THE MEDIA

ORDINARY CITIZENS OF THE WEST FEEL UNDER THREAT TODAY. WHAT IS WRONG WITH SHINING A LITTLE MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON MUSLIMS AND ISLAM?

The spotlight is not the problem but unjust and biased, one-sided coverage is.

Featuring deeply bigoted and belligerent individuals who demonise Muslims and Islam as a religion by spouting all kinds of vitriol using factually incorrect information is a problem when the media ought to examine more closely how these individuals often times speak and write with a seemingly subtle agenda aimed at only justifying the recent series of foreign policy blunders of the West in Muslim- majority countries.

“So why is it so important for pundits and chat show hosts, who are intent on presenting themselves as educated and liberal, to trash Islam with simplifying, blanket statements? . . . More seriously, what is the overriding agenda?

Trashing Islam is about disseminating simplistic ideas that lend support to precise political goals, and it allows supporters of certain aspects of US foreign policy to justify past, present, and future mistakes. If American voters can be given the impression that most Muslims are sexist, homophobic, intolerant fanatics who murder and behead at the drop of a hat, then they may just believe that it is necessary to invade countries in which Muslims are the majority – it hardly matters which country, as long as wrecking its political, economic, and social fabric serves the primary goals of controlling oil resources, profiting from the arms trade, and allowing Israel to feel safe (irrespective of whether its feelings of insecurity correspond to reality)”. (Source: Why is Ben Affleck defending Islam by Lana Asfour, 6 October 2014 on Aljazeera. com/English)

WHY CAN’T THE MEDIA FREELY WRITE ABOUT MUSLIMS AND ISLAM AND ALLOW ANYONE TO SPEAK THEIR MIND ON ISLAM AND THE MUSLIM WORLD?

The media ought to be free to write about Islam and ordinary Muslims but is it too much to ask that the media at the very least get some of its basic facts right, especially when it comes to practices that are rooted in culture versus clear, unambiguous injunctions that condemn such practices such as honour killings, female genital mutilation, women’s dress codes among a wide range of issues, repeatedly misreported by the mainstream press, thus:

“Clumsily creating a tinderbox for anti-Muslim madness’, in the words of James Ragland, columnist at Dallas News. (Source: Muslims are now an organized political force in Irving, James Ragland, Columnist James Ragland, May 2016, Dallas News)

Like the actual Jew-hating Anti-Semites of the past, the Islamophobes of today in the media employ the same timeless tactic of broad-brushing every 1.6 billion Muslim individual into an amorphous and frightening group by hyping what Muslims will take from “us” in terms of law and order, country and jobs. This needs to change. Write about Muslims and Islam; Criticise Muslims if you have to but hold the same standards to people of other faiths and atheists as well.

If the current status quo continues unabated, there is surely more trouble ahead for the West and its Muslim & non-Muslim citizens as the article below very neatly makes a strong case for why people invited to speak ought to be at least vetted on matters of Islam, Middle Eastern a airs, politics and history or else there is nothing but continuing hatred and despair ahead on both sides of the fence:

“While a few knowledgeable individuals have been invited for rare media appearances, all too often the networks have let laziness win out dragging out a cast of “regulars” – former military officers, current or former elected officials, and paid “talking heads”. They may know a few choice Arabic words (Sunni, Shia, Jihadi, etc.) and can use a few of them in a sentence. But experts, they are not . . . To hear these “experts” pontificating about Islam or Arab culture is more than annoying. It’s downright dangerous . . . Instead of making us aware of the enormous complexities involved in these conflict zones, they reduce them to simple and easy clichés . . . America has been down this road before in the Middle East – with tragic results. I fear we may be heading there once again. During the past four decades we’ve been deeply involved across this region, but because we’ve known so little about its peoples, cultures and history – all too often our involvement has spelled disaster . . . To the first they responded — “they hate us because they hate our values and are envious of our success” or “they hate us because they have been taught to hate us” or ” they have failed because their religion is fundamentally backward””. Instead of shattering myths enabling us to see our way forward to bridging the chasm that separated the West from the Arab and Muslim peoples, they accented our fears and contributed to deepening the divide . . . Our political leadership, with most media outlets cheering them on, committed hundreds of thousands of our young men and women to fight and lose their lives in two failed wars. Bush invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq without any real understanding of their history or people – not knowing where we were going and what the consequences of our blunders would be . . . Our polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Arabs love American values and culture, people and products, and the advances Americans have made in science and technology. What they don’t like about us are our policies, which so negatively affect their lives. Far from being fanatics, Arabs tell us that what they value most are their families and their work. They watch TV to be entertained. And their mosque attendance rates are roughly the same as church attendance rates in the U.S.?”. (Source: We need to know more, but the experts aren’t helping by James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute on 18 October 2014, Huffington Post)

SO MUSLIMS WANT THE MEDIA TO STOP WRITING ABOUT ISLAM THEN?

