A recent study evaluating twenty-five years of news coverage in America found that only eight percent of news regarding Islam can be characterized as positive (Ghattas). The media portrays Islam in a more negative manner than cancer, alcohol, and cocaine (Ghattas). Muslims are a religious minority in America who are subject to constant discrimination as a result of unjust stereotypes that portray them as violent, anti-American religious extremists. Shortly after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, an ABC News poll concluded that forty-seven percent of Americans deemed Islam “unfavorable.” However, this statistic has since increased to sixty percent of Americans who view Islam as a negative influence due to media coverage and political rhetoric that presents Muslims as responsible for terror attacks committed in America (Morris). This portrayal is surprising, considering that the Federal Bureau of Investigation disclosed that only six percent of terror attacks in the United States are committed by Muslims, with a majority of terror attacks carried out by Latino and Jewish groups (Obeidallah). President Barack Obama elaborates that media encourages Americans to “(paint) all Muslims with a broad brush and (imply) that we are at war with the entire religion,” although it is unfair to condemn an entire religion for the actions of a few (Chappell). Muslim Americans are unjustly subject to discrimination and hostility due to the rampant Islamophobia that is fostered by news agencies, politicians, and the film industry, which aim to promote their own motives by capitalizing on society’s unsubstantiated fear of Muslims, thus leaving this civil rights issue unresolved.
Sixty percent of Americans say that they have never engaged in conversation with a Muslim and eighty-five percent categorize themselves as knowing little to nothing regarding Islam and its teachings (Burke). However, many Americans are influenced to stereotype Muslims, or those who “look Muslim,” as related to terrorism due to sensationalized media that depicts Islam as fundamentally anti-American. News outlets encourage Americans to view Islam as an impersonal entity solely responsible for the terror attacks that are publicized, rather than the actual perpetrators who are at fault. Media’s establishment of these negative stereotypes has resulted in “bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life” (Ciftci). A Washington Post poll reveals that thirty-three percent of Americans believe Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, although research proves that terrorist group Al-Qaida reportedly kills eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims through their terror attacks (Mogahed, Nawar). Nevertheless, this deep-rooted fear of and hatred towards Muslim Americans in society is upheld through false stereotypes created by media outlets that aim to depict a version of Islam that people are fearful of, an Islam that looks to harm Americans through its belief system.
This damaging view of Islam has led to the discrimination and victimization of Muslims who are subject to Islamophobia and physical harassment committed without justification. An analysis of data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reveals that “hate crimes motivated by Islamophobia,” which include attacks and intimidation of Muslim people as well as the vandalism of mosques and Muslim-run businesses, are five times more prevalent currently than prior to the September 11 terror attacks (Ingraham). In 2015 alone there were twelve murders, thirty-four physical attacks, forty-nine verbal assaults, fifty-six acts of vandalism or destruction of property, nine arsons, and eight shootings of Muslim people and mosques, and this statistic only accounts for reported crimes (Faviar). Delineating the extent of Islamophobia in America, one Muslim American describes, “Muslims have been shot and killed in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools, and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanes. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying” (Burke). This is unfortunately only a fraction of the injustices committed against Muslims; even children are affected as fifty-five percent of Muslim students, twice the national average, report being subject to religion-based bullying in school (Naeem). A seventh-grader living in Ohio threatened to shoot a Muslim boy while they were riding the bus home from school, calling him a “towel head,” “terrorist,” and “the son of ISIS.” An eleven-year-old girl was wearing a hijab in New York when she was beaten by three boys who referred to her as “ISIS” (Campbell). Muslims, even young children, are seen as related to terrorist groups and therefore face physical and verbal harassment that poses a legitimate threat to their safety and fundamental rights as Americans to practice religion without fear. One Muslim American described the emotional impact of the situation on his community: “Everybody’s scared. A lot of Muslim people don’t come to the Masjid (mosque) because they are scared” (Rose). The right to practice religion freely as outlined in the United States Constitution has been infringed on for Muslims who no longer feel safe to visit their places of worship.
