ISIS and the Media

Posted on May 2, 2016 by

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How ISIS is portrayed and it’s effects on Muslims as a population

Since September 11, 2001, our ears have perked up at the mention of any Islamic group. Terrorist group or not, we as Americans have become used to hearing only negative things about Islam as a whole, instead of it being presented for what it actually is. Groups like ISIS and Al-Quaeda have gotten a lot of attention in the media; it doesn’t seem like you can turn on the news without mention of an Islamic terrorist group. Although these groups do pose a significant problem in the world today, the media is in fact falsely generalizing an entire population. This in turn has lead to the persecution of a very large group of people that have nothing to do with terrorist groups at all. What do different media sources say that would put its audience under the impression that all Islam is bad? Are there certain media sources that do this more than the others? Is ISIS affecting the way the entire world sees Islam or is this just occurring in the United States?

According to the video “What is ISIS and what are it’s aims?“, ISIS is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Their aim is to get rid of all national borders. From the video, it is not hard to gather the means in which they are going about doing this. ISIS, often abbreviated as the Islamic State, is then directly associated with acts of violence. With this abbreviation that has been placed upon them, one would think that all things “Islamic State” are violent and bad, right? Wrong. A simple google search for the definition of Islamic state shows that it is not in fact usually referring to a terrorist organization, but a type of government employed by countries that were founded on Islam. If this is the case, news sources make a distinction between the two, right? Again, wrong. Quite the opposite actually. From my research, I have found that the majority of news sources use the term Islamic State when referring to terrorist groups.

It’s all in the capitalization

The problem with this is the two different definitions for Islamic State: Islamic State (capitol S) that refers to the terrorist group ISIS and Islamic state (lowercase s) that refers to the type of government. When no distinction is being made between the two in the media, people are automatically inclined to think the one being discussed is the terrorist group. So what does this mean for people who live in Islamic states that are not part of ISIS? This means that an entire group of Muslims are being classified as terrorists, when in actuality they are not associated with ISIS at all.

When reporting about ISIS struggling to retain and recruit new members, news sources like CNN, Fox News, and CBS News, refer to the group as the Islamic State. Each one of these news outlets (even the ones who don’t directly refer to ISIS as the Islamic State) are shedding a very negative light on this groups, and in turn Muslims in general. This further reinforces what I said earlier: that associating the Islamic state with ISIS is classifying the millions of Muslims across the world as terrorists. I know for a fact that all Muslims are not terrorists; one of my roommates last year is Muslim. Not once was I ever scared for my life, nor did I think she was part of a terrorist group. In fact, most people would probably not know she was Muslim just by appearances alone. This brings me to my next point: the media is stereotyping what terrorists (and Muslims in general) look like.

Faces of ISIS: Profiling of Muslims based on looks

CBS News posted a picture gallery on their website titled “Faces of ISIS”. By showing these pictures, it is negatively affecting all Muslims, and especially the ones who resemble people in the photographs. Unfortunately, profiling of Muslims is not a new practice: it has been going on (especially in airports) since the September 11 attacks over fifteen years ago. I am not naive, and I am also not under the impression that members of ISIS don’t try and utilize airplanes as a mean of transporting bombs and weapons. However, I do not believe that all members that are profiled as terrorists are in fact terrorists. Because of incorrect profiling, innocent people get detained because they “look suspicious”. To me, this just seems like another way of saying they “look Muslim”. This is what happened to English cricket player Moeen Ali. He was held at the airport for 40 minutes because he “exceeded his duty-free allowance”. His friends commented on the incident, telling him he was probably stopped because of his beard.

This profiling has even gone as far as classifying people as Muslims who are not even Muslim at all. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah did a segment about this on April 25th, and it sheds a whole new light on the profiling of Muslims. Not just profiling all Muslims, but stating that “law enforcement [should] patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before the become radicalized.” Is this really the answer? I think there are better ways, especially when this patrolling and profiling leads to people drawing the same, incorrect conclusions about people of an entirely separate religion, Sikhism. Sikhs wear a turban as a symbol of their faith. Because of this, they are often prevented from boarding planes and are even lumped together with Muslims. If that was me, I wouldn’t like being profiled and classified as being part of a religion I don’t identify with.

Good ole’ American tunnel vision

Part of the problem of this incorrect classification of Sikhs is due to the fact that the American people are not at all informed about the different religions that are present around the world. When asked the question “what is a Sikh?”, most people had no idea. If we as a people are not informed, how are we justified in profiling Muslims and possibly classifying people of other religions as Muslims? The media has been showing and telling us for years what Muslims look like, which has lead to tunnel vision when it comes to determining whether someone is a terrorist or not. This tunnel vision has now lead to feelings of distaste and resentment for the American people, who are forming assumptions about an entire population that are nowhere near representative.

Islam around the world

In the United States, Muslims are speaking out to stop blanket profiling of an entire population based on their religion. However, from my research I have gathered that the United States is not the only place where persecution of Muslims takes place. It happens in Europe, Australia, and many other places as well. For example, feelings towards Muslims have gotten increasingly more negative in Europe after the events of the Paris attacks on November 13th. This has come in forms of hate crimes and vandalism of Muslims and Muslim monuments. Head of the Central Council of Muslims made a very good point, and that “blaming the actions of individuals on broad swaths of society has had an alienating effect.” He goes on to say that this alienation is potentially dangerous, and could push the younger people towards the extremists. Also, Muslims living in Australia tell the Sydney Morning Herald what life is like for them, and it is definitely not always pretty. Their stories and accounts range from feeling isolated to being spit on, verbally assaulted, and having their mosque firebombed. We live in a big world full of hate for a religion that isn’t actually the root of the problem: it is the extremists who extort their religion for their own personal gain and the generalizing of an entire religion being extremists that is the problem.

Adding fuel to the fire

The media, while it is very useful and allows us to communicate events that are happening around the world very quickly, is only adding fuel to the fire when it comes to Islam. Stereotyping of Muslims (and even those who aren’t) has caused isolation of a large portion of the world’s entire population. I get it. We are trying to prevent the spread of radical Islam. Instead, we are doing the exact opposite by generalizing and alienating an entire group of people. To reiterate what head of the Central Council of Muslims Aiman Mazyek, “This feeling [of alienation] can be dangerous, because if they have prejudices against a society they live in and if they generalize these prejudices, then they tend towards radicalization.” Therefore, by profiling and stereotyping Muslims, we are only causing young people to drift towards the very thing we are trying to stop. The world and the media need to wake up and realize the damaging effects this could have, before it’s too late.

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