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Media-facilitated Terrorism Phobia Does Not Justify Islamophobia

A general perception exists in the United States that terrorism phobia should translate into fear of Muslims and Islam as a religion. With the rise of ISIS, the mainstream United States media has in many occasions portrayed Islam as a violent and hazardous religion with Muslims being demonized in the process.[1] This has been fueled by the reiteration by President Donald Trump in the mainstream U.S. media of the need to prohibit all Muslims from gaining entry into the country while issuing an executive order aimed at proscribing particular travel from many Muslim-majority nations. The outcome has been an overwhelming increase in Islamophobia in the United States. For instance, reports by the FBI evince that hate crimes against Muslims have increased significantly in the last two years since the September 11 attacks due to the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the mainstream media as a religion and people that are prone to violence and destruction.[2] Protecting its citizens is a country’s sovereign prerogative. However, as Al-Othaimeen denotes, when mechanisms implemented to secure the nation seem discriminatory and government officials utter public statements christening Muslims as a “fifth column,” such actions perpetuate the notion of Islamophobia as a policy rather than safety.[3] In as much as it is true that certain terrorism attacks in various nations are orchestrated by Muslims affiliated to violent extremism, is religion or rather Islam a good predictor of terrorist violence as usually shown by the media? The truth is that many factors other than an individual’s religion are associated with terrorism and the incessant association of terrorism with Islam is only fostering Islamophobia that is not necessary.Media-facilitated Terrorism Phobia Does Not Justify Islamophobia

For the most part, Islamophobia in the United States has been a brain child of the media in the face of the uprising of ISIS and its acts of terrorism.[4] In the last four years, much of the mainstream media in the United States and other nations has treated the rise of ISIS in the Middle East as a denunciation of the religion of Islam. In other words, Muslims have incessantly been portrayed as being violent and less human. For instance, in Cable TV news, promotion of overt bigotry against Muslims is the order of the day with recurrent emphasis on Islam as an inherently brute religion that is solely responsible for the rise of ISIS. As reported by Fisher (2015, 1), CNN has also promoted Islamophobia through its discourses regarding whether Muslims are an inferior people and society, thus encouraging more overt bigotry against Muslims. A good example is CNN host Chris Cuomo who in more than one occasion referred to Muslims as unusually barbaric and unusually violent, with the network displaying or running discriminatory chyrons such as “Is Islam violent or peaceful?”[5]

Hosts of other mainstream media channels have also conveyed and repeated prejudiced falsehoods against Muslims. An example of such prejudiced falsehoods is the portrayal of female genital mutilation as a problem that is inherently caused and perpetuated by Muslims. This is not an accurate assertion since female genital mutilation is a societal vice that cuts across not only religious but also cultural lines. There are various cultures that practice female genital mutilation but are not Muslims or affiliated to Islam. Hence, holding Muslims as solely accountable to female genital mutilation is nothing short of bigoted falsehood. In another example, restriction or banning of driving for women has been labeled as an act that is unique to the Muslim world while in actual sense it is restricted only to Saudi Arabia; a nation that represents only two percent of the entire global Muslim population. These are just but examples of the overt prejudice against Muslims in the mainstream media to the point whereby Muslim human rights activists have been subjected to unwarranted scrutiny by the media regarding whether they espouse ISIS or have any affiliation to the organization during live interviews.[6]Media-facilitated Terrorism Phobia Does Not Justify Islamophobia

Incidents of Islamophobia are prevalent on cable news, but what is more intolerant in terms of media integrity is the treatment of the question regarding whether Muslims are a backward and violent people as a valid discourse or debate whereby opposing sentiments are aired. When these cable TV news channels are brought to task for promoting the debate about Islam being a religion that fosters violence, they often defend their actions by stating that they are adhering to their journalistic responsibility of getting to the bottom of the issue by asking the question.[7] Nonetheless, as Smith denotes, while terrorist attacks in the United States and other nations undertaken by Muslims affiliated to violent extremist groups is certainly an issue that is worthy of attention, it is imperative to note that approximately ninety-six individuals have succumbed to death due to a handful of such attacks in the United States since the September 11 attacks.[8] On the other hand, more than three hundred thousand individuals have died as a result of gun-related attacks by other Americans in the same periods, yet it is never an issue in the media whether Americans are violent or backward people.[9]

Since many individuals in the media continue to treat Islamophobia as a valid position, what they are doing is telling their audiences implicitly that it is acceptable for them to spew hatred on Muslims and question the inferiority of Muslims. As Jones of The Guardian reports, a Daily Mail cartoon provoked criticism and comparisons with 1930s Nazi propaganda by displaying Muslim refugees from war stricken countries as gun-toting individuals entering Europe amid rats.[10] While the situation on the ground is more subtle than that, such portrayal of Muslims helps formulate an atmosphere whereby anything goes and prejudiced falsehood against Muslims is officially legitimized and sanctioned. As such, Muslims are viewed by the public not only as enemies within, a near-homogenous group and a fifth column but also as being synonymous with prospective terrorism and extremism.[11]Media-facilitated Terrorism Phobia Does Not Justify Islamophobia

Association of Muslims or Islam with violence and inferiority is also evident in popular culture. For instance, American Sniper; an Iraq war film released by Warner Bros paints a picture of Iraqis as an undifferentiated collection of individuals who orchestrate terrorist acts and also double as terrorist sympathizers who can only be confronted and subdued through violence. In a particular scene in the movie, the protagonist and his namesake are seen shooting an Iraqi child and woman to death. The film later “morally” approves or justifies this act by evincing the woman and the child as having been in possession of a grenade.[12] The morality in shooting the Iraqi civilians to death is only raised in the movie so that the protagonist can have a way of shutting down any protests or queries raised regarding his demeanor by asserting that those civilians were in fact not innocent people since they were in possession of weapons. The outcome of such unmerited portrayal of Muslims as violent people or individuals who are always armed and not innocent was a wave of death threats against Arabs and Muslims with most individuals taking to Twitter to tweet how American Sniper opened their eyes and made them see just how dangerous Muslims are and how they would like to shoot all of them.[13]Media-facilitated Terrorism Phobia Does Not Justify Islamophobia