There is nothing better for Muslims than for the media to write about Islam and ordinary Muslims, as long as they are well-balanced with views of Muslims and non-Muslims included, however critical – instead of featuring only quotes by misinformed pundits, known Islamophobes, right-wing politicians among others with a history of bias against Islam and ordinary Muslims.

Journalists too, ought to be able to ask probing questions and should have creativity, fearless expression and polemical inquiry at their disposal but is it too unreasonable for Muslims to ask that one should avoid conflating two or three irrelevant examples to justify a sweeping generalisation about Islam and ordinary Muslims? In fact, free speech should not be restricted. Speech that incites violence should be restricted, a curious exception given when it comes to other minorities but frequently debated when it comes to Muslims.

DO MUSLIMS EXPECT ADVERTORIALS EVERYTIME WE IN THE MEDIA REPORT ABOUT MUSLIMS?

No one needs to read or watch advertorials about Islam or ordinary Muslims but the very least the media can do is try and understand a faith that is embraced by one-fourth the world population by getting its’ facts right before inviting appropriately qualified people on the show or opinion writers who actually understand the subject. The current journalistic one-sided approach of covering Islam and Muslims with hours and hours of biased and misinformed coverage, heavy on talking heads but light on facts is simply not sustainable.

In the precise words of longtime subscriber of the NYT, Nancy Cadet who rightly observed: “The falsehoods and their repercussions live on long after the stories have been corrected or disputed.” (Source: Systematic change needed after faulty Times article by Margaret Sullivan, 18 December 2015, New York Times)

As yet another example of chaos manufactured by the media: It was tailor-made for the anti-immigration press: a crazed man wearing a suicide vest “filled with gasoline and gunpowder” enters a supermarket in a small town in northwestern Spain, shouts “Allahu Akbar!” and opens fire. Mercifully, no one is killed, but customers flee in terror. The story runs in a local paper, is quickly picked up by an assortment of media in the US and the UK, and then shared widely on Twitter and Facebook. Anti-Muslim figures claim, with heads shaking in disapproval, that the attack symbolizes everything that is wrong with Islam. One small problem: it didn’t happen. Yes, a man did enter a supermarket in the town of Ourense and red shots. That, however, is where fact ends and fantasy begins. The suicide vest? Didn’t exist. Shooting at customers? No, he hit some bottles. Crazy lunatic on a rampage? At one point in the surveillance video we can see the man sitting down and eating a banana. Was the town in shock? No. What about his screaming “Allahu Akbar”? It was then reported that this was actually a man from the Basque region “with decreased mental faculties”, and that someone mistook the words he spoke in Euskara (a regional language) for Arabic . . . There was no Bowling Green massacre? Well, OK, but there could have been one, and it would have been a Muslim who did it. In the flexible world of bigotry, we can even condemn people for crimes committed in our minds . . . In one of the more astonishing stories of 2017, last week the German tabloid Bild claimed that on New Year’s Eve in Frankfurt, a huge group of intoxicated Muslim men, most of them refugees, had formed a “rioting sex mob” and assaulted scores of women. The story contained “eyewitness” accounts and even interviews with purported victims. Naturally, it was picked up internationally and spread via social media . . . One week later, however, police in Frankfurt declared that the story was completely false: no such sexual assaults had been reported, the “victim” in question was not even in Frankfurt at the time, and two individuals were now under investigation for starting the false rumors and wasting police resources . . . Bild is the largest-selling newspaper in Europe, with a circulation of about 3m per day, but it has come under attack from other outlets in Germany for stoking anti-immigrant and anti- Muslim flames. When the police announced that the Frankfurt incident was false, Bild published an apology, and claimed that the story, “in no way met the journalistic standards” of the paper. But the fact remains that it was published and reproduced globally, and no quantity of retractions, excuses or apologies from the outlets that ran with it will heal the damage. (Source: Europe’s biggest paper ran a bogus refugee ‘sex mob’ story. What now?, Christian Christensen, 17 February 2017, The Guardian)

HOW CAN YOU BLAME THE MEDIA WHEN MUSLIMS ARE VIOLENT?

