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Western Media and the Islamophobia Snowstorm

By  Dr. Ignatius Odianosen Okosun (Ph.D.).          

Phobia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. It may be hard for the afflicted to satisfactorily determine or communicate the cradle of this fear, but it exists. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known use of the term Islamophobia was in 1976, though it has become more frequently used since the 1997 publication of Islamophobia. Currently, a specific phobia has engrossed Western societies – Islamophobia.

Researchers and policy groups describe Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is fundamentally the same, no matter the source: A hyperbolic fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting; in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political and civic life.

The term “Islamophobia” was initially postulated as a concept in the 1991 Runnymede Trust Report and is defined as “unfounded antipathy towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” The stint was coined in the context of Muslims in the United Kingdom in particular and Europe in general, and formulated based on the more common “xenophobia” framework. In German, Islamophobie (fear) and Islamfeindlichkeit (hostility) are used. In French, the contest is in part between islamophobie and racisme anti-arabe, or racisme anti-maghrébin, the latter two phrases signifying that the phenomenon is mostly seen as a form of anti-immigrant racism without having theological and cultural undertones. The Scandinavian term Muslimhat literally means ‘hatred of Muslims’.

The “Islamophobia Observatory” at the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) outlines Islamophobia as “an irrational or very powerful fear or dislike of Islam”. Its manifestations include prejudice, stereotyping, hostility, discriminatory treatment, denigration of the most sacred symbols of Islam and also non-recognition of Islam and Muslims by the laws of the land. There are a number of other conceivable terms to represent deleterious feelings and attitudes towards Islam and Muslims, such as anti-Muslimism, anti-Muslim racism, intolerance against Muslims, anti-Muslim prejudice, anti-Muslim bigotry, and hatred of Muslims, anti-Islamism, Muslimophobia, demonization of Muslims or demonization of Islam.

 

When discrimination towards Muslims placed a prominence on their religious affiliation and adherence, it is termed Muslim phobia. The  substitute form of Muslim phobia, include Islamophobism, ntimuslimness and antimuslimism.  Individuals who discriminate against Muslims in general have been termed Islamophobes, Islamophobists, nti-Muslimists, antimuslimists, islamophobiacs, anti Muhammadan, Muslimphobes or its alternative spelling of Muslimophobes, while individuals motivated by a specific anti-Muslim agenda or bigotry have been described as being anti-mosque,anti-Shiites.

The word Islamophobia is a neologism formed from Islam and -phobia, a suffix used in English to form “nouns with the sense ‘fear of. The compound form Islamo- contains the thematic vowel -o-, and is found in earlier coinages such as Islamo-Christian from the 19th century. Lately, the social media was awash with pictures of over hundred Muslims who were among about two thousand faithful, as they worshipped at the 11th-century Gothic cathedral of Rouen near the Normandy town where some misguided jihadi teenagers killed 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel. It was indeed a puzzling sight to behold as Muslims also attended Catholic mass in churches around France to show camaraderie and sorrow after the murder of the priest. It was an attempt by Muslims in that country to demonstrated Islam is a religion of peace and coexistence, not to be topsy-turvy with Islamism and Muslims should not be muddled with Jihadism.

However, this historic camaraderie gesture was largely underreported by many Western media. There is a current narrative in mainstream Western media and academic discourse pertaining to Islam and the West. This current fixation is tinged with the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims, depicting Muslims generally as violent, fanatical, bigoted, or extremists and terrorists. Hence, giving rise to Islamophobia especially in Western countries. Islamophobia is a neologism used to refer to an irrational fear or prejudice towards Muslims and the religion of Islam as it condemns Islam and its history as extremist, and regards Islam to be a hyper-problem for the world.

Islamophobia has intensified with the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, the Taliban’s fundamentalist prescriptions and restrictions in Afghanistan, the Charlie Hebdo attack in France, the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) which allegedly shows videos of the beheadings of their hostages and lately bombing attacks in Manhattan and Seaside Park, New Jersey by a 28-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahami, an Afghanistan-American citizen.

As an upshot, Islamophobia has become the mainstream media discourse where phantasmagorias of Muslims as murderous fanatics abound in movies, computer games, and videos. This has undesirably affected Muslims as their identity, and their concerns are increasingly being defined regarding an oppositional contention that pit Islam and Muslims against the rest of the world.

