Why Muslims Need Fair Media

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Why Muslims Need Fair Media

An Unfortunate Truth – Using Islam as a Convenient Facade
Muslim Community’s Missed Chances
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A lot of ink, an infinite number of film reels, and a frantic churn of news stories bristling with harsh tones against Islam have fixated Muslims as a monolith. A cottage industry of authors keeps burning the midnight to ensure that the flashlights on bad Muslims keep glowing. A well-oiled Islamophobia machine churns these out, constantly manipulating the already flawed image of what a Muslim is, of what Islam is. They are attacking the identity of Muslims, which is so diverse that it cannot fit into a box.

The press once seemed to have a conscience, thanks to history’s painful social conflicts and the sensitive conscience that was always awakened by questions of war and peace. Let us not forget that there was a generation of journalists in whose hands a mystic transference took place, with each clack of the typewriter embedding a journalistic legacy on the next generation. Stamped indelibly on our formative minds during our training in journalism was the line: “every time a grand editor puts a finger to a typewriter, he sits back to hear the crash of falling governments.”

In an ideal world, journalism is a profession of incredible integrity, and journalists are among the most dexterous and skilled people in the world. We have all benefited from the work of persistent journalists who put life, limb, family, and even sanity on the line in their pursuit of truth. The world, however, has changed, and often what’s masquerading in the name of journalism is business — with an open display of bigotry and hate against certain social groups.

The world, however, has changed, and many of us may be in a time warp of old values. Like all institutions, the media has also suffered in terms of its reputation. The media shows remarkable consistency in employing an arsenal of semantic games and incendiary phrases to link most of the violence around the world with some form of Islamic ideology or some Islamic group.

It is much easier for the media to limit the complex debate on various issues confronting Muslims to a series of clichés, slogans, and sound bites rather than examining root causes. It is easier still to champion the most extreme and prejudiced critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics, and activists. There is a strong voice of moderates from within the Muslim ranks that could be appropriately channelized by the media to give a rounded assessment of Islamic issues. You can’t blanket the damnation of the entire community.

By reinforcing them wittingly and unwittingly, the media further deepens their impact. The new media not only reflects the mood but is responsible for building it as well. Media oxygen is provided only to those who say something communally inflammable and in such an environment, the efforts of pacifists and even of the moderated segments suffer great damage.

Religion has been simply reduced to a social or political construct, although for millions of people, it is a daily practice and the very framework for understanding that connects their lives to a spiritual reality. Their faith is the prism through which they view the world, and their religious communities are their central environments.

Much coverage of Muslims in news outlets has a negative slant. We’ve seen how some papers get their news about Muslims wrong and how often they reuse the same stereotypes. True, like many others, Muslims also have a share of negative elements. But the story must be fair and reflective and shouldn’t generalize about all Muslims and feed into a broader far-right narrative. The good storylines of Muslim characters are woefully few. Often, there is a consistent stream of sloppy reporting, bias, or willful sensationalism about Muslims. The way stories are deformed to fit a formula about Muslims – and the difficulties in uprooting these fictions once they’ve been laid out – can be seen all across the media. Corrections and retractions by the media are extremely rare.

The distorted images of Islam stem partly from a lack of understanding of Islam among non-Muslims and partly from the failure of Muslims to explain themselves. The results are predictable: hatred feeds on hatred.

Ignorance of Islam exists both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims, ignorant and misunderstanding Islam, fear it. They believe it threatens their most basic values. Fantasy, conjecture, and stereotypes replace fact and reality.

Similarly, Muslims have their own misconceptions. They, reacting to the hate and fear of non-Muslims, create a kind of defensive posture within their societies and a combative environment built on militant rhetoric.

But there is still a space that allows us to express ourselves as freely as we want. This is the space available in media for coverage of positive and inspiring stories of achievers. We have an enormous pool of talented Muslims in fields as diverse as science and sports, but we have not been able to project them properly. We must consider them not just as symbols of Muslim pride but as live role models for the entire society. At the same time, several individuals and groups are making a real difference in people’s lives through pioneering work in the social and development field.