In an era where news has more to do with speed than accuracy, the opinion shapers who today control the media has shown itself to be on par with wall street bankers, weapons manufacturers and drug dealers when it comes to ethics. This despite all the grand mission and vision statements that in actual fact is based on a matter that comes out of the lower bottom of a bull.

Using the following as an example, if the majority of airtime can be spent debating the “radicalisation” of young Muslim men, should we not see equal if not more airtime examining the radicalisation of American right-wing Christians? But this is far from the present status quo let alone the deafening silence for example, from the sitting US President Trump every time there is an act of violence by a white supremacist.

BUT JOURNALISTS ARE ONLY DOING THEIR JOBS.

To cite examples of character misrepresentation:
A young Jewish American man [was] charged with pretending to be an Australian-based Islamic State jihadist after a FBI joint investigation with the Australian Federal Police based on information provided by Fairfax Media . . . Joshua Ryne Goldberg, a 20-year old living at his parents’ house in US state of Florida, is accused of posing online as “Australi Witness,” an IS supporter who publicly called for a series of attacks against individuals and events in Western countries. (Source: FBI says ‘Australian IS jihadist’ is actually a Jewish American troll named Joshua Ryne Goldberg by Elise Potaka and Luke McMahon on September 12 2015, Sydney Morning Herald)

In April 2017, three German soldiers, with obvious rightwing extremist conviction’ were arrested after they were caught posing as asylum seekers in a planned terror plot. The plan was to make their attack look like the work of Islamist militants, and the target included the Germany Justice Ministry as well as a few other key landmarks in Germany, based on seized materials as reported by Der Spiegel magazine.

As part of an elaborate plan, one of the soldiers had previously been detained in late January 2017 by Austrian authorities on suspicion of having hidden an illegal gun in a bathroom at Vienna’s main airport in Schwechat . . . and had intended to have the finger prints of a Syrian asylum seeker on the gun, which he wanted to use in a possible attack and leave at the scene. Using a fake identity, the soldiers had also registered as a Syrian refugee to find a target, whom the attack could be blamed upon (Source: ‘Xenophobic’ German soldier, student suspected of planning attack, Apr 27, 2017, Reuters)

This incident was revealed only days after prosecutors in Germany revealed that a German-Russian citizen, Sergei W orchestrated the April 2017 Dortmund bus bombings, detonating three bombs targeting a bus carrying the Borussia Dortmund football team, in an attempt to frame ISIS and to make as much as 3.9 million euros on shares of the company using put options, a stockbroking product that enables the buyer to pro t when the share price of a given company falls. Preying on our fear of ISIS and terrorism, Sergei selfishly committed an act that could have led to loss of many lives.

Earlier in February 2017: The German mass-circulation daily Bild “emphatically” apologised to its readers for an article that said a “mob” of Arab men had sexually assaulted women on New Year’s Eve in a Frankfurt restaurant, after the police said that an investigation had failed to turn up any evidence . . . Bild has a daily circulation of 2.5 million and often sets the tone for political discussions in Germany, and the decision by prosecutors to open an investigation reflects broader concerns in the country about the spreading of false stories and anti-immigrant or anti-European propaganda. (Source: Bild Apologizes for False Article on Sexual Assaults in Frankfurt by Migrants, Melissa Eddy, 16 February 2017, New York Times) The key therefore is to not believe everything reported in the press.

BUT MUSLIMS ALREADY GET PLENTY OF POSITIVE AIRTIME IN THE MEDIA.

