The Image of Islam in the U.S. Media
After the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the events of the Arab Spring, Islamophobia, the seeds of which were sown long ago in American society, has reached alarming proportions. The current situation reminds of the 1980s, when the number of Muslim migrants significantly increased in the USA consequently, the inadequate representation of Islam and Muslims in the U.S. media was revealed for the first time. The policy of occupation and war, that the U.S. government began to carry out in the traditional Islamic territories under the pretext of the September 11 attacks, has increased anger and hatred against the Muslim world (Ernst, 2013). This situation, which stoked the appetite of global Islamophobia industry, was used to knock down the Islamist movements and present them as radical and terroristic. Racist and discriminatory rhetoric of hatred is gaining popularity momentum in U.S. politics and the mass media. In the western world, where anti-Islamic propaganda and manipulation reinforce the violation of social perception, Muslims are becoming an important tool in the political debate and the struggle for power. Manifestations of Islamophobia in the United States occur more and more often, increasing the activity of racist political groups. Muslim migrants are constant victims of discrimination and hate crimes; they are faced with the rise of racism and xenophobia. Thus, only before the U.S. presidential elections, the topic of Islam and Muslims has become one of the most discussed ones. This paper focuses on the depiction of Muslim immigrants and refugees in the North American media as well as on the problems the Muslim population experiences in the USA.
Western media plays an important role as a potential factor in the growth of anti-Muslim sentiment. In fact, often anti-Muslim sentiments and crimes are fueled by the one-sided, narrow image of Islam and Muslims resulting from the Western media’s greediness for sensation and doubtless bias. Many scientists, such as Edward Said, Elizabeth Poole, Kimberly Powell, Dina Ibrahim, and others, addressed this issue. They all came to the conclusion that the Western media often portray Muslims as violent, uneducated fundamentalists, who present a threat and danger to Western civilization (Ernst, 2013). The reports of the Western news agencies rarely show the news about Muslims, if it is not possible to link it with any atrocity or terroristic attack. In addition, Muslims are rarely mentioned in a positive or benevolent way. Many studies show that Muslims are presented as a homogeneous body, which is alien to diversity and heterogeneity. The news of the armed conflicts in the Muslim world often ignores the facts, implying that Muslims are cruel by their nature. Islamophobia in the United States has doubled, reaching 45.5 percent in 2016 in comparison with 26 percent a decade ago. The results of a study, conducted by American University prove that too (Morgan, 2016). The following chart shows that anti-Islamic hate crimes have significantly increased after 9/11. Now Muslims are much more likely to be the victims of violence than it was before 2001.
The fact that the main newspapers, magazines, TV, the Internet, and other mass media resources continue the prejudiced and stereotypical broadcasting of Islam, causes the growth of Islamophobia. It is known that in the U.S., there are many sponsors, who fund the organizations that conduct campaigns for the dissemination of Islamophobia. In the report “The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America”, the Center for American Progress drew attention to the presence of eight main sponsors of anti-Islamism in the United States. Since 2001, these sponsors have donated nearly $ 57 million for inciting hostility towards Islam (Duss, Taeb, Gude & Sofer, 2011). This situation shows that anti-Islamism has become a giant sector, and against this background, the position of the politicians, who are trying to discredit the Muslims by terror and violence, is strengthened.
Using inequitable information and comments, the Western media link each committed act of terrorism and murder, executed with the slogan "Allahu Akbar!", with Islam. This is a part of a specific policy, and, unfortunately, such actions often achieve the goal of their initiators, that is, the formation of a negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims. For example, Fox News Channel and CBS often give the exaggerated estimates of the number of Muslim terrorists. Although some suggest the existence of peaceful Muslims, they think that it can only be explained by the fact that they misunderstand their religion, which is cruel by nature (Petersen, 2016). In addition, the Council on American-Islamic Relations complained that Fox News uses such expressions as "Islamic terrorism," "Islamic bomb", "violent Islam", and “Muslim riots”, while not normally using the same terms in relation to the non-Muslims (Petersen, 2016). As a result, it leads to a negative perception of Islam. Fox News Channel is known for its frankly Islamophobic editorial policy and duplicity in relation to a religious minority. It is also accused of inviting mostly Islamophobic commentators and experts, such as Steven Emerson. The analysts claiming that Islam is a problem are regular guests of many talk shows, while the voices of Muslim experts are systematically ignored. For example, one of the leading Muslim American intellectuals Hamza Hansen does not have a regular platform in news networks, whereas anti-Islamic fanatics are permanently invited to talk shows. Moreover, Milo Yiannopoulos, recently invited to the CBS News, has suggested that “Islam is the problem”, meaning not only extremists groups but the entire religion. He has argued that Europeans and the U.S. governments should not accept Muslims or allow their religion to spread out (Petersen, 2016).
