Hannah Washington– 1605408 ‘Representationsof aspects of Islam in the western media are highly problematic’.
Criticallyassess this claim giving specific contextualised examples. To look atany religion accurately, one must look first without any reservations or falsepreconceived ideas of the way in which that religion functions. Though this mayseem quite simple for some, many would say that the western media’srepresentation of religion and religious ruling is too problematic to be areliable source of information due to the inaccuracy and poor portrayal when itcomes to non-Christian faith. Islam is the monotheistic faith of all Muslims,derived from the prophet of Allah known to us as Mohammed. Muslims currentlystand at 23.2% of the world’s population, and according to the PEW Research Centrethis percentage is expected to rise to 35% by the year 2100 (Lipka and Lipka2017). With such a large representation of faith comes a larger attack ofhatred and fear through false education and distorted truths, especially from thewestern media, which for many is a direct and main source of global and localinformation that may shape their opinions and own versions of reality. Thewestern media’s representation of minority groups and the issues they face notonly influences viewers, but can also influence the behaviour of non-minorityindividuals depending on the opinion of the media they access.
The BritishMedia 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 ispresented to the public. The media’s central position in defining frameworks inwhich we understand issues relating to minority groups means that theirrepresentation of minorities, or even the sheer lack of representation, isimportant and yet this always falls into restricted and poorly stereotypedcontexts. From a youngage, children are given a western media’s portrayal of a stereotyped Muslimindividual through TV programmes, through cartoons and series, and throughfilms whether these are older or modern.
Brian Whitaker, British journalist andlong-time editor of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, notes in his conference on Islamin the media in the Central London Mosque that there are usually four mainstereotypes seen within western media that ‘crop up time and again’ (Whitaker,2002). Usually these show that Muslims are cruel and violent, highlymisogynistic, shamefully intolerant and often very strange and different in anegative and feared way. Examples of this come from US TV series such as FamilyGuy and American Dad, written by Seth MacFarlane. With no limits when conveyingstereotypes, MacFarlane takes multiple opportunities to test television limits.
This is evident in the episode called “Turban Cowboy”, an episode used to push theuneducated ideas on Islam that many believe onto viewers, especially in the USwhere media and politics interfere plenty into popular beliefs and create fearof Islam. To create characters and jokes at the expense of Muslim culture isnot questionable for MacFarlane or those who air the television series. A cliptaken from the episode takes Peter, created from an American father stereotype,and shows his seemingly simple transition into becoming a Muslim. Peter isastonished at MacFarlane’s false advertisement of Muslim culture, attracted,for example, to the way that the wife of his new Muslim friend runs errands forher husband without questioning: “of course, anything for you husband”(MacFarlane 2013).
His stereotypically strongly Middle Eastern accented friendlater reveals he was a part of a terrorist plan all along, another stereotypeof Muslim behaviour, and Whitaker’s four main stereotypes would fit with MacFarlane’sstereotypical storyline when seeing the character turn from in the beginningstrange and different to what he knows to then cruel and violent with plans to ensuechaos and a short reign of terror. This is highly problematic for a televisionshow as it is not only highly influential on those viewing it, but it alsoshows that those broadcasting such material have no problem with this racistand inaccurate representation of both the middle eastern and Muslim individual.Muslims arereported on mainly when ‘they cause trouble’, according to Whitaker, and eventhough ‘negative stories often come from other countries, they obviously havesome effect on readers’ perceptions of Muslims in Britain’ (Whitaker, 2002).
Inthe US this usually comes from news of terrorist attacks, and this exists in UKand European news too. Prior to the September 11th 2001 attacks on the twintowers in New York, United States, there was little practical research withinmedia and newspaper depictions of Islam and Muslims, with the high majority ofavailable jobs and work ‘employing non-systematic anecdotal evidence’ whenattempting to demonstrate general trends within the western media. (Richardson,2004). After this date of course it was then seen that newspapers initiated theirdedicated and unprecedented amount of time and attention to, in particular, BritishMuslims, as well as their variances from other Muslim individuals and on top ofthis the concentration the apparent threats they could pose to others aroundthem.
