Independent Online. It was reported that, from
Trump’s uneducated and Ludacris fear ban on the Muslim community,
the US Supreme Court began processing a version of such a ban on ‘loser
terrorists’ as Trump called them. These ‘terrorists’ claiming the attack were
ISIS, an extremist group who struck many individuals with a van and stabbed
others. ISIS, as Trump fails to educate others on, and these individuals merely
use Islam as a generalised identity and do not follow Islam and the Qur’an as a
true Muslim would. This group are therefore not Muslim and yet Trump takes
their attacks as an excuse to influence society through Western media to hate
and fear Islam even though this is not a factually backed portrayal of what
Islam stands for and how this is separate from the standing of extremist group
ISIS.

As studied
by Randa Elbih, there is a sense of a myth that ‘Islam teaches terrorism and
all Muslims are terrorists’ (Elbih 2015). 
Islam has many diverse ‘sects’ that influence how it is
practiced by its followers and to what extent they must follow it. Within Islam
there are ‘around seventy-three sects, such as Sunni sects, including Maliki,
Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali, and Shi’a sects, such as Jaffari, Ismailliyah, and
Alawite’ (Elbih 2015). Elbih shares a view that as we would not hold all Protestants
responsible proven paedophilic priests within the Catholic Church, one
therefore cannot suggest or attempt to hold all Muslims liable for terroists acts
such as 9/11, the attacks upon the the World Trade Center, or groups such as
ISIS.

It is highly
problematic that western media can distort the truth of the many aspects of
Islam through hatred and fear. Islam is the monotheistic faith of all Muslims, not
of all terrorists, not of all those who are of middle eastern descent, and most
definitely not of all criminals as is covered within the media. It is clear
that the western media has a long way to go when covering news on Islam and the
Muslim community, and it needs to be seen that covering Islam in the news is
not social development if the voice they give to educated representatives of
the faith is squished and not given the resource that it needs. Though many are
educating themselves rather than believing everything they are told by the
news, social media, television and films, it is very apparent that many are much
more heavily reliant on the media to inform them about everything in life than
those who seek to find facts and the truth before attempting to educate others
such as the younger generation. With more social development comes more understanding,
but with more of a development on technology and western media also comes more
of a risk of inducing false fears and uneducated opinion onto the generations
to come in the hopefully more equal future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Lipka and Lipka

Lipka,
Michael, and Michael Lipka. 2017. “Muslims And Islam: Key Findings In The U.S.
And Around The World”. Pew Research
Centre. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/09/muslims-and-islam-key-finding-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/.

 

Author
Michael Lipka of the PEW Research Centre article ‘Muslims and Islam: Key
findings in the U.S. and around the world’ (August 9, 2017) develops work that
is accessible as a highly relevant source for global statistical information. The
PEW Research Centre, founded in 2004 by Michael Dimock, describe themselves as
a ‘nonpartisan think tank’ and aim only to inform the public about the issues,
attitudes and trends shaping the world as an accurate information source. The
Centre’s basic values are to educate using factual research and this particular
article as an example shows projections for future statistical predictions
through the use of modern data. A 2017 article, and an update from 2010 data
collected by the PEW Research Centre, Lipka indicates revision over previous
prediction and can therefore give accurate and fresh trends shaping the modern
world. No personal opinions are put forward by the PEW Research Centre and
their articles, meaning that there is no fear of non-factual influential input.

 

Ameli et al

Ameli, Saied
R., Syed Mohammed Marandi, Sameera Ahmed, Seyfeddin Kara, and Arzu Merali. The British Media and Muslim Representation: The Ideology of
Demonisation. Great Britain: The Islamic Human Rights
Comission, 2007.

 

Using Ameli
et al as a source when looking for information on western media representations
of aspects of Islam is not only a way of retrieving heavily worked upon information,
but also work that is factually based with no negative opinion bias behind it. This
work looks at ‘The British Media and Muslim representation’ and not only attempts
to find a more modern version of societies views in comparison to that of 19th
and earlier century philosophers, but this also shows the passion behind Saied Reza Ameli, professor of communications at the
University of Tehran. Ameli is not only passionate about the
representation of Muslims within society and media, but also an educator there
to reciprocate facts to students who seek truth over uneducated media’s attempt
to educate the youth. The lack of representation of minority group issues comes
to light in this work, an important part of the reason why media representation
of aspects of Islam is highly problematic.

 

Whitaker

Whitaker, Brian. 2002. In .
http://al-bab.com/special-topics/islam-and-british-press-after-september-11.

 

Brian
Whitaker, British journalist and author, worked for The Guardian newspaper for
many years of his career and focussed on the issues around the Islamic faith
especially within the western media. These opinions were in no way biased
according to Whitaker, and instead of sharing opinion based pieces he would
publish fact based work in order to show the listening public that there is a
reliable source of information with researched facts in order to influence
society to seek truth when looking to news for religious information. His basic
values were to stay factual and to differentiate fear and false news from the
truth. As an individual who has written over many years, Whitaker has kept his
work updated and modern so that it stands accurate today for the modern reader
when they may want to research his work or Islam. Whitaker is therefore a
reliable source for information when looking at a journal newspaper writer, as
usually these individuals stand more on opinion based ground rather than purely
factual.

