Media and Islam

An area of popular research throughout the last two decades is the study of mainstream media and it’s depiction of individuals that follow the Islamic faith. It is evident that Muslims encounter countless stereotypes through the lens of Western media consumers. This essay will highlight events occurring after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Centre attacks and ultimately display the Islamophobia present within politics. It is through this research that I will outline the stereotypes prevalent whilst providing contemporary media examples. Overall, this essay will argue that Islamophobia is prevalent in contemporary Western media; however, combating this Islamophobia is also evidently visible. Furthermore, due to certain media structures such as corporate ownership dominance and cultural consensus, Islam is viewed as the antagonist of Western culture. Overall, this essay will focus on the two evident spectrums of media coverage of Muslims and their religion as a topic of discourse. Through this essay I will aim to conclude that though extreme Islamophobia is prevalent in Western media, there is many media outlets that look to eliminate Islamophobia and Xenophobia altogether. The media coverage that will be analyzed will be highlighting Quebec’s political party; Parti Quebecois’ proposal for secular changes to the Quebec Charter and the recent Boston Marathon Bombing media coverage. I will begin this essay by defining the phrase “Islamophobia” and it’s significance within Western media coverage. Islamophobia is an ideology that radiates negative meanings to Muslims and Islam, thereby giving rise to negative attitudes and discriminatory practices against Muslims and Islam (ethnic). It is the fear of followers of the Islamic religion and negative views on the religion as a whole. Islamophobia leads to many negative depictions of Muslims. Moreover Islamophobia is described as the belief that Islam is inferior to the west (GoGale). Also, it is studied as, “ barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist; Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a clash of civilizations” (GoGale). If one were to have the same views against another religion or ethnic group in the West, it would be considered racism. However, as stated by Gema Martin-Munoz, this is not the case with Islam. She claims “Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices against Muslims and the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal” (GoGale).

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Islamophobia and the Hijab:
It is one of the reasons that the hijab is a controversial issue in contemporary Western societies and media. The lack of knowledge of reasoning behind the decision of Muslim women to cover their heads leads individuals to assume that these specified women are oppressed as a result of clear sexism in the Muslim religion. Also, Islamophobia is also prevalent with regards to the hijab as many Western media outlets describe it as a symbol of terrorism (examples will be described shortly). Overall, Islamophobia in the West is the fear and negative depiction of Muslims and Islamophobia with regards to the hijab is to view one choosing to wear it as a representation of oppression and terrorism. I will begin this section by summarizing the events for the two aforementioned political events. First, the Boston Bombing occurred on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon. Two brothers were considered the alleged criminals for building and planting two pressure cooker bombs that exploded near the finish line of the marathon. This caused the death of three people and wounded more than 260 (Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Seeks Dismissal of Some Charges). Tamerlan Tsarnaev aged 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev aged 20, were involved in a police chase that evidently resulted in the death of the older brother, Tamerlan, during a police shootout, while Dzhokhar was eventually caught hiding in the Boston town of Watertown (Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Seeks Dismissal of Some Charges).

Fox News stated, “Authorities say he and his older brother, Tamerlan, ethnic Chechens from Russia who emigrated to the United States as children, planned and carried out the attack to retaliate against the U.S for its involvement in Muslim countries” (Kelly). Authorities said Dzhokhar had scratched anti-American messages on the inside of the boat, including “ The U.S Government is killing our innocent civilians” and “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all” after the death of his older brother (Kelly). Radical Islamic views were deemed the motive behind the attacked by the alleged criminals. Further, the younger Tsarnaev brother was caught a few days after the bombing and is now facing over 30 federal counts, including the use of weapons of mass destruction (Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Seeks Dismissal of Some Charges). Power is a critical aspect of gaining an audience for the media. Individuals and groups that possess power are deemed newsworthy. These organizations become the center of attention and information during political events and are the dominant hub of information that consumers are exposed to. This directly correlates to Fox News as it holds a large amount of power in regards to television. Specifically, in 2013 Fox News was the number one ranked news station for the twelfth consecutive year. As studied by TVNEWSER, “Fox News remained on top in 2013, capping off its 12th consecutive year as the most-watched cable news network among both total viewers and A25-54 viewers (Knox). This ranking is due to its news content being exposed to almost two million consumers daily (Knox).