The right-wing has taken special interest in mainstreaming violent Islamophobia in the media. Fisher gives the example of Fox News that taken the prejudiced treatment of Islam a notch higher by conveying violent messages against Muslims to its millions of viewers.[14] A good example is during the discussion about the history of Islam on Fox News where Andrea Tantaros argued that the violence perpetrated by Muslims cannot be solved by a summit or dialogue but only through putting bullets in the heads of Muslims as violence is the only language they discern (Fisher, 2015). In another example, host Jeanine Pirro issued a protracted monologue whereby she exhorted the United States to arm death squads and post them in all Muslim nations where they can kill members of Islamist organizations and Islamists in general even though most of these organizations are peaceful and have women and children as members (Fisher, 2015). The theme that resonates in such kind of media coverage is that which promotes hatred for Muslims, violence, combat and war.Media-facilitated Terrorism Phobia Does Not Justify Islamophobia

More importantly, being a Muslim or following the Islamic religion is being likened to a problem in the United States and most Western societies that requires swift elimination. In Trump’s campaign trail, it was common to hear the phrase “Muslim training camps” being fed to the mainstream media by the right-wing. This was deciphered by people as Muslim American communities offering internal asylums to terrorist training camps in the United States. As Fisher states, Fox News has nurtured and relayed this conspiracy theory from the peripheries to the mainstream resulting in most Americans viewing their normal-looking Muslim American neighbors, families and friends as imminent threats or individuals conspiring in secret to commit terrorist acts.[15] The recurrent portrayal and emphasis on this conspiracy theory by the media has resulted in people being arrested due to their plots of leading killing sprees against Muslim communities in various states after being influenced and inspired by the training camps conspiracy theory.[16] This is despite immense Muslims denouncing and condemning the acts of terrorism by extremist groups which is usually accorded meager media attention.

Research and opinion polls have evinced that Muslims around the world have in the past rejected and continue to reject extremism and violence, with most Muslims overwhelmingly denouncing and condemning terrorist acts such as suicide bombings.[17] Research further shows that in many nations in the Muslim world, both the governments and the Muslims are not only concerned about Islam being used by extremist groups to justify violence but are also vocal about their non-tolerance for terrorism.[18] These unfavorable opinions held and voiced by most Muslims against terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS are normally mentioned in subtle nature in the media with most focus being on portraying Muslims as a violent people. On top of this, Muslim clerics, scholars, community leaders and human rights activists have repeatedly condemned terrorism and extremist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, but the incessant portrayal of Muslims as violent, backward and terrorist in the news, on the Internet and in movies and TV series have painted a picture of Muslims as always being violent, villains and terrorists in the minds of American and the minds of other people in Western societies. In almost every movie or TV series with acts of terrorism, the terrorist character is always a Muslim man, woman or child. Islamophobia has only been made worse by the outright display of dislike for Muslims as a violent people by politicians in the media. It is one thing to see anti-Muslim rhetoric on news, movies and TV shows or read about them on the Internet, but hearing it from senior government officials relaying it as something that is normal in mainstream media is another thing all together. As such, Muslims have been constantly subjected to the task of defending themselves amidst scathing information or Islamophobia being promoted by the media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Al Jazeera. 2017. “Islamophobia In The USA”. Aljazeera.Com. https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2017/05/islamophobia-usa-170501131435789.html.

AL-OTHAIMEEN, YOUSEF BIN AHMED. 2017. “Anti-Muslim Policies Help ISIS With Its Goal”. Time. http://time.com/4699591/isis-far-right-islamophobia/.

Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2015/12/1/9822452/muslim-islamophobia-trump.

Jones, Owen. 2015. “Islamophobia Plays Right Into The Hands Of Isis | Owen Jones”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/25/islamophobia-isis-muslim-islamic-state-paris.

Smith, Paul. 2017. “Terrorism Fears Don’t Justify Islamophobia”. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/14/terrorism-fears-dont-justify-islamophobia.

 

 

 

[1] Al Jazeera. 2017. “Islamophobia In The USA”. 1

[2] Smith, Paul. 2017. “Terrorism Fears Don’t Justify Islamophobia”. 1

[3] Al-Othaimeen, Yousef Bin Ahmed. 2017. “Anti-Muslim Policies Help ISIS With Its Goal”. 1

[4] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. 1

[5] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. 1

[6] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. 1

[7] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. 1

[8] Smith, Paul. 2017. “Terrorism Fears Don’t Justify Islamophobia”. 1

[9] Smith, Paul. 2017. “Terrorism Fears Don’t Justify Islamophobia”. 1

[10] Jones, Owen. 2015. “Islamophobia Plays Right Into The Hands Of Isis | Owen Jones”. The Guardian. 1

[11] Jones, Owen. 2015. “Islamophobia Plays Right Into The Hands Of Isis | Owen Jones”. The Guardian. 1

[12] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. 1

[13] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox.  1

[14] Ibid. 1

[15] Ibid. 1

[16] Fisher, Max. 2015. “It’s Not Just Trump: Islamophobia In America Is Spiraling Out Of Control”. Vox. 1

[17] Smith, Paul. 2017. “Terrorism Fears Don’t Justify Islamophobia”. 1

[18] Smith, Paul. 2017. “Terrorism Fears Don’t Justify Islamophobia”. 1