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Islam and the Media

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Essay title: Islam and the Media


In present day society, the information age, specifically mass media serves as a source of communicating information and messages that is of interest to the general populace. It is the multiple functions of this medium to inform, amuse, entertain and educate on local issues and general concerns around the globe. The mass media has become the major influence in shaping our views of reality and our understanding of the way the world functions.

Statement of the problem

Since the attack of 9/11, the “war on terrorism” and Islamic religion has been dominating the media headlines. Islam in the media is generally associated with the desert, with a Bedouin life style, with backwardness, with violence and terrorism, and with the maltreatment of and discrimination against women. It is generally portrayed as a threat to free thought and civil liberties, a threat to progress and development, and a threat to world peace and stability.

Most of the ideas and information that the Western societies have about Islam are due to the mass media. Reporters who cover the Muslim world often know very little details about Islam and Muslims. As a result of the general ethnocentrism that exists in the west, the media then develops a distorted image of Islam that Western culture has adopted. The media’s keen interest in Islam is motivated primarily by a desire to understand terrorism. The debate is framed as getting to know the religion of the terrorists rather than the religion that the terrorists hijacked. The difference is a proportional significance. The same approach would never be applied to Christianity or Judaism. There would not be an attempt to learn more about Christianity to understand people blowing up abortion clinics.

The demonisation of Islam or at least the widely held perceptions of it is leading to an alienation of Muslim communities as minorities in the West. Coverage of the social, economic and political problems, such as immigration and education, has added to a sense of isolation; there is open hostility to Muslim demands for state funded schools in line with their Christian and Jewish counterparts. The call for Muslim schools has been painted in the press as a call for turning playgrounds into training and recruitment of fundamentalists.

In retrospect, the Muslim response has been influenced by the relative sense of marginalization that Muslim communities feel in the West. Certainly in the early days, Muslims rarely, gave feedback to the media about their feelings on what is written or broadcasted about them. This is also due to lack of experience and organization on the part of the Muslim community and partly due to apathy and nonchalance. Such an attitude has been greatly induced by the inward-looking nature of many within the ethnic Muslim minorities. Many developed a siege mentality and do not ever read, let alone wish to respond to the tabloids. The lack of any clear leadership and representative Muslim voice has not helped either as the media does not know who speaks for the community.

The Muslim response has been inadequate. Responses have either been apologetic or radical and confrontational. The apologists are always eager to portray an essentially non-threatening and pious Islam which can accommodate and reflect the prevailing standards of moral behaviour in the West. The radicals are always keen to appear in the media and say what many in the media want to hear, thus further enforcing existing stereotypes.

The purpose of this study will be to examine the effects of the mass media in shaping public opinion about Islam and the war on terrorism. It will also answer why do the so called terrorists do what they do? What is their motivation? The root cause of terrorism will be defined. In addition, the Islamic concept of Jihad will be explained, which has been the term associated mostly with terrorism and described as a “holly war” by the media. Will there be a clash of civilization? Can Islam and democracy coexist? Answers to these questions will also be introduced and discussed at the end.

Literature Review: A Brief Review

Over the past 20 years, especially after the Iranian revolution, coverage of Arabs and Muslims has greatly increased in the Western press (Said, 1981). More recently, the Gulf War fixated world attention on the Gulf’s region (Iyengar and Simon, 1993), and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has renewed intense coverage of the Middle East.

The events which bring the Muslim world into press coverage tend to be both negative events, and events which are often against the interests of the Western world. Additionally, when we consider that the religion of Islam has been viewed historically

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