Before this time, it was not seen that Muslims were to have occupied sucha dominant position in the western media, especially when looking at their previousabsence from representative positions within media such as regular soap television, differentpieces of literature, reality television and normal roles in film and representationas reciters of news or even comedy shows.A commonlyreported contemporary global event that causes problematic media influence onthe US against Muslim societies is the war against ISIS. The disaster group theIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS, was said to be foundedby Abu Musab al-Zarqawi around the year of 1999. Since they have attempted manyreigns of terror in the forms of threats and attacks, mainly on the US, and whenthis has been reported in the western media the US takes this opportunity toproduce uninformed and untrue beliefs about Islam which is problematic andquite dangerous for the Muslim community who are in no way followers of theterror group ISIS. Paulo Freire, Brazilian philosopher and educator, wrote that “teacherpreparation should go beyond the technical…and be rooted in the ethicalformation both of selves and of history” (Paulo Freire 1998). By this he isessentially saying that as we live in battles of conflict, with groups such as ISIS or those who attempt totarnish the names of minority groups with fear and false information, all mustevaluate and address how portrayal and surveillance of terrorist suspects will sculpt the formative minds in theclassrooms in western culture.
To shareinformation through the media is to inform and teach, but this cannot be done withoutethical thought and historical accuracy. To inspire critical and fair thought,a sense of compassion for all, and appreciation for the diversity in the worldand among the younger generation who will soon influence a new generation of minds, all musteducate themselves with facts and teach others aboutIslam in a way that is not problematic or backed by false representation.Stereotypesand negative perceptions stick with individuals within their life, and thisdoes not matter whether they are sourced from the UK or elsewhere. Many USviews, stereotypes and media representations of Muslim culture and behaviourbecome highly influential within all forms of western media, and can reachpeople of all ages in multiple other countries unaffected by the stories andfears spoken about.
The top 10 countrieswith the largest Muslim population are all outside of Europe, the US and UK(Lipka and Lipka 2017), and these lesser Muslim populated places are thereforethose most at danger of being falsely influenced by media when looking toeducate themselves on Islam and Muslim life. By the year 2100, not only willthe Muslim population be expected to have risen by a staggering 11.8%, but thiswill overtake the total Christian population which will sit at 34%.
Though onlya 1% difference, this shows a fast incline for the Muslim population. With thisrise should come further education, but currently many show more fear thanwillingness to learn due to false facts and dangerous propaganda. Those withina structure of power to inform cultural and religious information will affectnot only societies views but also those of power relations. Both western mediaand social media influence have taken over importance when it comes to educationalmaterials, and even those such as the president of the United States is anexample of this. Donald Trump, twitter enthusiast and originally a televisionstar, uses his platform as a power figure to educate. Unfortunately, this isnot always factual education, and plays more on the fears of the Americanpeople and the modern society watching him from around the world.
Not only doeshe spread fear through racism, but also through terrorist ideology as a generalviewpoint of all those who follow Islam. Such fear of these ‘terrorists’, asTrump sees Muslim’s to be, charges the ideas behind unfair and cruel campaigningagainst the Muslim community such as his recent idea for a ‘Muslim ban’ afterLondon terror attacks. Trump used the social media site Twitter to ‘promote his beleaguered travel ban onresidents of six Muslim-majority countries’ (Shugerman 2017) as reported byjournalist Emily Shugerman of Independent Online. It was reported that, fromTrump’s uneducated and Ludacris fear ban on the Muslim community,the US Supreme Court began processing a version of such a ban on ‘loserterrorists’ as Trump called them.
These ‘terrorists’ claiming the attack wereISIS, an extremist group who struck many individuals with a van and stabbedothers. ISIS, as Trump fails to educate others on, and these individuals merelyuse Islam as a generalised identity and do not follow Islam and the Qur’an as atrue Muslim would. This group are therefore not Muslim and yet Trump takestheir attacks as an excuse to influence society through Western media to hateand fear Islam even though this is not a factually backed portrayal of whatIslam stands for and how this is separate from the standing of extremist groupISIS. As studiedby Randa Elbih, there is a sense of a myth that ‘Islam teaches terrorism andall Muslims are terrorists’ (Elbih 2015). Islam has many diverse ‘sects’ that influence how it ispracticed by its followers and to what extent they must follow it. Within Islamthere are ‘around seventy-three sects, such as Sunni sects, including Maliki,Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali, and Shi’a sects, such as Jaffari, Ismailliyah, andAlawite’ (Elbih 2015).