Unfortunately, the Muslim culture for the past four decades has been depicted in the media as unchanging and monolithic whereas Muslims are today unfairly portrayed as backwards, irrational and aggressive fanatics. (Source: What is it like to be a Muslim in Britain today? By Emma Howard, 9 July 2014, The Guardian)

 The current media discourse about Islam is filled with essentialist paranoia, fear, and the commentary of people who not only understand little about the religion but are often dismissive of people who do. The media also has a tendency of placing Muslims all in one box. This is not only silly but also harmful especially if the ultimate goal is to understand the problem better. (Source: Can Muslims write about Christianity, 28 July 2013 by Dan Murphy at Christian Science Monitor)

Unfortunately, Islamophobia is not only tolerated on US and European news channels but it is often the default position of large, leading high-pro le media organisations today. (Source: It’s not just Fox News: Islamophobia on cable news is out of control by Max Fisher, 13 January 2015, Vox)

WHILE THERE ARE SOME NEGATIVE REPORTS ABOUT MUSLIMS, MUSLIMS ARE GIVEN FAIR BIT OF COVERAGE AS WELL.

If this is the case, try producing a refutation on any of the following inconvenient yet important questions:

(1) Why are terror attacks in the West given more column inches than attacks in Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan or Beirut when often more lives are lost in Muslim-majority countries?;

(2) What is the common denominator that disqualifies Muslim- majority countries from receiving wall-to-wall coverage granted to attacks in the West when each life lost is just as much a political point made by the terrorists?;

(3) How heinous and violent do acts of terror in Muslim-majority countries need to be for the governments in the West to interrupt almost every high pro le news broadcast to condemn it?;

(4) How many multiples in terms of civilian casualties does an act of terrorism in a Muslim-majority country need to achieve in order for flags to fly at half-mast in the West?;

(5) Where is the act of solidarity at the Tower Bridge, Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House or other monuments when a Muslim- majority country is attacked?;

(6) When a city in the West is attacked, “global” news media reassign leading anchors and journalists providing 24/7 coverage but when Muslims come under attack, the same media outlets do not cover the event with one-tenth the intensity and breadth?;

(7) Where is the outpouring of touching stories about ordinary Muslims or detailed pro les about the heroism of the locals killed when Muslims come under attack?;

(8) When Muslims are killed, why are they brushed aside as casualties of sectarian conflict when these have more to do with politics and less with sectarianism but when citizens of the West are killed, they become universal icons of free speech and liberty when these are often killed as a result of misguided foreign policies of the West?;

(9) Why are European deaths a tragedy while Muslim civilians killed by drones and bombs dusted aside as nothing more than collateral damage?;

(10) Why do ordinary civilians in the West not wear black ribbons or where is the march in solidarity and vigils honouring the dead when the victims of terrorism happen to be in Muslim-majority countries?; &

(11) Why is there no “Pray for Baghdad,” or no “Je Suis Pakistan” on Twitter trending in the West when ordinary Muslims are killed? Nor are there memes on Instagram of unified global grief when Muslims fall victim to terrorism? (Source: Various articles)

PEOPLE IN THE WEST ARE CONCERNED ABOUT MUSLIM CASUALTIES ELSEWHERE.

People in the West let alone in most parts of the World express regret for the civilian deaths in the West but when Muslim civilians are killed there are no memorial services or candlelit vigils on Western television. Why?

In fact decades ago, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky coined the term “worthy and unworthy victims” to differentiate between those whose suffering benefits a particular ideological or political agenda, and those whose suffering does not.(Source: Trump’s silence after the London mosque attack speaks volumes, Christian Christensen, 20 June 2017, The Guardian)

To that end, here are some more pointed (rather uncomfortable) questions from a terrorism expert:

“Would it have been morally different if a plane had own over London on July 7 and dropped four bombs, killing fifty-two civilians?

Would it be any more acceptable if the perpetrators argued that the targets of the raid were police stations, electricity supply lines or key logistical installations rather than civilians, who were only collateral damage?

If four bombs managed to terrorise London and place Britain on edge, what was the effect on the people of Baghdad of hundreds of bombs raining on their city each day during the invasion?

How would you feel if Iraqi troops were walking along your street? They might occasionally break into your home and arrest someone you love.

If they said they invaded Britain to give you a better life, would you welcome their presence?

Is it licit to drop bombs from fifty thousand feet in the e ort to kill terrorists – with predictable widespread deaths of innocents – but immoral for a single suicide bomber to kill the enemy from five feet in the struggle for national liberation, also killing innocents?

No doubt some acts of terrorism are quite indiscriminate and specifically designed to spread fear and demoralization; but what then of Dresden, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki, in which the major purpose of the exercise, was to terrify and demoralise – in modern parlance, to create ‘’shock and awe’’ to win the conflict. (Source: Phil Rees, Author, Dining with Terrorists)

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