By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
28 March 2017
Haq Se Agar
Gharz Hai To Zaiba Hai Kya Ye Baat
Islam Ka Muhasiba,
Yourap Se Darguzar!
(And if your
goal be truth, Is this the right road—
all glossed, and all Islam’s held to so strict an audit?)
In an ideal world, journalism is a
profession of incredible integrity. Good journalists are amongst the most
dexterous and skilled people in the world—and also the most respected. We have
all benefited from the work of indefatigable journalists who put life, limb,
family and even sanity on the line for the truth. There is no sane, decent, and
democratic polity possible without journalists who challenge power,
relentlessly pursue and disseminate the truth, and then find the next story to
press once seemed to have a conscience, thanks to history's painful social
conflicts and questions of war and peace. The world has changed, however, and
many of us may be in the time warp of old values. Like all institutions, the
media has also suffered in terms of its reputation. Values are not what matter
most, In an age of social media, where stories can go viral in much shorter
spaces of time than before, one would think that it would become ever more
important from an ethical point of view for stories to be contextualized and
vulnerable victims of an increasingly invidious media are Islam and its
adherents. Muslims continue to be
projected as uniformly fundamentalist, violent, and anti-secular. The terms
Islamic or Muslim are regularly identified with extremism, militancy and jihads
as if they are organically related. (Muslim extremist, Islamic terror, Islamic
war, Muslim time bomb)
In addition to the media, scholarship often
pays limited attention to the debates that Muslims have amongst themselves
about Islam, what it means to be Muslim, how Muslims deal with differences
amongst themselves and their diverse
understandings of Islam, . There is a strong voice of moderates from
within the Muslim ranks that can be properly channelized by the media to give a
rounded assessment of Islamic issues.
A lot of ink, an infinite number of film
reels, and a frenetic churn of news stories bristling with violent tones on
Islam have fixated the Muslims as a
stereotyped homogeneity. There is a
cottage industry of authors who keep burning midnight oil to ensure that the
flashlights on bad Muslims keep blazing.
The development of a media and political
culture that instinctively sees Islam as an ideological threat to Western
liberal values, and equates its conservatism with violent extremism, is no
accident, according to author and researcher Nathan Lean.
Lean, who wrote the book The Islamophobia
Industry, believes that the massive multimillion-dollar industry began booming
following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when "a cadre of bloggers,
pseudo-scholars, religious leaders, and activists emerged touting special
knowledge of Islam and Muslims.”
Sadly, journalism is failing to perform its fundamental role of
objective reporting and analysis and continues its job by rehashing tired old
narratives of 'radical Islam' or a 'fight within Islam.' The truth is much more
convoluted than that -- and the entire world has a direct role in creating the
dangerous reality that so many Muslims have to live with every single day.
The media shows remarkable consistency
in employing an arsenal of semantic games and incendiary phrases to link most
of the violence around the world with some form of Islamic ideology or some
Islamic group. In fact the entire discourse is being orchestrated on predefined
lines. To put it in the words of Jim Morrison,
“Whoever controls the media controls the mind”.
It is time journalists reaffirm their
commitment to the credo of Joseph Pulitzer III (1913-1993)the founder of
the world’s gold standards I journalism
,the Pulitzer Prizes We will illuminate dark places and, with a deep sense of
responsibility, interpret these troubled times.
It is much easier for the media to reduce
the complex debate on various issues confronting Muslims
to a series of clichés, slogans and sound bites, rather than examining root
causes .It is easier still to champion
the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of
mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.
terrorists to dictators, incendiary literature to fabricated threats, Muslim identity
is marred by almost every imaginable negative stereotype and menacing trope.
Images of good Muslims, in every medium, are few and far between.
Societal understandings of "good
Muslims" are just as narrow as its conception of the "bad Muslims”
.Both characterizations are rooted in a common baseline, which gives rise to
linear caricatures that overshadow representations of "good Muslims"
as Olympians or scholars, and even
mayors of world-class cities. Indeed,
the hegemony of "bad Muslim"
has entirely eclipsed representations of "good Muslims”. Like the
"bad Muslim", the identity of "good Muslims" is also linked
to terrorism; in their case, they being accused of not doing enough to stop it.
are tagged with the affirmation of collective guilt that obliges them to
disavow or apologies for entirely unrelated actors, or completely unconnected
actions. Terrorism is not only conflated with Islam, but tied exclusively to it
and nothing else.