Elbih shares a view that as we would not hold all Protestantsresponsible proven paedophilic priests within the Catholic Church, onetherefore cannot suggest or attempt to hold all Muslims liable for terroists actssuch as 9/11, the attacks upon the the World Trade Center, or groups such asISIS.It is highlyproblematic that western media can distort the truth of the many aspects ofIslam through hatred and fear. Islam is the monotheistic faith of all Muslims, notof all terrorists, not of all those who are of middle eastern descent, and mostdefinitely not of all criminals as is covered within the media.
It is clearthat the western media has a long way to go when covering news on Islam and theMuslim community, and it needs to be seen that covering Islam in the news isnot social development if the voice they give to educated representatives ofthe faith is squished and not given the resource that it needs. Though many areeducating themselves rather than believing everything they are told by thenews, social media, television and films, it is very apparent that many are muchmore heavily reliant on the media to inform them about everything in life thanthose who seek to find facts and the truth before attempting to educate otherssuch as the younger generation. With more social development comes more understanding,but with more of a development on technology and western media also comes moreof a risk of inducing false fears and uneducated opinion onto the generationsto come in the hopefully more equal future.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Lipka and LipkaLipka,Michael, and Michael Lipka. 2017. “Muslims And Islam: Key Findings In The U.S.And Around The World”.
Pew ResearchCentre. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/09/muslims-and-islam-key-finding-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/. AuthorMichael Lipka of the PEW Research Centre article ‘Muslims and Islam: Keyfindings in the U.S. and around the world’ (August 9, 2017) develops work thatis accessible as a highly relevant source for global statistical information. ThePEW Research Centre, founded in 2004 by Michael Dimock, describe themselves asa ‘nonpartisan think tank’ and aim only to inform the public about the issues,attitudes and trends shaping the world as an accurate information source.
TheCentre’s basic values are to educate using factual research and this particulararticle as an example shows projections for future statistical predictionsthrough the use of modern data. A 2017 article, and an update from 2010 datacollected by the PEW Research Centre, Lipka indicates revision over previousprediction and can therefore give accurate and fresh trends shaping the modernworld. No personal opinions are put forward by the PEW Research Centre andtheir articles, meaning that there is no fear of non-factual influential input. Ameli et alAmeli, SaiedR., Syed Mohammed Marandi, Sameera Ahmed, Seyfeddin Kara, and Arzu Merali. The British Media and Muslim Representation: The Ideology ofDemonisation. Great Britain: The Islamic Human RightsComission, 2007. Using Ameliet al as a source when looking for information on western media representationsof 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.
Thiswork looks at ‘The British Media and Muslim representation’ and not only attemptsto find a more modern version of societies views in comparison to that of 19thand earlier century philosophers, but this also shows the passion behind Saied Reza Ameli, professor of communications at theUniversity of Tehran. Ameli is not only passionate about therepresentation of Muslims within society and media, but also an educator thereto reciprocate facts to students who seek truth over uneducated media’s attemptto educate the youth. The lack of representation of minority group issues comesto light in this work, an important part of the reason why media representationof aspects of Islam is highly problematic. Whitaker Whitaker, Brian. 2002.
BrianWhitaker, British journalist and author, worked for The Guardian newspaper formany years of his career and focussed on the issues around the Islamic faithespecially within the western media. These opinions were in no way biasedaccording to Whitaker, and instead of sharing opinion based pieces he wouldpublish fact based work in order to show the listening public that there is areliable source of information with researched facts in order to influencesociety to seek truth when looking to news for religious information. His basicvalues were to stay factual and to differentiate fear and false news from thetruth. As an individual who has written over many years, Whitaker has kept hiswork updated and modern so that it stands accurate today for the modern readerwhen they may want to research his work or Islam.
Whitaker is therefore areliable source for information when looking at a journal newspaper writer, asusually these individuals stand more on opinion based ground rather than purelyfactual. MacFarlaneMacFarlane, Seth. 2013. Video.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2D79yWcFQok.
