By Nadean Bassam Al-Ali, Lily Asafo-Adjei, Hakyung Angela Chung, Hannah Karol Olsen
Islam is a controversial topic today, leaving many with questions. Are the images seen on various media platforms the real story? Is this a one-sided representation of Muslim people and their Middle Eastern culture? Does Islam advocate violence? Are they really all terrorists? These are questions that have become essential for viewers when forming a consensus on Islam, Muslims, and people of the East. The focus is on the various ways social media and television: hollywood as well as journalism news have been negatively constructing a manipulative representation of a community’s faith, violence, ethics, social behaviors, physical appearance, mentality, and culture.
The case studies below are bringing in conversation about the political and social discrimination shown through the ways in which social media represents Muslim women, the ways television presents Islam and its believers, as well as how journalism and The News attempts to paint a politically feared stereotype towards the Muslim and/or Middle Eastern identity. These stereotypical images embedded within our brains are due to the persistency of television and social media owners to teach viewers what one looks and acts like as an arab descent, how dangerous and violent Islam can be, and how much rage Muslims have towards Americans to prolong the underlying fear of American’s prior and post September 11th, 2001.
The key research presented to the reader will consist of three different case studies identifying stereotypical representations of the Muslim community as well as bringing in context either a Muslim community member’s retaliation, research or thoughts on the particular study. The different approaches taken in each case examines and identifies the ways in which social media and television play a substantial role in educating the American society on Islam and Muslims.
Media representation on all women in general are relentlessly negative. Highlighting females as sex objects, shown through a man’s perspective embedding gender biases and gender roles implemented through generations of various media platforms. This results in a lowered self-esteem level and a constant questioning of one’s self worth. When narrowing examination on women of specific religious background, Muslim women are exposed to exploitation of their faith, cultural traditions, physical appearance, voice and their overall involvement in American society. Through hashtag campaigns like #DearSister started by Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist and speaker on Muslim issues and global feminism, the campaign welcomes in tweets around the world of stereotypical societal views of Muslim woman. These woman tired of getting the short end of the stick, they retaliate by mocking the stereotypical lies told on social media on Muslim narratives.
It is no secret that television also plays a vital role on Islamic representation. From the beginning of time, the West has consistently defined the people of the East as a violent, unpredictable, untrustworthy, unintellegent, oppressive community and religion. This orientalism, that is the perception of the East through a Western lens, has created a distancing between American culture and Islamic culture. More often than not, viewers are presented with a repeatedly negative connotation towards Muslim characters shown in films and TV series. Since the event of 9/11, Islam has been a central focus for Western media and any reference embodying the Middle East has been enforced with stereotypes causing a worldwide problem, Islamophobia. Islamophobia is as it sounds, the dislike or prejudice against Muslims or Islam, especially as a political force. A decade later, the problem has only gotten worse, and that has been due to television taking on the responsibility of reminding civilians of the fear that can happen at any moment. Through article, How media portrayal of Islam and Muslims influence Islamophobia, written by Alexa Torrens from Syracuse University, the general knowledge on Islam has been vastly taught through the connection media has made between Islam and the Middle East. This common representation on television has connected Muslims to politically termed word, “terrorist”: a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. In a New York Times article, Can Television Be Fair to Muslims? by Melena Ryzik, along with Joshua Safran, the topic of positive imaging towards Islam and Muslims on television became a concern. Through trial and error it has been shown that a television series emphasising on the normalization of Muslim Americans relating and interacting in American culture failed after a pilot season due to extreme criticism. Counteracting this with another series focusing on materialistic views and overspending of Iranian families living on Beverly Hills rather than their religious practices. This show was renewed season after season for its unique stereotype that approaching a different angle on negative representation towards Muslims. Through the research of this case study, it has become clear that there lies a discriminatory foundation in televised media that represents Islam and Muslims as a feared, denormalized, and materialistic faith and community.
The journalism side of television includes The News, which has always been the most common method for American culture to gain knowledge and understanding about various topics, policies, religions, dangerous events, etc. Due to social belief of The News being in direct correlation with the term “facts”, viewers often feel a sense of moral honesty from journalism. One of the many popular news stations is CNN, founded in 1980 by American media proprietor Ted Turner. In 2015, after the Paris terrorist attack, CNN news anchor John Vause communicated his confusion on Muslims not being critical of terrorist actions. Vause went on to state his opinions on the lack of cooperation with the U.S. the Muslim community has given in preventing the attack from concurring. This common representation of Islam on western journalism has constructed an idea that all Muslims cannot be trusted because they have an internal hatred towards Americans and may attack at any moment. This has created an uproar of Muslims using social media as their own platform presenting the real facts. This has disturbed the system where the power of broadcasting has become accessible to all, spreading individual experiences and perspectives into the mix. One of the ways this is happening is by Instagram profile @themuslimvibe, allowing a public space for members of the Muslim community to showcase positive Islamic content through images, videos, and inspirational Quranic text. This has opened the door for even celebrities to share their opinions on media and everyday interests, breaking stereotypes and normalizing an Islamic community in an American country.