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Home > Opinion
 
The cemented image of Islam

Nazneen Akbari (FOCUS) / 24 August 2012

Prejudice against Muslims, in the West, continues to mushroom under the umbrella of ignorance and stereotypes.

 But how much of a role does the media play in this? Minutes after the 2011 Norway massacre, several news outlets reported the crime as an attack by ‘Islamist extremists’. The New York Times highlighted ‘expert’ comments from Terrorism Analyst, Will McCants, who blamed the attack on a terror group, ‘Helpers of the Global Jihad’.  Fox News, tagged it ‘some sort of al-Qaeda-related incident.’

Most ludicrous was the coverage by The Sun, “We do not know if it was the work of  Al Qaeda, which has threatened Norway, or Libyan Madman Gaddafi”.

Such assumptions, despite unverifiable information and careful judgments by several media outlets reflects a disturbing reality — the cemented image of Islam as a pejorative.

And this image of Muslims continues to dampen despite the community harbouring  increasingly well-educated affluent individuals, successful entrepreneurs, celebrities, authors and accomplished professionals.

What’s troubling is that the West is cultivating ill feelings towards a community they do not know much about. A CNN report, US Split on Muslim Allies, claimed that 53 per cent of Americans don’t personally know a Muslim and 55 per cent lack the basic understanding of Islam.

Yet, 43 per cent of Americans (4 in 10 Americans) feel some prejudice towards Muslims, according to a recent Gallup poll. The figure is more than twice the number who say they feel prejudice about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%).

According to a 2011 Pew research, a majority of westerners view Muslims as violent and fanatical, Spain (80%), Germany (68%), Russia (64%) and France (52%).

These numbers exhibit a society mustered with unawareness and stereotypes, and ‘Islamophobia’, an ill-bred and nebulous concept, is a by product of these ignorant notions. 

So why is the West so distrustful of a religion and its people they don’t know much about?

The historic relationship between media production, consumption and community relations has always been successful in creating a perception. And perception is not reality.

When western media outlets run sensational stories such as the  Jihad Jane,  Operation Jihad, or when the Islamic critics such as Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, whose anti-Quran movie, Fitna, was toyed within the media, may earn ratings, however, a few more in the West have been deprived of the right knowledge of Islam.

The problem is not usually with the stories being reported in media,  it’s the unbalanced and sensationalist treatment of stories, within an anti- Muslim environment which stokes fear of a radical Islam among majority, who now believe their Muslim mates represent deceitful jihadists.

Worsening the matter are derogatory behaviours of certain Muslims, who indulge in violent attacks, criminal activities, issue divided fatwas such as banning Pokemon, or abuse women, demean Islam within a society already weary of Muslims.

Subsequently, such ‘Islamic’ acts are then proclaimed by a non-Muslim as an act defining Islam followed by the media who reinforces the stereotype on screen, print, radio and internet, usually without the context of a respectable Muslim.

Findings by the Public Religion Research Institute, have shown trust in Fox News is highly correlated with negative attitudes about Islam. Americans who most trust Fox News are more likely to believe that Muslims want to establish Shari’a law, have not done enough to oppose extremism, and believe investigating Muslim extremism is good.

Terms such as ‘jihadist’, ‘Islamist extremists’ or ‘moderate Muslims’ are often used in the wrong context or in a generalised manner, which tend to strengthen the impact of prejudices.

There is a sense among Muslims in the West that the mainstream media lies outside their control and fails to represent them, a study conducted by Institute for Strategic Dialogue concluded. There was a clear implication that “they” produce it, and that “they”, by and large, are not Muslims.

The media should get comments from Muslims to give context when reporting on Islam and  Muslim journalists should be utilised to maintain balanced reporting, eradicate misconceptions which consequently will sustain harmony and help combat domestic radicalisation.

Through this the public will understand that, Muslims equally condemn terrorist acts.

However, if the present media trend continues the fear and revulsion against Muslims will take over and pose a danger to the already threatened Muslim Western relations.

Nazneen Akbari is a journalist based in Abu Dhabi

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