Sadly, journalism fails to perform its fundamental role by simply rehashing tired old narratives of “radical Islam” or a “fight within Islam”. The truth is much more convoluted than that – and the entire world has a direct role in creating the dangerous reality that so many Muslims have to live with every day.

The media shows remarkable consistency in employing an arsenal of semantic games, key phrases, convenient omissions, and moral relativism to portray such violence as a product of Islam. Jim Morrison observes: “Whoever controls the media controls the mind.”

Several times headlines are sensational or distorted and reporting is often deeply racist. This directly impacts the lives of Muslims. Some of the stories that are thus emerging are painful and disturbing.

It is much easier for the media to reduce the complex debate on various issues confronting modern Muslims to a series of clichés, slogans, and sound bites rather than examining root causes.

Religion is often portrayed simply as a social or political construct. However, for millions of people, religion is a daily practice and the genuine framework of understanding that connects human lives to a spiritual reality.

Their faith is the prism through which they view the world, and their religious communities are their central environments. It isn’t easy to overstate the importance of faith in the lives of so many.

Most people around the world would prefer to live in peace than in conflict. Yet, often the only religious voices on the front page are those speaking messages of hatred or violence, especially in stories about conflict or social tension.

The solution is not difficult. It requires a more meaningful engagement between the media and Muslim leaders. The press has to seek out saner voices and not just pick up opinions that suit their news and views.

It is much easier for the media to limit the complex debate on various issues confronting Muslims to a series of clichés, slogans, and sound bites, rather than examining the root causes. It is more accessible still to champion the most extreme and prejudiced critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics, and activists. There is a strong voice of moderates from within the Muslim ranks that could be adequately channelized by the media to give a rounded assessment of Islamic issues. You can’t have blanket damnation of 0the entire community.

By reinforcing them wittingly and unwittingly, the media further deepens their impact. The new media not only reflects the mood but is responsible for building it as well. Media oxygen is provided only to those who say something communally inflammable and in such an environment, pacifists and even moderated segments’ efforts suffer significant damage.

Good journalism requires an understanding of reliable and rigorous academic studies, attentive listening to diverse sources, dogged examination of data and other records, and close observation of policies and institutions, mainly when their messages deal with human faith.

The distorted images of Islam stem partly from a lack of understanding of Islam among non-Muslims and partly from the failure of Muslims to explain themselves. The results are predictable: hatred feeds on hatred. Ignorance of Islam exists both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims misunderstand Islam in their ignorance and turn, they fear it. This way, fantasy, conjecture, and stereotypes replace fact and reality.

Similarly, Muslims have misconceptions. They react to the hate and fear of non-Muslims by creating a defensive posture within their societies and, sometimes, a hostile environment built on aggressive rhetoric. In this heat and misunderstanding, voices of tolerance are drowned out.

Much coverage of Muslims in news outlets has a negative slant. We’ve seen how some papers get their news about Muslims wrong and how often they reuse the same stereotypes. True, like many others, Muslims also have a share of negative elements. But the story must be fair and reflective and shouldn’t generalize about all Muslims and feed into a broader far-right narrative. The good storylines of Muslim characters are woefully few. Often, there is a consistent stream of sloppy reporting, bias, or willful sensationalism about Muslims. The way stories are deformed to fit a formula about Muslims – and the difficulties in uprooting these fictions once they’ve been laid out – can be seen across the media. Corrections and retractions by the media are extremely rare… As CP Scott, the founder-editor of The Guardian emphasized: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

But there is still a space that allows us to express ourselves as freely as we want. This is the space available in media for coverage of positive and inspiring stories of achievers. We have an enormous pool of talented Muslims in fields as diverse as science and sports, but we have not been able to project them properly. We must consider them not just as symbols of Muslim pride but as live role models for the entire society. At the same time, several individuals and groups are making a real difference in people’s lives through pioneering work in the social and development field.

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