Ultimately, this creates a problem, as Fox News is an obvious right wing conservative news channel. It is to be noted that Fox News is commonly witnessed using the news channel to express the partisan beliefs of its owners and news team. The power Fox News holds has played an integral part in the framing of Muslims accompanying the Boston Marathon Bombing attacks. Framing is defined as the way in which we talk about an issue or event that puts it into a context, and it has important implications for public opinion and the alternatives available for addressing the issue (Ridout, 150). Following the bombings in Boston, framing was observed through Fox News and its’ media outlets. Specifically, on April 20th, 2013 (five days after the bombing) Fox News correspondents indirectly claimed Islam as the evident factor behind the motive of both of the main suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The heading during this specified newscast was “ The Mind of A Terrorist, Factors that May Lead to a Radical Path”. As the newscast prolonged correspondents were expressing radical frames to the brothers. Specifically, they continued to frame the plot and reason behind the alleged attack to directly correlate to the Islamic religion of the two brothers. As the panel discussed, one correspondent questioned the wife of the older brother, Tamerlan, and her involvement in the alleged plot. He stated, “I just wonder that if under questioning she can honestly say that she had no idea that her husband who spent a year away and prayed five times a day, that she had no indication that he was capable of this” (The Mind of a Terrorist). Stating this, the correspondent undeniably created a relation to terrorism and the Islamic act of praying five times a day. This correspondent framed the bombing to put terrorism in the same context as the religion of Islam. Additionally, with the large consumer numbers of Fox News, this opinion had reached a number of people providing them with a framed context on a political event. Fox News continued their coverage of the Boston Bombing whilst focusing on and stressing the Muslim religion of both the Tsarnaev brothers. At the same time, media outlets that disregarded their religion were ignored as importance of their Islamic roots grew rapidly. Overall, the power of Fox News in contemporary media enables the outlet as newsworthy, regardless of the content media and partisan biases present within the origins of the organization as a public outlet.

Though the Boston Marathon Bombings were encircled around the fact that there were two male Muslim victims, the media found a way to deepen the Islamophobia already prevalent with attacks on the hijab. Specifically, the wife of Tamerlan, Katherine Russell was a convert who wore the hijab. This directly made her a terrorist in the eyes of Fox News and its’ correspondents. One example of this was witnessed by Ann Coulter, a Fox News correspondent and avid Conservative. When speaking about Katherine’s knowledge of her husbands alleged plans to bomb the Boston Marathon, she spoke about her extremely negatively. When her peers stated that Katherine must have had ideas that Tamerlan was having terrorist-like thoughts, Coulter stated, “ I don’t care if she knew about this. She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab” (Insider). This is a clear example of cultural consensus. As explained by Professor Katherine Bullock, the cultural elite in Western society deem the Western states as the hero, the Muslims as the villain and the citizens of the state as clear victims (Bullock). Also, it is important to note that with regards to Fox News, there is a lack of diversity in views. The news channel has correspondents that share similar views and as a result, the consumer receives and interprets one-sided media coverage. This is a clear problem with Western media outlets as the lack of diversity supports bias opinions. Overall, Fox News is a prime example of the stereotypes Muslim’s face in Western contemporary societies.

The Parti Quebecois’ Quebec Charter Proposal:

Differentiating greatly from that of the Western media views on the Boston Marathon Bombings, the media coverage of the proposed Charter changes by the Parti Quebecois was vastly different. The media coverage around the party’s disapproval of overt and conspicuous religious symbols worn within the government was relatively negative. This evidently shows a different perspective showing that that combating of Islamophobia is prevalent in some Western media outlets. The change to the Quebec Charter was issued by the Parti Quebecois; a popular political party of Quebec. In early September of 2013, the Parti Quebecois held a press conference at the National Assembly in Quebec City (global). At this press conference, the Bernard Drainville, the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship discussed how his party planned to shed light on religious accommodations and Quebec values (global). With the ultimate goal of religious neutrality of the state, he stated, “these offer harmonious relations and social cohesion for a Quebec that is increasingly multiethnic and multireligious” (global). In other words, the Part Quebecois aimed to eliminate large religious symbols identifying a specific individual’s religious beliefs and values. It is to be noted that the main purpose of this mandate was to instill equality between both sexes along with religious neutrality within the government institutions of the province of Quebec.

