Media Culture and Its Effect on the Rise of Islamophobia

Islamophobia has been on the rise around the world since September 11th, 2001 when a plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York, collapsing the building and eventually launching us into a ‘war on terror’. The United States sent billions of troops into the Middle East and, as the news media reported it, they focused heavily on America’s plight to end these horrible acts, worldwide and once and for all. Unfortunately, by supporting our soldiers, our media outlets began to make the fight an “us versus them” battle, a battle where Muslims were the enemies and America would conquer their evil. It was this type of propaganda, which began first in the news with their reporting and non-reporting of certain events, but later spread to TV and movies that not only created extreme Islamophobia immediately after 9/11, but led to the prolongation and rise of further religious persecution against Muslims for years to come.

The rise of hate crimes and persecution against Muslim-Americans and Muslims undoubtedly soared after the 9/11 attacks. It’s reported that “hate crimes against American Muslims soared 1,600 percent in 2001 to 481 crimes, compared with 28 in 2000” (Feffer). These hate crimes were committed by average Americans, those who were hurt and frustrated by the terrible incident that had occurred and took out that anger on the Muslim religion. And the media had their hand this how this rise came to be. The everyday public gets their news from the mainstream media—it’s the easiest, most concise and digestible way to understand current events. In the wake of 9/11, news outlets condemned the terrorists who caused the death of so many American civilians, and in their reporting, they would try to find answers; answers as to how these people could’ve done what they did. The answer was blaming their religion. News outlets took the angle of portraying Islam in a very negative light, and average, not knowing any better in the wake of a tragedy, believed it all. David Yerushalmi in Middle East Quarterly misinformed America that more than 80 percent of U.S. mosques advocate or promote violence, while an Islamophobia grassroots organizer, Pamela Geller, said that “4 out of 5 mosques preach hate” on CNN Sunday Morning (Ali).  Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy wrote in The Washington Times, “most mosques in the United States are actually engaged in—or at least supportive of—a totalitarian, seditious agenda they call Shariah. Its express purpose is undermining and ultimately forcibly replacing the U.S. government and its founding documents. In their place would be a “caliph” governing in accordance with Shariah’s political-military-legal code” (Ali).  None of these things are true. These could be ideals of extremists but certainly did not reflect the views of millions of Muslims all over the world. However this constant reporting was effective in that it instilled a fear in the American people, and led to widespread support for the ‘war on terror’. News outlets coined terms like “terrorists”, “extremists”, and “fundamentalists” to describe these Muslim attackers, but in doing so, they ended up isolating these terms in a way that they almost became affiliated with the Islamic religion itself. In actuality, an FBI study studying terrorism on American soil found that “between 1980 and 2005, 94 percent of the terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims” (FBI) Despite this, when news outlets break stories of terrorist attacks, it is often a first assumption made by many that the terrorist will be a Muslim. The news inadvertently linked terrorism to a solely Islamic activity, causing a deep-rooted fear of Islam in our media culture. These news sources didn’t deliberately try to portray an entire religion as ‘the bad guy’. But in the face of a tragedy, people look for something to blame to easy the pain—and in the reporting of 9/11, the media did just that and gave the people what they needed.

In recent years, the media have stopped blatant Islamophobia in their reports. However, the problem is still extremely prevalent, just delivered more subtly than before. An example of this is how, time and time again, major news organizations have been quick to provide in-depth reports on terrorist attacks all over the world, but seem to have less than stellar reaction time when it’s Muslims who are the victims. This can be seen easily through the media’s coverage of recent acts of terror. When two Muslim men attacked the offices of satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and left 11 people dead and another 11 injured, the Guardian posted an in-depth article on all known details as well as videos and pictures within 4 hours of the incident.  Other news outlets quickly began to investigate and report this ‘attack on freedom of speech’ as the world rallied in support for the victims of the tragedy. There were special reports on all of the major news outlets, such as CNN and Fox News. Even the popular photo-messaging app, Snapchat, did something unconventional and paid tribute to the victims of the tragedy. But something entirely different happened when Craig Stephen Hicks killed 3 Muslim students in Chapel Hill North Carolina. After the death of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, news networks took a 17 hours to report any news of any shooting on any major outlets. The incident was already trending on twitter before major news outlets had posted the breaking news to their websites or social media accounts. On top of that, the news cycle began by claiming that this act of terror was a “crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking” despite the fact that Hicks was an outwardly anti-theist man who had a history of threatening the three victims and others in the neighborhood (Katz). The story fell out of the news cycle quickly. CBS actually took time out of their coverage of the Chapel Hill Shooting to, instead, do a parking segment on “how to find a parking segment at the mall without getting frustrated”— not only not using the resources they had to do further investigation on this incident but also downplaying this shooting as something far less serious and hateful than it actually way (RT). Generally, the average person can turn on the news or read a paper and see dozens of stories of the brutality and violence of the terrorist group, ISIS, and mourn the victims of their cruelty. But they do not have same chance to learn about the deaths of 3 Muslims students who wanted to finish up school and do charity work abroad. They do not have the same chance to see how even the most devout Muslims are not that different for themselves, and they do not have a chance to mourn Muslims losses and hear of their struggles— and that has lead to a lack of empathy for Muslims entirely.

