Amanat Ali Chaudhry
address to the UN General Assembly as well as the one at a round table
discussion co-hosted by Pakistan and Turkey on the sidelines of the session,
Prime Minister Imran Khan articulated the twin challenge of Islamophobia and
hate speech that has largely defined relations between the West and Muslims.
growing ‘discrimination and violence based on religion and belief’, he
highlighted the need to address ‘both the drivers and the consequences of these
phenomena’. The outcome of a tripartite parley between the prime ministers of
Pakistan and Malaysia and the Turkish president was the decision to set up a
BBC-like TV channel to fight Islamophobia.
problem of Islamophobia is quite deep-rooted and has exhibited itself in
various forms, it has recently been fuelled by the growing trend of white
supremacism. The wave of popular nationalism sweeping across Europe, North
America and Australia has made far-right political parties, with an avowed
anti-immigration agenda, not only politically relevant but also strong
contenders for power in their respective countries.
nationalism presents a challenge to the idea of multiculturalism. Threatened by
the rise of white supremacism and popular nationalism, the Western democratic
and liberal model finds itself under tremendous stress. It also explains why
globalization and nationalism are being considered mutually exclusive.
on Islamophobia and subsequent policy actions to address it needs to factor in
the role of the media in promoting it. Understanding how the media has
portrayed Islam and Muslims is critical to the containing and neutralizing its
In this age
of mind-blowing inventions in technology, perceptions are more important than
reality. The media is at the heart of how we construct notions about the
‘other’ and engage with ‘them’.
representation of Islam and Muslims particularly after 9/11 must be an engaging
case study. The problem is not that the media does not cover the issues of
Muslims. What is worrying is that it highlights negative news involving Muslims
more than positive news. The absence of positive and more representative
stories helps people form stereotypical opinions of Islam.
It has been
empirically proved that people who do not have direct interaction with Muslims
and for whom the media is the primary source of information tend to have more
negative opinions about Islam than those who interact with Muslims in their
neighbourhoods, and places of work, etc. By focusing on the limited voices
within the Muslim community, the Western media allows ‘other’ commentators to
shape the worldview of local citizens about Islam and its followers.
media employs the key concepts of news values, framing and agenda-setting
during the process of selection and presentation of the news involving Muslims.
Its representational approach is also marked by ‘Orientalism’, whereby Muslims
are essentially presented as ‘other’.
Entman, who presented the concept of framing, defined it as a method of
critical discourse analysis in media studies by which some aspects of reality
are given more prominence. Framing is also used to define a problem, make a
moral judgment about it and offer a solution. The Western media has used the
concept to project Muslims as a source of terrorism, judged them to be
incompatible with Western values and unquestioningly supported the ‘war on
terror’ as a solution.
9/11, Muslims were portrayed negatively. However, the hostility towards them
increased manifold after the attacks. Western media in general and the American
media, in particular, has used the terrorist and culturalist frames in a manner
so as to suggest a connection between Muslims and terrorism.
near consensus on the fact that Muslims are unable to integrate with Western
societies because of their distinct culture and religious identity. Thanks to this
perceived failure to assimilate into the host societies, the media has
subjected Muslims’ religious beliefs to scrutiny, going to the extent of even
questioning the very idea of inclusive societies.
propagated by neo-Orientalism, Muslims are inherently incapable of achieving
modernity and their religious teachings are inconsistent with the Western
foundational principles of democracy, human rights, and gender equality.
is important to understand the nature of the Western media’s portrayals of
Islam, for it pits Muslims in complete opposition to the West. Muslims are said
to be lacking the dynamism and the capacity to break free of cultural
straitjackets. They are ‘unenlightened outsiders’ who can’t compete with the
West in pursuit of material progress.
evidenced by the Western media’s portrayal of Muslim asylum seekers, it has
shown a tendency of being racist. It has employed such abusive words as
‘uncouth’, ‘illegitimate’, ‘irrational’ and ‘uncultured’ to describe the asylum
seekers. It has focused on the religious identity and ‘origins’ of those
seeking asylum, and shied away from discussing their socio-economic and
terrorist events involve Muslims as perpetrators, the media is quick to employ
the label of religion, something it does not do when the perpetrator belongs to
other religions. The indiscriminate use of the religious label serves to
scandalize Islam and apportion the blame of an incident on the whole Muslim
There is a
dynamic and interactive relationship between media portrayal, public opinion
and political discourse as they feed off each other. The media portrays Muslims
and other immigrants as constituting a security threat as well as being a drain
on the Western economies. This way a feeling of mass fear and Islamophobia is
created. The electorate put pressure on their political representatives to
adopt more restrictive and harsher anti-immigration policies. In the same way,
political leaders exploit the environment of panic to push through their
discourse and public opinion provide content to media outlets that echo it
without scrutinizing the actors. The framing of asylum seekers and the Bush
administration’s ‘war on terror’ are two pertinent examples that highlight how
the Western media has failed to perform its watchdog function. In both
instances, it only played the role of a mouthpiece of the dominant elites.
For a long
time, critical scholarship debunked the theory of Clash of Civilizations.
However, the rising trend of Islamophobia, particularly attacks on holy
personages and symbols of Islam, shows that religion and culture are the basis
of intercultural and interreligious conflicts. The media, through its coverage
of Muslim asylum seekers, has positioned Islam and the West as opposing
ideologies. Muslims are portrayed as ‘primitive’ and ‘inferior’ in comparison
to the West.
narrative of the Western civilization being superior to its Islamic counterpart
has been articulated into a binary of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. The media has pushed
this narrative to the centre of the global conversation about Islam. Muslims
believe that the Western media has been unfair to them, with the result that
their second and third generations align themselves more with the global Muslim
policy to address Islamophobia is worked out, it is important to have a proper
understanding of the media’s role in spawning it. The establishment of a TV
channel should be followed by research institutes and think tanks that are
capable of generating ideas that can clarify misconceptions and win the battle
of hearts and minds.
Ali Chaudhry, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the
University of Sussex.
Headline: Islamophobia and the media
Source: The News, Pakistan