In today’s modern society we are very fortunate to have access to the internet as well as other forms of technology since they facilitate the spread of knowledge and culture around the globe. With all the different types of media communications that presently exist they are able to effectively communicate messages (both voluntarily and involuntarily) about practically any given subject to millions of people within mere days. That being the case, that is not say that all of the messages communicated by the media have been represented in an ethical way. One vague example of such that might fall into this category would be religion since it has tended to clash fairly often in a variety of ways with modern technology. A more specific example could be found in recent history when there was a lot of controversy surrounding the Muslim religion, where the animosity that was once felt in the past could still be present today. So are the representations of the Islamic faith and culture in the media ethical?
Ever since the devastating terrorists attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001 (informally referred to as 9/11), the media representations of Islamic culture and religion not significantly increased in number but drastically changed as well. The American “war on terror” ideology held the Islamic religion partly responsible for the civilian lives that were lost and resulted in fear/prejudice against the religion began to grow at an exponential rate among the American people and news and entertainment media. Consequently the media began stereotyping the religious observers of Islam in a multitude of negative ways, with the most prevalent being that of the radical Muslim insurgent. The insurgent is often depicted as someone who is determined on waging jihad (form of holy war) against Western people and culture (Mediasmarts).
This stereotype usually represents violence as an inseparable part of being Muslim, as well as religion as justification for violent actions. A clear example of this stereotype being portrayed in the mass media can be seen in the character of Sayid Jarrah on ABC’s Lost. Jarrah is the only central Muslim character on the show and his backstory reveals to the viewer that he used to work for the Iraqi Republican Guard. That fact in it of itself does not particularly have any negative connotation towards Islam, but the stereotype is made clear when his character is frequently linked to violence which is shown when using torture to extract information from prisoners. Despite the fact that care is taken to deliberately show the viewers that Jarrah is now a member of an anti-terrorism squad and is therefore not an actual terrorist himself, his actions are repeatedly portrayed as unnecessarily violent thus strengthening the ties to the Muslim insurgent stereotype. A perfect example of Jarrah’s use of violence is seen in the multiple times he utilizes torture to extract information from his fellow castaways during times of social conflict. Essentially a central theme of violence is present throughout the show for six seasons and significant amounts of the violence in the scenes are found to revolve around the only character with ties to Islam (Mediasmarts).
Another Islamic stereotype is centered on Muslim women where they are often depicted as being passive victims of male power imposed upon them. There is a fair amount of criticism from the media towards the Islamic religion for marginalizing women and for providing a disproportionate amount of power to men since acceptance of Islam is equated with women giving up equality and women’s rights are represented as being incompatible with freedom of religion. As a result of these portrayals, the most common words used to describe Muslim women by journalists and politicians are ‘segregated’, ‘beaten’, ‘insults’, ‘veil’, ‘freedom’, ‘religion’, ‘hatred’, ‘human rights’ and ‘extremism’. For concrete examples found in the media look no further than the crime dramas such as CSI or Criminal Minds where Muslim women are almost always represented as victims of male domestic violence. There may be examples where Muslim women’s having the role of a police officer in some crime films or television shows, but they are often cut short by a male authority figures who assert themselves and are shown to be in charge (Mediasmarts).
Despite the fact there are negative representations of the Islamic faith in the media there are some shows that manage to portray in an accurate ethical way. One of the most famous being Little Mosque on the Prairie’s, a show focused on a Muslim community in Saskatchewan. The television program has received great praise from critics and has helped to dispel some of the common stereotypes facing the Islamic community. Another example of a positive representation of Islamic women is the X-Men character Dust, a strong Muslim woman who practices the religion while fighting for good alongside her fellow X-Men (Mediasmarts).
To conclude there is no clear answer as the situation is longer as black or white as it may have been a few years ago. It is true that for most part the media representation of the Islamic faith and culture have improved, but that is not say that they are perfect as there is still much that can be done to avoid further stereotyping that is still present today.
Tallim, Jane. "Media Portrayals of Religion: Islam." Media Portrayals of Religion: Islam. Mediasmarts. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. .