These five proposals are as listed: 1. Enshrine the questions of religious accommodation in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms by outlining the separation of religion and state, the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of its institutions, taking into account our common historical heritage; 2. Ensure that religious neutrality for government employees in the performance of their duties is established in law; 3. Outline what is considered conspicuous religious symbols for government employees during working hours (the proposal is subject to a right of withdrawal for a period of up to five years, renewable for certain sectors); 4. Ensure that the face is visible when giving or receiving government services 5. Establish a policy to implement the religious neutrality of the state and the management of religious accommodation for government agencies. Drainville concluded the press conference by stating, “ Our proposals will be a source of greater understanding, harmony and cohesion for all Quebec and all Quebecers, regardless of their religion or origin” (global). This was an evident political issue, as all public servants were no longer allowed to publicly associate themselves with the religions they previously followed. However, public servants were allowed to wear inconspicuous religion symbols such as necklaces, rings or earrings with religious symbols, e.g the Star of David (global). The controversy arose as individuals realized that the Parti Québécois would be preventing individuals from wearing things such as a headscarf, hijab, turban or kippa (global). This evidently would strip public servants of the fundamental rights stated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, the Fundamental Rights section within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.” (Charter)
The proposed Quebec Charter changes would contradict those within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This caused a clear backlash as individuals stated that the charter changes were unconstitutional and racist. The criticism witnessed through media ultimately showed the combating of the Islamophobia of the Parti Quebecois. Canadian newspapers and stations discussed this issue heavily and conclusively noted this new proposal as racist and xenophobic. CBC News reported differing opinions than that of the Part Quebecois evidently labeling the Charter proposal as racist. For example, CBC interviewed William Steinburg, the mayor of Montreal town Hamstead as he stated, “ We will not comply with a racist and immoral law” and further continued stating, “ In the event that the Quebec government passes this odious bill, which will force people to choose between their religious beliefs and their jobs, it will not be enforced in Hampstead” (CBC).

Steinburg irrefutably is combating Islamophobia and Xenophobia altogether that was brought upon by the Parti Quebecois. Another CBC article reported on the hijab and its relation to the proposed secular Quebec Charter as they interviewed non-Muslim university professors donning the hijab to protest against it. It interviewed Nora Jaffary of Concordia University and McGill University’s Catherine Lu. Both women chose to wear the hijab to protest the Charter changes. Nora Jaffary stated that for many Muslim women that reside in Quebec, the hijab and veiling in general, is not something that is forced upon them by parents or husbands and continued by stating that the proposed ban on the hijab would target groups of minorities in the Canadian province of Quebec (cbc). Specifically she believed it would target and single out Muslim women (cbc). The article continued by stating that if more people joined the protest alongside Jaffary and Lu, there could be a major impact on the proposed legislation. Overall, CBC News showed its’ stance on the proposed secular Charter changes in Quebec. The media outlet continuously spoke against the Charter changes and advocated the fundamental freedoms of Muslim women and all other minorities that would be stripped of their right to practice religion as inhabitants within Canada. News coverage by a different Canadian media outlet showed similar results. Specifically, when analyzing Global News media coverage of the Quebec Charter changes, it was evident that Global News also looked to eliminate discrimination and as a result, Islamophobia. For example, a post doctoral individual from Concordia University, Emmanuelle Richez, commented on this Charter change with negativity as he stated, “ So they’re not saying it, but it’s going to be more constraining for people that are not part of the religious majority”. Overall, the Parti Quebecois stated that it was attempting to move towards religious equality, however, it was attempting to ban fundamental freedoms of the Canadian people of religious freedom and forcing assimilation.

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