Nazi propaganda minster Joseph Goebbels popularly said; “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth.” After a few decades of Hitler era, another Hitler now seating in the US president chair wrote in his book “The Art of Deal” that if you tell people a lie three times, they will believe it. Both people’s quotations remind us the process in which lies can be converted to truths by framing. Islam has fallen under this vicious frame. Western media portrayal of Islam has been proved to be quite bias and misleading in many events.
These common headlines around the world under western gigantic media cut a common image of all Muslims which is fanatic, fundamentalist, irrational, jihadist, etc. in character. So, relentless portrayals of such things dehumanize all Muslims. Being a Muslim is enough to western people judge you a as a bad guy. Blacks are also victim of this kind of portrayal. Dehumanization paves the way of discrimination as well.
Power of media in our life is undeniable. We are used to hearing a popular notion that newspaper is the mirror of a society or a storehouse of knowledge. I have no doubt on them but misplacement of them can result into crap. Western media did the same thing about Islam. Their fascinating dynamic broadcast system has failed to conceptualize diverse Muslims let alone Islam. They are also driven by a set of prejudices and stereotypes in covering Muslims where they commonly refer Islam instead of Bengali, Iranian, Turkish or Arabian. If a Pakistani commits crime in suburb of London, news headline must contain his religious identity but it would be different for a catholic Irish. So Islam gets involved with all crimes and bad things even though it has no affiliation with criminals directly. These common headlines around the world under western gigantic media cut a common image of all Muslims which is fanatic, fundamentalist, irrational, jihadist, etc. in character. So, relentless portrayals of such things dehumanize all Muslims.Being a Muslim is enough to western people judge you a as a bad guy. Blacks are also victim of this kind of portrayal. Dehumanization paves the way of discrimination as well. As if Western white people have inherent right to bomb on so called fundamentalist Afghans mercilessly in Kabul or Samarkand or exploit black Africans by giving lower wage. Media creates an atmosphere where wrong doing can be justified. Mitchel Foucault defines this situation by discourse and governmentality. Discourse refers to a dominant idea which excludes and assaults all synonymous ideas and it justifies the means (governmentality). For saying Gorge W. Bush’s campaign of “War on Terror” was framed quite long before Afghanistan and Iraq invasion in 2001 and 2003 respectively. World community did not oppose US’s atrocities vigorously because Bush’s discourse on Islam was shaped in such a way where all had to cooperate with USA otherwise they would be portrayed as a friend of US enemies. However, I am not saying all whites do it but they are constructed by their media. Almost all mainstream US news channel has international (for US people) and global (for outsiders) version. Ingredients and taste are different in those versions. News has become a commodity. News of Islam tastes sour, peppery and bitter through the presentation of media. Interestingly western media are very selective in covering Islam. They do not tend to show positive parts of Islam rather interested in few flaws of Islam. Iran has become a target of media for instance. Media quite often find its cultural and historical heritage in their coverage important rather uphold Iranian revolutionary psyche “ready to die” as a subject of study. Media always shows Iranian protesting west as “the Great Satan.” Why Iranian call it? Why Afghans hate west? Just see differently. What would be the situation if a portion of Muslims overthrow US government or disrupt civilians’ normal life? Peace loving Americans must not tolerate these.Simply peoplefrom US invasion and domination grew angry against western civilization. A small number of Muslim regrettably took illegal means to protest west for illegal means and deeds of west. After all we all are human. We all love our lives regardless race, religion and culture. Media’s failure to differentiate this is utter tragic for this century.
Why it is happening?
There may exist a lot of reasons behind this western media’s biased representation of Islam. I will try to show few of them briefly. First and foremost, blame goes to the western tendency to see everything from positivist perspective which sees social complex phenomenon objectively. They do not differentiate social sciences from natural science. They impose their ideas willingly or often subconsciously on others. They have strategic advantage in terms of Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony notion. Being dominant region of economy and technology, west finds setting agenda of others (non-westerns) as its natural domain. Their superiority is reflected when covering Islam. Noam Chomsky, Edward Said’s writings assert this superiority mindset is responsible for misleading coverage.
Western media like CNN, BBC employ a wide range of people around the world in every region. It is natural tendency that excessive quantity demeans quality. Both foreign and local reporters cannot maintain neutral and balanced news coverage because of media owner’s demand. Every media has some agenda to set in their daily activities. Why US media are pro-Israeli? There may have few reasons but Jewish ownership or their sponsorship to American media to create Israel friendly atmosphere around the world undermining the self-determination of Palestinians. Self-determination of Palestinians has shown in Islamic terms like Jihad. So neutrality is matched with biasness. On the other hand, knowledge of foreigners in covering Islam around the diverse world lack in indigenous language and Max Weber’s inner view.
Lack of understanding Islamic world and its cultural diverse roots is difficult to grasp for a global media. Western media make subject billions of Muslims under an umbrella of “Islam.” But are all Muslims alike? There is sharp difference in practicing Islam between Bangladesh and Pakistan once who were a unified country. Look at Iraq where there are Shia, Sunni, Kurds, and Yazidis and so on. But western media fail to differentiate between a Sunni habituated village and a Kurds majority area. Their objectivity view is highly problematic and misleading.Interaction of reporters with local cultures is also a subject to study since reporters emit their observations on those cultures.
Silence from Islamic population is another major reason of this one-sided bias representation in media by West. West reports about Islam without any notable intellectual confrontation. Islamic scholars seem to be unaware of the western media’s attacks on their faith or have leanings with West as Said wrote in his writings. Ruthlessly critiques of western assaults on Islam are from the west. Chomsky, Said are Christians who rouse against misrepresentation of Islam but Islamic scholarly world could contribute very little here. Emergence of Al-Jazeera is a good initiative indeed to counter western biased news reports on Islam.
What can be done?
Few normative grounds can be done to refute western media’s misleading coverage on Islam but I will lay down one step for an individual. Primary task of Muslims is to enrich themselves to fight back western pundits scholarly. Power of brain is preferable and supreme to this battle. Islamic scholars were at frontline in advancing civilization for centuries but over time it collapsed for its contradictions. Unity on basics of Islam seems to be the urgent issue of Islamic World. Muslims lost their originality maybe that is reason why they are subjects of others. Deviation from knowledge acquiring can be noted for this lapse. So there is no golden means for a Muslim individual but studying as much as possible about us and others.
Author of this article is studying International Relations at University of Dhaka.