 

 

MacFarlane

MacFarlane, Seth. 2013. Video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2D79yWcFQok.

 

When looking at heavy influence on the western media watching
society, it is good to look at the programming that they watch. Seth
MacFarlane, writer of many pieces of work including 3 hit comedy sitcoms
regularly played on television, tests the limits of viewers by taking media
made stereotypes to their extreme whilst playing on the American fears of such
individuals as Muslims. On original airing alone, MacFarlane was reaching 22
million viewers. This is 22 million individuals who can see the stereotypes he
was putting out to the world and many, especially younger children, took this
as a form of influence on the shaping of their opinions. The episode of ‘Turban
Cowboy’ was released in 2013, and since has been re-watched on multiple
channels across all accessible countries including the UK. MacFarlane knows this
yet gets such stereotypes and testing material from western media and a sense
of fear and uneducated judgement and uses this to interest viewers who either
agree with him or find it amusing that he would test TV limits in such a way as
they know that his portrayal of such individuals as the Muslim man and woman are
inaccurate yet funny to them.

 

Paulo Freire

Freire, Paulo, and Ira Shor. 1987. A Pedagogy
For Liberation. South Hadley, Mass. Basingstoke: Bergin Macmillan.

 

Brazilian
philosopher and educator Paulo Freire was born in 1921 in Brazil, and later
died in 1997. Educated by the Federal University of Pernambuco, Freire took
influence from such great minds as Frantz Fanon and Karl Marx. His work ‘A
Pedagogy For Liberation’ shares a form of dialogue between Freire and Ira Shor
and gives good insight into the need for education and the correct sculpting of
young minds. Although Freire was born in a time less developed than modern society
when it comes to the understanding and views of today, Freire’s work is highly
applicable to modern day situations such as acts of terror and information recall
through the media. Freire lived through times that saw high social development
and more of a view of equality between the western man and those from minority
groups who have not lived in equal treatment throughout history. His ideas that
education and youth lessons should be properly informed are highly accurate,
and any non-factual influence should be disregarded as it has no place in the
mind of an educator.

 

Emily Shugerman

Shugerman, Emily. 2017. “Trump Has Just Used The
London Terror Attack To Promote His ‘Muslim Ban'”. The Independent.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-london-attack-terror-parsons-green-muslim-ban-promotion-twitter-a7948911.html.

 

Journalist Emily
Shugerman, US citizen and writer for Independent online, gave a short article
on Trump and his use of social media on current events. As a citizen under the
power of Trump, it is important to see journalist behaviour that is more factual
than opinion based. The 15th of September 2017 article is not only current,
but shared all facts up to the point of it being written that would show the
influence on the negative behaviour towards the Muslim community portrayed by President
Trump, and his use of western media to not only try and relate to the US but
also UK citizens through social media and news outlets. Online news is a useful
and very accessible way to educate yourself on current events for the majority
of western society, so this was a clever way for Shugerman to get out news for
the Independent but also to share facts rather than fear tactics as the President
was seeming to do.

 

 

 

Randa Elbih

Elbih, Randa. 2015. “Teaching About Islam And
Muslims While Countering Cultural Misrepresentations”. The Social Studies 106 (3):
112-116.

 

Randa Elbih
not only uses the influences and work of many others studying the problematic
representations of aspects of Islam within western media, but also takes on the
idea of this being a form of teaching and a misrepresentational education form.
A 2015 piece of work, not only is this a modern piece but it also takes
multiple minds and facts from such organisations as the PEW Research Centre who
dedicate their time into finding facts about misrepresentations of Islam. Elbih
also includes a comparison between Islam and other predominantly European
faiths, showing that a western medias representation of its own faith is not
equal to that of more predominantly middle eastern faiths, and that there is a
much darker and more negative hold on Islam and the idea of radicalisation being
a Muslim issue whereas negative stories of those in other religions such as Catholicism
are not portrayed as broadly or seriously.

 

Richardson

Richardson,
J.E. (2004). (Mis)representing Islam: The racism and rhetoric of British
broadsheet newspapers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

 

To use Richardson’s
work of ‘(Mis)representing Islam’ is useful when looking into western media
representation of aspects of Islam as it deeply looks into and exemplifies how select weekly newspapers are concerned
in the production of anti-Muslim racism through different settings such
as social, economic and historic. It looks into not only British and western
media portrayals but also those of Iraq and other middle eastern countries as a
comparison. To look at Muslim based area media coverage of the faith and how it
is represented is important as it shows the vast difference between their factual
and own representations in comparison to the less educated and more biased
opinion based information given by western media outlets. Such a comparison could
be seen over 10 years ago in Richardson’s work but is also applicable to the
paper and online news of today.

 

 

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