For centuries, Western countries have portrayed Islam as a violent practice. In America, today it is not uncommon for people to see Muslims in the news, whether it is a story on the 6 o’clock news or an article in the newspaper. Many of the stories that are brought to the attention of Americans have shown the Muslim people as violent are irrational. In the 12 years since the attacks on September 11th, the negative light that has been shed on those who practice Islam has is still apparent in many circumstances. While Islamophobia existed in the United States before 9/11, the attacks amplified much of the negativity that Muslims already faced. What many Americans don’t see is the positive, unless they go searching for it. In this project, I will show and analyze several examples of the media that I feel portray Islamophobia and anti-Muslim attitudes, followed by a more positive representation.
For starters, there is a great amount of distrust coming from the United States government. In the past few months it became public knowledge that the New York Police Department (NYPD) had set up surveillance cameras is several mosques, and even going as far as having informants and undercover cops spying on Muslims (McLaughlin). The NYPD has also labeled some mosques within the city as terrorist organizations. According the NYPD, this was a measure made to counter terrorism. One concern that many people have voiced is that the NYPD is encroaching on the basic civil rights that every American is granted. As citizens of the United States, we are entitled certain rights and freedoms. The first amendment protects right of religious freedom while the fourth amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches without probable cause. From the reactions in the comments section of the article, many people are supportive of the decision of the NYPD. One woman says, “many in the clergy in mosques promote hatred and intolerance – better to be safe than sorry!” while another individual says, “Islam has no place in the West! Please leave it at your home country before leaving, the West is tired of Islam.” These individuals use the fact that a select handful of Muslims flew planes on September 11th, not Catholics or Jews, so that is enough probable cause to warrant surveillance.
ABC’s popular television show “What Would You Do” targets a wide variety of social situations and problems from many different angles. They bring in actors to play out a scene and see how bystanders respond in different circumstances. In part of one episode, they focused on anti-Muslim harassment. They start the segment by explaining that Muslim Americans are no strangers to stereotypes. Over a decade after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. Their actor playing the customer in this situation pulls stereotypes right from the book; he brings up learning how to make bombs, remembering 9/11, and the fact that he looks like a terrorist. While many people in the deli stood up for the Muslim worker, there was one man who agreed with everything the actor was saying. At 3:27, the video introduces him, and the host of the show, John Quinones, questions if he actually believes what the actor is saying? The man’s defense is that it is hard to decipher who is Muslim and who is a terrorist, they blend in with the community, get regular jobs while they wait for directions and then they strike. Glancing at the comments, many bring up the intolerance and discrimination that Muslims face. Another commenter had a different approach: “Last time I heard that the city of Mecca that only Muslims are allowed to enter. So to me that is considered as intolerance and discrimination against non-Muslims… So if you get down on your belly and pray to Mecca 5 times a day then you are paying homage to a center of intolerance and discrimination. So when you do that you have forfeited any right to complain or cry about religious intolerance. So stop your bitching.” Another individual responds by saying “good thing there have never ever been any extremist Christians in history… oh wait… hang on… Hitler, you’re wanted on stage!” So many Muslims face this discrimination because of the way they look and because of the decisions actions of select individuals. Had a terrorist attack happened outside of the US, the Anti-Islam/Anti-Muslim attitudes may be very different. Someone pointed out that a white man shooting at innocent people is called a shooter, give him an Arabic background and name and he is then called a terrorist. The way that the media spins a story can influence how people view and react to it.
This injustice and discrimination isn’t happening only in the United States either. In Britain, a PhD student Pavlo Lapshyn was arrested for murdering a Muslim man and bombing three mosques in hope to trigger a race war. After his arrest, he pleaded guilty and admitted that he was a violent racist. He was confident that a series of attacks on Muslims would force them to leave the area in which he was living. In this case, the “roles” are reversed. On 9/11, Muslim men attacked innocent Americans and ended many lives. In this case, a white man became the terrorist for attacking innocent Muslim individuals with the goal of maximum damage. In court, the justice said that religious and racist views, as well as Lapshyn’s hatred had no place in a multi-faith, multicultural society. At the end of the article there is an emphasis on the importance of challenging anti-Muslim hatred as well as challenging those who use Islam to carry out acts of violence.
With all the anti-Muslim attitudes, not only in America, but around throughout the “West,” there are positive things that the media should look at more often. One Muslim man decided to do a photo essay in an attempt to show that Islam was more than the ideas of beards, veils, and violence. Though 27 images, Munem Wasif shows how Muslims see themselves and Islam, as well as the fragments that don’t make headlines. He says that “terrorism, fundamentalism, veil, bomb, Taliban, Jihadi, militant, fanatic” are words attached to Islam as a result of mainstream media. The second picture in the album is given the caption “Hena’s mother and sisters cry after her death. As punishment for being raped, Hena was whipped to death by local villagers and an Imam” and is pictured below. These people are human beings and go through the ups and downs of life, just like everyone else in the world. Another image shows a family of 4 spending time with each other, much like any ordinary family. While the source of these photographs is Muslim, he does an excellent job at capturing that Islam and the Muslim people are so much more that the violence that is associated with them.
Lastly, I would like to go back to the “What Would You Do” clip mentioned earlier. At 4:50, an Army soldier walks into the shop. He hears the customer criticizing the man working behind the counter for being Muslim and he steps up. He says to the customer, “you have the choice to shop anywhere, just like he has a choice to practice his religion anywhere. That is the reason I wear the uniform, so everyone can live freely in this country.” When he was approached my Quinones, who told him that what he did was viewed as very heroic to some people. The soldier responds that he was just being a person. The last thing said in the clip is “it doesn’t matter to me sir. If you’re an American, you’re an American. Period.” There is something about that statement alone that makes people stop and think. He is saying that what he did was not heroic, but something that every human being should be doing simply because we are people.
In conclusion, not everything about Muslims and Islam in the media is centered on the bad or negative, but most of it is not focused on the good. In the 12 years since 9/11, Islamophobia still exists in America, but also in many other western cultures. By focusing more on the positive aspects that have come from Islam and the good things that Muslim people are doing, society can start to change it’s view. I do think that there will always be some intolerance from someone, somewhere, that’s just the way some people are. By focusing more on the good, society starts to move forward and can start to turn away from the fear that dictated the past.
McLaughlin, Michael. John Liu investigates NYPD surveillance of muslims, mosques. Huffington Post. 8 August 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/john-liu-nypd-muslims_n_3831681.html
Dodd, Vikram. Student gets 40 years for terror campaign against Muslims. The Guardian. 25 October 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/oct/25/student-40-years-terror-campaign-muslims
Wasif, Munem. In God we trust: photographing the intersection of Islam and culture in Bangladesh. TIME. 6 November 2013. http://lightbox.time.com/2013/11/06/in-god-we-trust-photographing-the-intersection-of-bengali-culture-and-islam/?iid=lb-gal-viewagn#6
ABC’s “What Would You Do” Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hHUQ0Lp6v4