We all know it is the obligation of the media to report on the novel, sensational, bizarre, dramatic, extraordinary but not the ordinary occurrences in life. With regards to Islam, most Western media do not report about the peace-loving Muslims, or Muslims’ striving for holiness and daily scuffles against their egos and natural temptations, or peaceful coexistence between Muslims and other religious groups in different parts of the world.

 

Islamophobia in the media denotes the occurrence or perception thereof that several media outlets tend to cover Muslims or Islam-related topics in a negative light. They tend to climax crimes committed by Muslims in an undue and disproportionate manner; thus, exacerbating the growth of Islamophobia almost exponentially.

Since media coverage of Muslims and Islam is likely to silhouette the opinions of those who have limited or no contact with the religion and its people, Islamophobia flourishes and they see every Muslim as a terrorist. Various researches have shown that the United States of America identified more than one hundred and sixty Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators in the decade since 9/11, just a proportion of the thousands of acts of violence that occur there each year.

Since 9/11, the Muslim-American community have assisted security and law enforcement agencies to prevent some of the Al-Qaeda terrorist plots threatening the United States of America and those tips from the Muslim-American community are supplementary source of additional information to authorities. It has been said that the West’s depiction of Islam and the Muslims as the ‘other’, derives from centuries-old stereotypes of Muslims as oppressive, repressive, intolerant and violent.

Thus, Islamic and Muslim values and attitudes have methodically been pigeon-holed as being irreconcilable with ‘Western values.’ Muslims are often stereotypically portrayed in many Western media reports as a devoutly religious and undifferentiated group sharing a fundamentalist style of living.

A survey carried out by Washington Post/ABC News in 2006 reported the negative perception of Islam among Americans had increased from (39%) to (46%). The poll also revealed that the proportion of Americans holding the view that Islam/violence against non-Muslims had more than doubled since the 9/11 attacks rose from (14%) in 2002 to (33%) in 2006 while the vast mainstream citizens in Muslim countries hate ISIS as much as most Westerners.

A recent study carried out by the Pew Center, concerning eleven countries with substantial Muslim populations shows above (15%) prevalent negative attitudes rise toward the terrorist group ISIS. It is so disheartening that all the worthy deeds of Muslims get flouted while the barbaric subset of the Muslim world that claims the faith become the spokespeople via some Western media outlets penchant for stereotypedness.

It is also disheartening that Muslim scholars and countries wrote an open letter condemning the acts of ISIS which were fundamentally ignored and under-reported by the Western media. However, if you have an irrational chap of Arab descent or having a Muslim name wielding a sword and chanting “Allahu Akbar,” you can be sure that his action would elicit several news coverage, making him the poster child of Muslims and Islam.

Likewise, Islam has been unswervingly and stereotypically depicted by Western media as a violent-prone religion that is diametrically opposed to the West. Certainly, the world’s over 1.6 billion Muslims should not be held responsible for the actions of a few extremists. Irrefutably, the media has a powerful ability to contour and reshape the way we view our world.

The Western media’s default of erasing distinctions between Islam and terrorism is, however, contributing immensely to the stimulating of Islamophobia around the world. Refuting Islamophobia media representation would involve the Muslims consolidating themselves to effectively advance their own narratives and get their stories out to the world rather than the “blame-game vicious cycle” that never ends.

If Muslims whine about Islamophobia and media demonization, they also need to firstly support the work of those who are countering this whole ideology. Also getting involve in the mainstream media would make the task much easier. If many Muslim journalists who are genuinely anti-Islamophobia could get into the conventional media, success could be achieved in changing the overall negative perceptions about Muslims and Islam. However, there is need to champion more reports on Islamophobia. Unless more documentation and yearly opinion surveys are conducted, people will continue to dismiss the reality of Islamophobia in modern Western media reporting. Finally, categorically denouncing those who inflict mayhem and atrocious crimes in the name of Islam, would prove to the world that like any other religion, there are good and bad elements in Islam. Within key Western societies, there are genuine negative perceptions, prejudices, and discriminations targeted against Muslims. Other vivid symptoms of Islamophobia offshoots include; seeing Muslims as dis-loyal, voicing prejudice against them, and avoiding them as neighbours. However, these feelings do not characterize all strata of Western societies rather they are generally shared by a subset of the general population.

 

Dr. Ignatius Okosun is a researcher, prolific writer on various national/global issues and a social commentator

. From: Toronto-Canada.         Email: odyseries@gmail.com