Although there are many Americans who are cognizant of this issue and the implications it has on Muslims and their safety, the problem remains unresolved due to the negative portrayal of Islam in the news, politics, and movies. Inciting hatred towards Muslims has become a “multimillion-dollar business” because sensationalized stories about terror attacks committed by Islamic extremists inspire fear among Americans who will continue watching the news to follow such stories (Kazem). Only six percent of terror attacks in the United States are committed by Muslims, but “our media simply does not cover the non-Muslim terror attacks with the same gusto. Stories about scary ‘others’ play better. It’s a story that can be framed as good versus evil with Americans being the good guy and the brown Muslim the bad” (Obiedallah). By presenting a clear dichotomy between Americans and Muslims, the media encourages the public to perceive Muslims as mutually exclusive from Americans, leaving Muslims alienated from the rest of the nation on account of their religious identity. Furthermore, “perhaps what has been the most widespread manifestation of Islamophobia is the toxic rhetoric of our public officials” as demonstrated by the Republican candidates of the 2016 primary election (Ingraham). Current President Donald Trump called for a halt of Muslims allowed into the United States. Senator Ted Cruz supported a ban on Muslim refugees that would ask them to return to “majority Muslim countries.” Jeb Bush proposed a religion test whereby only Syrian refugees who could “prove they are a Christian” would be allowed into the country. Ben Carson suggested that Islam is not protected under the Constitution and therefore Muslims should be disqualified as presidential candidates in the United States. Senator Marco Rubio publicly denounced President Obama’s visit to a mosque after deeming Islamophobia an unimportant matter (Varkiani). Those in the public eye contribute to the augmentation of this civil rights issue by inciting hatred towards Muslims and giving Americans the confidence to act upon such dislike and fear. Politicians may utilize Islamophobia as a component of their political agenda in order to increase their public support, but in doing so they promote the distrust of Muslims that has contributed to hate crimes against them. It is unjust that media outlets and politicians hold one religion responsible for terrorism in order to contribute to their own success, therefore advancing the discrimination that exists against Muslims.
Movies and television shows further the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists, leading to the detrimental notion that Islam is a fundamentally violent religion that people should oppose. In the 2014 film American Sniper, for instance, the murder of Iraqis is glorified when protagonist Chris Kyle is given respect from society and credited as a hero for murdering innocent Middle Eastern “savages,” as the movie refers to them while participating in a military mission (Ghattas). Users took to Twitter to express their sentiments after watching the movie: “American Sniper makes me wanna go shoot some f*ckin Arabs,” “Great f*cking movie and now I really want to kill some f*cking ragheads,” and “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us” (Woolf). American Sniper does not stand alone in this incorrect and prejudiced depiction, many movies and television shows portray Muslims as “villains, if not outright terrorists, as well as misogynistic brutes with backward and mysterious customs” which has contributed to “hate crimes, racial profiling, discrimination, and bullying” (Kabir). The film industry capitalizes on Americans’ fear and hatred of Muslims in order to produce movies that have Muslim antagonists, only furthering the prejudice that provokes aggression against Muslims. The discrimination against Muslims is an unresolved issue on account of the media outlets, political figures, and movies that look to further stereotypes that advance their motives rather than portray a realistic depiction of Islam.
The prejudiced rhetoric that is promoted in society affects Muslims and their ability to practice religion freely as they are victimized through false stereotypes that portray Muslims as responsible for terror attacks. In order to comprehensively remedy this issue, media must be reformed to portray Muslims in a positive manner that emphasizes their ethnic and professional diversity as well as their achievements. It is necessary for news platforms to publish articles that highlight successful Muslims who contribute to their communities as scientists, teachers, business owners, political figures, and philanthropists. Islam should no longer be discussed solely through news articles concerning terrorism when there are instead many positive stories to be shared. Movies and television shows must show Muslims on screen that are intelligent, talented, family-oriented, patriotic, and peaceful, as opposed to the stereotypical Middle Eastern antagonist who is eager to irrationally harm Americans. It is only once media coverage has been altered to reflect how Muslims improve American society through their accomplishments that people will be given the opportunity to understand who Muslims are. Additionally, efforts should be made by Americans to educate themselves on Islam and its teachings through greater interaction with Muslims. Many are unfamiliar with the religion and therefore apprehensive since their only impression of Islamic practices is created through media reports of terror attacks. It is, therefore, necessary for Americans to engage in conversations with Muslims in order to learn about Islam’s belief system. Through a positive and accurate depiction of Islam in the media as well as opportunities for Americans to converse with Muslims, stereotypes of Muslims will be interchanged with an accurate and positive view.
Muslims face many obstacles that include discrimination as well as pressing physical and verbal threats from Americans who look to blame a religion for the actions of a few extremists. While this issue has become more prevalent recently, it remains unresolved due to the ulterior motives of news outlets, politicians, and the movie industry that promote Islamophobia in order to incite hatred towards and fear of Muslims. The hateful rhetoric used in American media is dangerous because it depicts Muslims as anti-American to provoke fear that encourages the public to continue watching such news and movies. As one proponent of religious equality recounts, “As we mourn and remember the lives that were lost on September 11, 2001, we must mourn the culture’s continued victimization of its own Muslim citizens as well. We didn’t just lose lives on 9/11. We lost some of our common decency” (Ingraham). By reforming current media to depict Muslims in a positive manner and educating others on Islamic teachings, Muslims will be able to gain the religious freedom and protection that they deserve.
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