Such channels as BBC and CNN are not interested in the frequent mention of the murder scenes of young Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as in the USA and Europe. While the deaths of Western citizens in these global mass media organs are presented as the most important event in the world, the information about the deaths of thousands of Muslims around the world is hidden. It helps to create conditions for the distortion of religion and the spread of Islamophobia. If the mass media show the murders of Christians or Jews by Muslims, they are represented as if the religion of Islam played the leading role in those crimes. If Jews, Christians, or other non-Muslims kill Muslims, the media do not mention the religious affiliation of criminals. A good example in this regard is the ongoing conflict in Burma. The Western media write very little about the recent persecution of the Rohingya Muslims (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016). It is also noteworthy that although each act of terrorism is subject to sharp censure from the leading Islamic universities, academic councils, organizations, Muslim government, and reputable Muslim scholars, the U.S. media complain about the fact that Muslims do not condemn terrorism (Powell, 2011).
Christopher Bail, a sociologist, and researcher has studied different articles in the New York Times and the Washington Times to show the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiment among U.S. society nowadays. For example, the New York Times sometimes whips up the American society against Muslims (Ogan, Willnat, Pennington & Bashir, 2013). Recently, the newspaper has presented an interview with a German man who joined the ISIS and disclosed its work from inside. He revealed information about the planned attacks around the world. The Washington Times is also known for inciting anti-Muslim sentiments. The newspaper often depicts the brutality of Muslims, calling them the “cult that attracts psychopaths from all over the Muslim world”. According to the newspaper, they rely on teachings from the Koran, when committing terrorist acts, while no other religion does this (Belt, 2016).
Muslims’ Attempt to Reduce Islamophobia
The representatives of American society experience a lack of interaction with Muslims, and due to the lack of contact, conservative media have a biased opinion about Muslims. Islam does not advocate violence and cruelty, as well as any other religion. However, 52% of the U.S. population believes that Islam encourages violence and abuse unlike any other religion (Morgan, 2016). One of the main reasons for such thoughts is the wrong representation of Muslims and Islam in mass media. Islamophobia has become one of the key issues in the field of human rights in the modern world. It has turned into a tool used by anti-Islamists in the West for their totalitarian regimes in the Islamic world to reach their political and economic goals. Hostility to Islam as one of the main themes in the U.S. political campaigns has become a part of the dirty nets of Islamophobia.
The Muslim states are now trying to ensure that Islamophobia is a crime, but the West does not take even basic steps to prevent this shameful phenomenon. No matter how much Islamophobia is presented as freedom of thought, it is certainly a major factor in the growth of radicalism. The Muslim views are presented in the wrong way, with Muslims often presented in the negative light. Such images depict Islam as a threat to the security and values of the West. Thus, hostility to the Muslims is closely linked with the image of Islam in the media as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
In order to correct misperceptions and end up this chaos, American Muslims often organize public events. With the help of the “open days" in the mosques or special programs, in which everyone can participate, they try to convey the true information about Islam and Muslims and answer the questions that disturb the society (McGinty, Sziarto, & Seymour-Jorn, 2013). Undoubtedly, this kind of practice is important in terms of reducing the level of Islamophobia. However, Muslims should unite their efforts and participate more actively in the political life of the country. The USA, as a country that has recognized antisemitism, what is actually a crime against humanity, should introduce measures for those, who are hostile to Islam. The implementation of legislative measures can reduce the increasing anti-Islamic sentiment and moderate the ardor of those politicians who incite antisemitism.
In conclusion, Islamophobia is one of the clearest manifestations of ignorance in the modern world. It is a kind of xenophobia, a collective definition of various forms of negative reactions to Islam, which makes it one of the most pressing and shameful problems. The task of all Muslims is to know their religion and to be able to distinguish the true ideology from the false one, which does not meet the high ideals and requirements of Islam. The surge of Islamophobia in the USA proves that ignorance in terms of religion leads to terrible consequences. Unfortunately, the U.S. media make people resort to stereotypes in their way of thinking. It is reasonable to require the honest depiction of Muslims in mass media, a critical study of the causes of terrorism, the strengthening of Muslim voices and opinions, and, generally, the broadcasting of news that will separate the God-fearing Muslims from such groups as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Thus, the Western mass media should take up at least partial responsibility for the anti-Muslim sentiment.