M[us]lims: How the Media Feeds [Us] Opinions

by Hanafian on April 1, 2015 - 11:51pm

In a perfect world, the media would be unbiased and would simply inform people of certain events and issues, instead of feeding them opinions. In the real world, this does not hold true. Because of the media’s powerful influence and presence, almost anything that they display is taken to heart, and strongly affects a population’s thoughts and beliefs. The media needs to act responsibly when informing the population, as to not cause damage or distress to a significant sample of the population at large. When it comes to Muslims and Islam, this becomes increasingly and alarmingly evident.

The media’s portrayal of Muslims and Islam after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York have been relatively brutal, to say the least. Islam’s place in Western society was questioned, and many Muslim’s motives and actions have been closely watched. The media has attempted to convey the threat of Islamic extremism and Muslim extremists to the population at large - and has failed miserably. Instead, the thought of religious extremism has merged completely with Islam, generalizing the entire religion and its followers as Islamic terrorists. The media has done nothing but enhance this image of Muslims as violent, barbaric, bomb-wielding people. Whenever a violent event occurs, the media is quick to try and find a link to Islam.

The race-conflict sociological paradigm analyzes the conflict between two populations, based on socio cultural affiliations. In this case, it allows us to focus on why a sample of the non-muslim population would discriminate against the Muslim population. The media has taken the faces of several well known Muslim terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and terrorist groups such as ISIS, and has used them in their fear mongering methods in order to scare viewers and readers. They do this in three steps: first and foremost, they identify the person’s/group’s religion - Islam. Secondly, they convey the negative actions of each person/group. Finally, they associate these negative events to the felon’s actions to their belief system. The outcome of this is a drastic effect on the population’s opinions. Many will associate the negative actions with the religion, Islam. They will then associate the followers, Muslims, with violence, therefore creating fear and hate of this specific religious population. Essentially, the reason why a sample of the non-muslim population discriminates against the Muslim population is the media - it takes the actions and intentions of a minority extremist population, and associates them to the Muslim population at large, creating social disorder.

There is also the moral issue of double standards being put in place by the media. On February 10, 2015, three undergraduate students were shot and murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These students so happened to be Muslims. Their neighbour, Craig Hicks, is the murderer - it is said that he acted on atheist beliefs. From this event, there are two big double standards. Firstly, some media outlets portrayed Hicks as a victim of mental health issues who did not know what he was doing. Terrorism is defined by acting violently based on one’s belief system, which is exactly what Hicks did - he acted on atheist beliefs. However, he is not portrayed as such. Thankfully, the white population was not blamed for Hicks’ actions. This begs the question - why is it that one violent Muslim would define the rest of the Muslim population? Sally Kohn, a CNN political commentator, worded an answer perfectly in a less than 140 character tweet: “Muslim shooter = entire religion guilty. Black shooter = entire race guilty. White shooter = mentally troubled lone wolf.” (2015). Secondly, the media coverage for the event was initially underwhelming. In fact, the media was called out for being Islamophobic and for ignoring Muslims. This initiated the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter on Twitter (Daileda 2015). Many people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, used this hashtag to make two points - that the media is troubled to talk about non-Muslims as terrorists, and that dead Muslims who aren’t terrorists are not particularly significant.This allows us to fairly hypothesize that if the situation were reversed, and that there was a Muslim man who murdered three white students, there would have been a significantly larger uproar in the media.

One of the large moral dilemmas that involves the media is how the media should approach and convey such an issue. As previously said, the media’s role should be to inform the population of events that pertain to society, and allow them to form their own opinions. At this moment, the media takes a teleological approach to Islam - it disregards the actions taken to achieve a certain outcome. In other words, The media’s desire is to portray the threat of terrorism, overrides what social damage it may have along the way, if not careful. Though the intention is positive, the measures taken to relay this message are negative. By constantly associating Islam with terrorism, the media destroys the reputation of Muslims all over the world, and consequently leaves room for discrimination - a major social consequence. Therefore, they spoonfeed an opinion to the non-Muslim population, who believe exactly what they see and hear. The media should instead take a deontological perspective. They should follow a list of rules, including ethical obligations, that focus more on the harmful effects of certain actions, and focus less on the consequence. Before telling a story, the media should make sure that what they say does not create social anxiety for any religious, cultural or other social groups. Secondly, bias needs to be significantly diminished and if possible, should plainly disappear. If the media follows these two guidelines, they can convey their message as a fact (terrorism is a threat), and not an opinion (terrorism is mostly/only a Muslim problem). However, as it stands, the media’s portrayal of Islam and Muslims is completely unethical. With a booming population of more than 1.5 billion Muslims, if every single one of them were a terrorist, I probably would not be writing this post at all.


Works Cited


Daileda, Colin. "#MuslimLivesMatter Tweets Criticize Early Media Coverage of Chapel Hill Shooting." Mashable. N.p., 11 Feb. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2015. <http://mashable.com/2015/02/11/muslimlivesmatter-chapel-hill/>.

Kohn, Sally. "Tweet: Muslim Shooter = Entire Religion Guilty Black Shooter = Entire Race Guilty White Shooter = Mentally Troubled Lone Wolf." Twitter. Twitter, 21 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2015. <https://twitter.com/sallykohn/status/546701181310218240>.