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Newsletter for August 2011
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What is the Most Effective Way to Counter Islamaphobia?
by Sahrish Saleem
Looking back on American history, there has always been one race, religion, or culture that was discriminated against. In the beginning, it was the Native Americans, who were forced to leave their land. Then, in the 1800s, it was the Irish, isolated from society and forced to stay unemployed. Not long after, African-Americans were lynched solely because of their skin color. Today, it is the Muslims, being prejudiced in a country they believed would grant them freedom and opportunities.
The fear of Islam has become so common in America, that it has
been coined the term “Islamophobia”. It is considered to be just
racism with a spin. Islamophobia is not an actual ‘fear’ of
Islam but rather a prejudice against Islam – with all the same
effects. Although it has existed for decades, Islamophobia has
been on the rise since the September 11 attacks and is getting
worse every day. It is already beginning to erode America’s
image and culture because the very values that were stated
clearly in the Constitution have become lost. The values of
religious freedom and equality are no longer relevant in today’s
society. In order to alleviate fears of Islam in America,
American Muslims need to educate the American public through not
only their actions, but by introducing them to the basic
principles of Islam and correcting the wrongs that are fueling
Islamophobia. As Dr. Malcolm Stewart said, “There will not be
peace in our world until there is peace among the religions. And
there will not be peace among the religions until the adherents
come to understand one another.” By helping others learn about
Islam, and essentially come to peace with differences among
religions, American Muslims will be one step closer to creating
peace within the world.
In order to ascertain solutions to Islamophobia, it is important to understand the causes. One of the chief causes of Islamophobia is the media. As Malcolm X said, “The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” The media has a tremendous amount of influence on Americans, as statistics show that the average American consumes about 70 hours of media weekly and spends more time looking at media than anything else. The American media has been overrun with images of Muslims as terrorists, pedophiles, and barbarians. Not only have these images appeared in entertainment media, where one can make the argument that these depictions are purely fictional or coincidental, but in the news media as well. The average American looks towards the news media corporations for their outlook on the world. The news media tells Americans not only what to think about, but also how they feel about certain issues. Considering the current state of relations between the United States and the Middle East and the constant warfare in and against Islamic countries, it is no surprise that Islam is the topic of discussion in almost every news show. These news reports often exaggerate the fact that these countries are predominantly Muslim countries, such as when discussing the war in Iraq and the current political crisis in Pakistan. During times of international conflict, the media always tends to demonize and dehumanize the enemy. Today, the enemy is Islam. Islam is being portrayed in the media as a barbaric religion that condones violence and oppression.
In order to keep up profits, Hollywood and other entertainment companies need to reflect what people want to see or find interesting in their productions. Again, in today’s case this is Islam, terrorism, and everything that deals with it. This leads to many Islamic-themed programs and movies, many of which reinforce the violence that is seen in the news. The entertainment industry is lacking in its Muslim workers, making it unqualified in portraying Muslims within its productions. This results in stereotyped images of Muslims and Islam, most of which deal with violence and are often incorrect. However, there are certain television programs trying to create a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims. An example of a program that set out to disprove myths about Islam is 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock (producer of Supersize Me!) in which people are placed in an environment completely antithetical to their upbringings to show American the real differences within American society. One episode dealt with a conservative Christian American from West Virginia lived with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan for 30 days. Throughout the episode, David Stacy experienced life as a Muslim, learned the basic tenets of Islam, and was able to come out of it with a fresh perspective on Islam. In the beginning, he was very hesitant to learn anything new and refused to take lessons on anything that dealt with Islam. However, towards the end he started to accept the differences among their religions and began to appreciate Muslims for who they are instead of what religion they follow. This show exemplifies the Islamophobia in America and shows how many Americans are unwilling to change. There are so few people in the media today willing to display such politically and socially challenging issues, and those who are brave enough to do so should be commended and encouraged for their actions. Programs such as these encourage Americans to rethink their views of Islam and promote tolerance for religions, eventually alleviating fears of Islam in America.
The media is the biggest cause of Islamophobia in America, and getting Muslims involved in the media will help Americans view a different side of Islam, instead of what is perpetually shown on television and movie screens. The best method to dispel a myth is to present the truth and strengthening the Muslim media to educate the community is the best way to present the truth. Getting Muslims involved in the media will enable them to have a say in what people see in the news and in their entertainment programs. Muslims need to demand guidelines for the media, as well as having Muslim journalists actively involved in news reports. Muslims need to recognize these anti-Muslims biases in the media and demand that something be done about them. If Muslims demand a true representation of Islam in the news, the media will eventually realize that what they are showing may not politically correct and needs to be changed. Muslims need to keep an eye out for anti-Muslim sentiment in the media, and doing so will not only help to counter Islamophobia, but will also show Muslims how they need to act in order to show others a true representation of Islam.
Muslims should not only focus on what is being shown in the news, but also on the anti-Muslim sentiment that is being shown in movies and television programs. Muslims should demand that movies such as “Fatwa” and “The Siege” and television programs such as “24”, which noticeably portray negative views about Islam and Muslims, have guidelines on what they can portray. These guidelines will introduce producers to the effects of the anti-Muslim images displayed in their programs, which will decrease the number of Americans that view Islam unfavorably due to the misrepresentation of Islam in the media.
Another way to ensure that Muslims are being correctly characterized in the media is to push Muslim journalists to be actively involved in reporting on incidents related to the Islamic world. The Muslim community is gifted with varied journalistic talent but this talent must be nurtured, supported, and expanded. Unfortunately, American Muslims have very little input on news coverage decisions because only a handful have ventured into journalism as a career. If Muslims were working in these new corporations, their very presence would have a beneficial impact. Muslims becoming more involved in journalism will do nothing but help Islam because Muslims will have some, if not complete, say in what is shown in the news. Muslims will be able to teach other journalists and reporters about Islam and will be able to impact how reporters and journalists feel about Islam. This sympathetic view of Islam will, in turn, be seen in the news coverage of topics concering Islam and Muslims and will help to alleviate fears of Islam.
As Muslims, we tend to ignore the media and its effect on the American public. We push our children to pursue careers in medicine, business, and engineering, without even giving a second chance to a career in journalism or communications. We do not always realize the impact a strong Muslims presence in the American media would have. Islamophobia is growing everyday and in order to allay fears of Islam in America, Muslims need to educate the American public and do everything they can to change the minds of the American public. If fears of Islam are not subdued now, they may rise to such an extent that Muslims will never be able to alleviate Islamophobia.
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