Islamophobia hasn’t just been continued to our news media—it has also traveled to our entertainment industry. In recent years, even the television and movies have taken their part in cashing on anti-Muslim propaganda. The critically acclaimed, Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, tells the story of how a dedicated female operative eventually locates and kills Osama bin Laden. The movie won an Oscar for Best Sound-Editing and was nominated in other categories because the craft it took to create the film. However, the portrayal of Muslims proved to be an issue and went beyond just characters in a movie to create a new wave of Islamophobia. Tweets about ‘wanting to shoot Arabs with an assault rifle’ upon seeing the film were normal reactions to the movie, despite the fact the movie only presented a stereotype and failed to capture the true nature of Arabs in the Middle East. The same rise is anti-Muslim rhetoric happened again after the success of this year’s blockbuster, American Sniper, featuring Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in military history. The film was controversial in its glorification of violence and because of Kyle’s attitude toward Muslims. An analysis of the movie in the Salon said that, in the movie “the parties consisted of Americans, who are good by virtue of being American, and fanatic Muslims whose ‘savage, despicable evil’ led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christians” (West). The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) wrote to director Clint Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper, stating that “majority of the violent threats [they had] seen over the past few days [were a] result of how Arab and Muslims are depicted in American Sniper” and that they have collected “hundreds of violent messages targeting Arab and Muslim Americans from movie-goers” (Khalaf). The increasing number of threats and hate-speech on the internet after movies with these types of subject matters occurs because movie-goers do not recognize the movie as a sole narrative from the view of Chris Kyle, but a movie about the greatness of America and it’s values—and because of that, everyone who disagrees with this movie must disagree with America. Movies and shows provide a single idea of their subjects, not the whole story—but consumers of these types of entertainment don’t go through and research the validity of their films, they watch for the entertainment value and absorb whatever the movie has to offer. In these cases, these movies offer ideas that only further Islamophobic ideas and rhetoric. These ideas aren’t communicated blatantly but are subliminally through choices in plot, when the good guys have a breakthrough in getting information out of a tortured bad guy or the hero vanquishes all of the enemies within seconds. These moments cast Muslims in a bad light despite being stereotypes and not representing the majority who believe in the religion. And because these movies gain so much popularity and recognition without a disclaimer that it’s only a movie, they lead to the perpetuation and continuing rise of Islamophobia.

Though the media is not the only cause for the inherent Islamophobia we have in our society, it has been one of the reasons we aren’t making advances in solving the problem. Because of the media’s inherent prejudice towards Muslims, both in news and in entertainment, we as a society are used to seeing an entire religion of people be cast in a bad light. If we could stop the media from treating stories about Muslims any differently than other stories, and stop movies from showing the stereotypical single story of Arabs in the Middle East, then we could halt Islamophobia from getting any worse and maybe start to repair hat has been damaged for so long.

Work Cited

Ali, Wajahat, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir. “Chapter 4: The Right-Wing Media Enablers of Anti-Islam Propaganda.” Fear, Inc. (n.d.): n. pag. Center for American Progress. 26 Aug. 2011. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
“Chronological Summary of Terrorist Incidents in the United States 1980-2005.” FBI. FBI, 21 May 2010. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.
Feffer, John. “The Potential Causes of Islamophobia.” Utne. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.
Haque, Faatin. “GLOBAL MEDIA, ISLAMOPHOBIA AND ITS IMPACT ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION.” (n.d.): n. pag. Institute of Hazrat Mohamamad. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
Katz, Jonathan. “In Chapel Hill Shooting of 3 Muslims, a Question of Motive.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
Khalaf, Samer. (n.d.): n. pag. Request for Public Statement Against “American Sniper” Threats. ADC. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.
“Sniper Film ‘stoking Islamophobia'” BBC News. N.p., 25 Jan. 2015. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.
Sudan, Richard. “Hate Crimes against Muslims Spike: We Must Face up to Normalized Islamophobia.” – RT Op-Edge. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.
“US TV Show Runs Story on How to Safely Find Parking in Wake of Chapel Hill Muslim Killings.” RT. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://rt.com/usa/232011-cbs-report-chapel-hill/&gt;.
West, Lindy. “The Real American Sniper Was a Hate-filled Killer. Why Are Simplistic Patriots Treating Him as a Hero?” The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

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