Following years of attempting to restore their reputation after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the Muslim community finds themselves battling wrongful exposure again due to a film that has been released to the American public. In analyzing the coverage of the developing debates over the accuracy and fairness of the vocabulary used in the 9/11 Memorial Museum film, “The Rise of Al-Qaeda,” in its depiction of Al-Qaeda, it becomes clear that it isn’t the film that will drive negative impressions of Muslims, but the language employed by the journalists. In addition, the intention of many sources in question is hard to ignore due to the language being expressed. Based on recent coverage, one could argue that the debates over the fairness of the film in respect to Islam is completely overlooked; furthermore, that the coverage has become a war of words in favor or against using language to define Islam, while associating terms such as “jihad,” “Islam,” “Muslim,” with “terrorism” and “Al-Qaeda.” While critiquing the museum’s choice to show the film, the assessment of bias and credibility of sources plays an important role in determining the reliability of their claims.
I’m Calling BiaS
First and foremost, the role of bias plays the most influential role in the way media reports current events. Specifically in the case of the integrity of the claims and images which depict Muslims in the film, the stance of the journalists covering the issue play a directing role in how the argument is received. Upon analyzing the coverage of the debates over the justification of the film, conservative, liberal, and neutral statements were made. The value in these statements are rooted in where they’re coming from, and how that influences their validity. For instance, two conservative journalists made similar statements in regards to the 9/11 film. Rod Dreher from americanconservative.com states, “…The truth is that Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks were motivated by the group’s own interpretation of the Islamic religion…If the 9/11 Memorial is to be faithful to the truth, it must identify the hijackers as devout Islamists who believed they were waging holy war.” Furthermore, Dreher titles the article “Don’t Mention the (holy) War!” attempting to emphasize an idea that Muslims are trying to avoid shedding light on the conflict which initiated the attacks in the first place. This not only subconsciously suggests to the audience that Muslim intentions are questionable, but that there is already a conflict between Muslims and the West. Yet, the truth about Rod Dreher is that he’s writing for an online journal which discusses the socio-economic issues in the United States, brought on by “liberal ideas”, that threaten conservatism. This information unveils the bias in Dreher’s argument, as his role is to negatively expose anything he finds harmful traditional American conservatism. Similar comments were made by journalist Pamela Geller, who writes for LibertyOnline, another online news source that devotes themselves to exploiting the “illegal immigrants… radical Islamists…. Neo-[Communists]” that are allowed in the United States as a result of left-wing ideologies. But no news reporter went so far to announce their desire to expel all Muslims from the United States other than conservative author Ann Coulter, arguing that, because they “blow up the Boston Marathon,” less Muslims should be allowed into the country. Moreover, she went on to say that it’s not an argument between Americans and Muslims on what should be considered jihad, but between Muslims because of the way in which Al-Qaeda exercised jihad. Arguments often reflect the political view of the journalism corporation or independent author, and this was demonstrated in the articles discussed which focused more on exposing Muslims than discussing the validity of the comments made in support or against the release of the film.
It’s Not All “War”
In contrast, however, are the outlets that make a sound summary of the situation without exhibiting bias towards one argument verse the other. OnIslam, a news source based in Cairo, objectively covered the story focusing directly on interviews from museum directors and panel members from New York City’s Muslim community that were given a pre-screening of the film. The authors focused on the direct conflict – the debate over the use of words like “Islamist” and “jihad” in association with Al-Qaeda as Muslims – and also gave details of other components of the museum. This was one of the only news sources analyzed that discussed other exhibits in the museum, emphasizing the parts of the museum that display the mourning and assistance of Muslims in conjunction with other Americans on the day of the attacks. This article presents the “but” of the argument that museum directors are emphasizing; yes, Islamic terms are used to describe Al-Qaeda and affiliates them with the Muslim population, but Muslims are depicted as heroes and grievers of the event as well throughout the museum. Presenting both sides of the argument offers the audience the ability to formulate their own opinion on the matter without being swayed one way that the author is in favor of. Another approach is emphasizing the importance of future generations’ understanding of 9/11. The New York Post aggressively, though indirectly asserted their opinion on the matter. While reporting claims made by the Manhattan Imam that argued how offensive the film would be to Muslim visitors, the author of the article also emphasized the exhibits that put Muslims in a positive light as mourners or heroes on the day of the attacks. Instead of attacking Muslims and generalizing the Muslim community, the author is sure to separate them from Al-Qaeda, discussing how the terrorist actions have caused great trouble for “innocent believers in Islam.” Yet, the author presses the importance of telling the truth of Al-Qaeda and their interpretation of Islam, considering evidence has surfaced which ties pleasing Allah as the motive for the attacks. Similarly, Alfred Doblin of North Jersey News, a family owned, independent news station, also covered the story, emphasizing the value in honesty when reporting events. However, Alfred’s approached included using past historical traumas such as the Holocaust and Pearl Harbor to express the idea that not all Muslims will be seen as followers of Al-Qaeda. Doblin articulated the fact that not all Germans are characterized as Nazis despite the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., and not all Japanese are recognized as threats after the events at Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, Doblin exercised the importance that visitors to the museum need to understand that members of Al-Qaeda had a distorted view of Islam and the majority of Muslims do not have the same interpretation, nor do they support what Al-Qaeda did. His argument was based less around bias deriving from certain political or socio-economic stances, and more around the reality of the situation in comparison to other past events. While The New York Post employs aggressive language in their approach, both Doblin and The New York Post offers coverage that provides the audience with a level-headed approach to both sides of the debates.
Bias is overly abundant in many articles, and the arguments being expressed rarely touch the surface of the true debate: whether or not the Islamic words and tendencies depicted in the film are true to Islam. Additionally, none of the debates have stalled or prevented the opening of the museum with the film included. The consequences of these statements is that society often doesn’t recognize bias; thus, the credibility of arguments is rarely questioned by the general public. Society often forgets that news is an industry, as well as a source of information, and sometimes have alternative motives to collect revenue. Reporters aren’t always concerned with the truth, but care more about what will stir discussion and spread their story. With this in mind, the image that the Muslim community is afraid of encompassing is being exaggerated by bias journalists covering the developing events. Because of these reasons, it is arguable that more harm is being done to the reputation and image of Muslims as a result of the media coverage than would be done as a result of the film being shown at the museum.
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