When looking at heavy influence on the western media watchingsociety, it is good to look at the programming that they watch. SethMacFarlane, writer of many pieces of work including 3 hit comedy sitcomsregularly played on television, tests the limits of viewers by taking mediamade stereotypes to their extreme whilst playing on the American fears of suchindividuals as Muslims. On original airing alone, MacFarlane was reaching 22million viewers. This is 22 million individuals who can see the stereotypes hewas putting out to the world and many, especially younger children, took thisas a form of influence on the shaping of their opinions.
The episode of ‘TurbanCowboy’ was released in 2013, and since has been re-watched on multiplechannels across all accessible countries including the UK. MacFarlane knows thisyet gets such stereotypes and testing material from western media and a senseof fear and uneducated judgement and uses this to interest viewers who eitheragree with him or find it amusing that he would test TV limits in such a way asthey know that his portrayal of such individuals as the Muslim man and woman areinaccurate yet funny to them. Paulo FreireFreire, Paulo, and Ira Shor. 1987. A PedagogyFor Liberation. South Hadley, Mass.
Basingstoke: Bergin Macmillan. Brazilianphilosopher and educator Paulo Freire was born in 1921 in Brazil, and laterdied in 1997. Educated by the Federal University of Pernambuco, Freire tookinfluence from such great minds as Frantz Fanon and Karl Marx. His work ‘APedagogy For Liberation’ shares a form of dialogue between Freire and Ira Shorand gives good insight into the need for education and the correct sculpting ofyoung minds.
Although Freire was born in a time less developed than modern societywhen it comes to the understanding and views of today, Freire’s work is highlyapplicable to modern day situations such as acts of terror and information recallthrough the media. Freire lived through times that saw high social developmentand more of a view of equality between the western man and those from minoritygroups who have not lived in equal treatment throughout history. His ideas thateducation and youth lessons should be properly informed are highly accurate,and any non-factual influence should be disregarded as it has no place in themind of an educator. Emily ShugermanShugerman, Emily. 2017. “Trump Has Just Used TheLondon Terror Attack To Promote His ‘Muslim Ban'”. The Independent.http://www.
html. Journalist EmilyShugerman, US citizen and writer for Independent online, gave a short articleon Trump and his use of social media on current events. As a citizen under thepower of Trump, it is important to see journalist behaviour that is more factualthan 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 theinfluence on the negative behaviour towards the Muslim community portrayed by PresidentTrump, and his use of western media to not only try and relate to the US butalso UK citizens through social media and news outlets. Online news is a usefuland very accessible way to educate yourself on current events for the majorityof western society, so this was a clever way for Shugerman to get out news forthe Independent but also to share facts rather than fear tactics as the Presidentwas seeming to do. Randa ElbihElbih, Randa. 2015. “Teaching About Islam AndMuslims While Countering Cultural Misrepresentations”.
The Social Studies 106 (3):112-116. Randa Elbihnot only uses the influences and work of many others studying the problematicrepresentations of aspects of Islam within western media, but also takes on theidea 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 takesmultiple minds and facts from such organisations as the PEW Research Centre whodedicate their time into finding facts about misrepresentations of Islam. Elbihalso includes a comparison between Islam and other predominantly Europeanfaiths, showing that a western medias representation of its own faith is notequal to that of more predominantly middle eastern faiths, and that there is amuch darker and more negative hold on Islam and the idea of radicalisation beinga Muslim issue whereas negative stories of those in other religions such as Catholicismare not portrayed as broadly or seriously.
RichardsonRichardson,J.E. (2004). (Mis)representing Islam: The racism and rhetoric of Britishbroadsheet newspapers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. To use Richardson’swork of ‘(Mis)representing Islam’ is useful when looking into western mediarepresentation of aspects of Islam as it deeply looks into and exemplifies how select weekly newspapers are concernedin the production of anti-Muslim racism through different settings suchas social, economic and historic. It looks into not only British and westernmedia portrayals but also those of Iraq and other middle eastern countries as acomparison. To look at Muslim based area media coverage of the faith and how itis represented is important as it shows the vast difference between their factualand own representations in comparison to the less educated and more biasedopinion based information given by western media outlets.
Such a comparison couldbe seen over 10 years ago in Richardson’s work but is also applicable to thepaper and online news of today.