Muslim bashing is in several cases a
by-product of the new brand of journalism which sees news value in
the ‘social weight’ of the message,
The media keeps beaming recurring images of the
deep-seated communal ruptures that already exist in the walls of our
society and are too well known. By reinforcing them it, wittingly and
unwittingly, contributes to further deepening them. . The
new media not only reflects the mood but is responsible for building it as
well. Media oxygen is provided only to
those who say something communally inflammable .in such an environment the
efforts of pacifists and even of the
moderated segments suffer great damage.
Religion has been simply reduced to a
social or political construct, although for millions of people, it is a daily
practice, and the very real framework of understanding that connects human
lives to a spiritual reality. Their faith is the prism through which they view
the world, and their religious communities are their central environments. It
is difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the lives of so many. Yet, often the only religious voices on the
front page are those speaking messages of hatred or violence, especially in
stories about conflict or social tensions. The media can carefully balance and
moderate the coverage by injecting more reasoned and saner voices.
Good journalism , requires deep and
rigorous academic studies, attentive
listening to diverse sources, dogged examination of data and other record
particularly when it deals with faith sues s, and close observation of policies and institutions . It takes time and
skill, and requires support of editors
and other news leaders who live in the community and care about it. It does not
necessarily guarantee publishers a return in eye-popping audience numbers.
M. Scanlon’s now classic essay, The
Difficulty of Tolerance, offers an
attractive affirmative answer: Tolerance is valuable for its own sake because
of the attitude it allows us to bear towards our fellow citizens, an attitude
of fraternity and solidarity that is deeper than the intractable disagreements
that divide us.
It is worth quoting Dr S Radhakrishnan, the
philosopher President of India:
“What counts is not creed but conduct. By
their fruits ye shall know them and not by their beliefs. Religion is not
correct belief but righteous living. The Hindu view that every method of
spiritual growth, every path to the Truth is worthy of reverence has much to
commend itself.” (The Hindu View of Life, 1962)
Given that such a tiny proportion of
Muslims choose to take the path of violence, one wonders why is it that the
larger Muslim community gets labelled as part of the problem. It seems Muslims have more to do with their
own inaction and inability to provide a counter narrative.
From Cairo to Kuala Lumpur to the edges of the Islamic
world, Islamic councils are more concerned with questions related to women's
dress and piety and sectarian conflicts than with talking about science,
technology and innovation.
Unless the Muslim world and the Muslim
communities start moving from the periphery to the mainstreams, the field will
remain wide open for radicalists to carry the flag of Islam.
The extremists are often projected as
lodestars primarily because Islamic orthodoxy has not been able to offer a
humane and engaging alternative
The solution is not difficult .What is
needed is meaningful engagement between the media and authentic caretakers of Muslim faith. The media has to seek out
the saner voices and not just line up opinions that suit its own narrative.
Most important, it should reports facts faithfully. As C P Scot, the founder
editor of The Guardian would repeatedly advise:”Comment is free, but fact is
distorted images of Islam stem partly from a lack of understanding of Islam
among non-Muslims and partly from the failure by Muslims to explain themselves.
The results are predictable: hatred
feeds on hatred. Ignorance of Islam exists both among Muslims and non-Muslims.
Non-Muslims, ignorant and misunderstanding Islam, fear it. They believe it
threatens their most basic values. Fantasy, conjecture and stereotypes replace
fact and reality. Similarly Muslims have their own misconceptions. They,
reacting to the hate and fear of non –Muslims, create a kind of defensive
posture within their societies and a combative environment built on militant
rhetoric. In this heat and misunderstanding, the voices of peace and tolerance
are drowned. We need sanity in all quarters to let the truth prevail.
For this to happen, the media will have to
walk that extra mile. As John Pilger advises in his book Hidden Agendas, “It is
not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without
understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a
Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four
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