The writer, a Chevening Fellow, studied international journalism at the University of Sussex.
In my last article, “Muslims and the Media” posted in this space (December 4), I discussed how the Western media’s portrayal of Islam and Muslims shows their limited and narrow understanding. By highlighting the media portrayal of immigrants and refugees, we have seen how media coverage and commentary shapes opinions which then lead to public policy adoption. The process of interaction between the three variables is dynamic and continues to nourish each other.
As some readers have pointed out, the situation cannot continue, given the stakes at stake, and there must be a way to prevent it from escalating. While it is up to political scientists, religious leaders and those in executive power to think about more innovative ways to propose healing actions, here are some thoughts on how the stereotypical framing of Muslims is problematic, reinforcing the need for ‘introspection.
Muslims are much more diverse and vibrant culturally, politically, and even in religious practice than their monolithic and static portrayals by Western media. The fact that there are massive aspirations for change and the assertion of democratic rights in the Muslim world are signs of the changing times.
As evidenced by the Arab Spring, there is a strong urge for change in Muslim lands, and a new awareness of Muslim policies consistent with the contemporary world is growing. When the Western media deny these blatant facts through their stereotypical reporting, they tend to make the Western public sensitive to a closer understanding of Islam and Muslims. In this way, he empowers individual groups and presents them as representatives of Muslim societies and mainstream Muslim opinion. The result of such agenda-driven media representations is the imperfect way in which public opinion and political discourses are shaped vis-à-vis Muslims.
The stereotypical portrayal of Islam in the media has negative implications for interfaith and community relations. Such media representations influenced by certain archaic writings, the theories of New Orientalism and the Clash of Civilizations highlight the divergences between Islam and Christianity at the cost of many common points. The fact that Christianity, Islam and Judaism have more in common than is generally recognized has escaped media commentary on Islam.
During the study of the literature on the subject, one of the main conclusions was that the media coverage of Islam by the Western media uses the orientalist framework which privileges “difference” and “opposition” in its representation of Muslims as an antithesis of the West. Through an Orientalist approach and framing, the media tended to focus their attention only on stories that portray Muslims in a bad light.
The process of selecting and presenting information involving Muslims is often imperfect, aimed at integrating them into frameworks of hate, crime and violence. As part of its agenda-setting role, the very way that negative stories are prioritized with certain parts of their content highlighted disproportionately encourages news consumers to attach particular importance to news.
The Western perspective on Islam and Muslims will only change when the Western media stops viewing Muslims only through the lens of religion. Most events are often the result of political, social and economic factors and any attempt to interpret them with a single label of religion risks simplifying complex processes. Therefore, Western journalists should not be tempted to use religion as a basis for interpreting events involving Muslims.
Journalists and the media should apply the same journalistic principles to portrayals of Muslims that they apply while covering their own societies and other ethnic and religious communities in media discourse. The public tends to have balanced opinions if they are given the opportunity to access and understand a wide and diverse range of opinions. The emphasis on limited voices, as in the case of anti-Muslim narratives, precludes the possibility for news consumers to form an informed opinion. The media can achieve this by interacting with and referring to more voices of Muslim communities.
At the start of the new millennium after September 11, the media spotlight turned overwhelmingly to Islam. Journalists, however, were unprepared to provide answers to the questions that raged through their speech analysis and investigative reporting due to the lack of knowledge required about Islam and the fact that they did not had had little contact with Muslim communities.
Western journalists covering Islam and the Muslim world can be encouraged to study their topics further. This will expose them to a wide range of opinions and therefore help them overcome the tendency to stereotype and profile Muslims. This awareness will enable them to provide context to readers for an informed understanding of the issues facing the Islamic world.
In the last article, we analyzed the dynamic nature of the interplay between media representations, public opinion formation and resulting policy responses regarding refugees and Muslim immigrants. We have found that those who flee their country under the most difficult circumstances, often risking their lives, end up becoming the targets of prejudice, hatred and Islamophobia.
This policy of delegitimizing asylum seekers is in line with the way in which the majority of public opinion, influenced by media representations, wants refugees to be presented: as threats to national interests. Here, the media, as the fourth pillar of the state, are supposed to scrutinize policies and attitudes, but instead choose to echo them, thus reinforcing the feelings of the population towards the applicants. asylum.
The lack of media scrutiny, coupled with heightened public expectations from governments, has led authorities to put in place more restrictive immigration regimes aimed at deterring potential refugees. The public discourse on asylum seekers can change if the media can take a more nuanced view of them by exploring their situation from human and socio-economic perspectives without invoking their religious identity.
By virtue of their population and their geographical distribution, Muslims are an essential actor in the peace and stability of the world. Events unfolding in Muslim countries are likely to affect the rest of the world. It is the ethos and the spirit of globalization. Thus, an attempt to further marginalize Muslims will be counterproductive.
Western media have a huge role to play in correcting public perceptions through more comprehensive reporting and responsible portrayal of the conflicts, events and crises unfolding in the Muslim world.
To achieve this goal, the media must adhere to the fundamentals of journalism and avoid the obsession with using Islam for political coverage. The media should be a bridge to foster understanding between Islam and the West, in addition to raising awareness of the circumstances facing asylum seekers and immigrants.
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Twitter: @ Amanat222