Islamic Perspectives

Islam, Muslims, Media

Muslims keep on complaining that the media is hostile to Islam and Muslims, and projects a distorted image of them, more often than not. The western media in particular has been quite antagonistic, particularly after the terrorist incident of 9/11. But even before that, it was not very friendly, if not outright hostile, to Islam and Muslims. There are complex reasons for this, which must be properly understood by Muslims, instead of condemning the media all the time. It is easier to condemn but difficult to understand.

We propose to analyze these reasons in this article as on our proper understanding depends remedial measures. To start with, let us keep in mind that this hostility is more political than religious though it appears to be religious. Both Islam and Christianity are global religions and rulers belonging to these two religious communities were also political rivals and tried to build their empires at each others cost.

Islam and Christianity were never rivals as religions but political rulers were and they fought each other. This created powerful prejudices in the minds of their followers, both Muslims and Christians. The Crusades were most zealously fought and they left a deep impact on the minds of both the communities. Turkey became one of the world’s greatest empires that stretched right up to Central Europe. This too left scars on the memories of Europeans and their psyche.

Muslims were a dominant power right through the medieval ages and it was Europe which emerged as a powerful force only after the Renaissance. It made tremendous advances in science and technology and soon began to colonize Asian and African countries. In these countries it was confronted with Muslim rulers. In India too the British had to defeat a declining Moghul Empire in order to seize power.

Needless to say all this struggle for power and domination created strong prejudices against Islam and Muslims. These rulers at times also used missionaries to aggressively preach Christianity and Muslims responded to keep their flock together or, as rival preachers, tried to convert tribals to Islam. Such an approach made the whole struggle appear religious rather than political.

This hostile attitude was carried over and today it is reflected in the media approach towards Islam and Muslims. Prof. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” which got rave reviews in the western media was also nothing but a reflection of this attitude. This book became all the more important after the collapse of Soviet Union when the USA was looking for “an external enemy” and Islam came in handy as the most numerous and historical rival of western powers.

There was a sort of lull after the devastations of two World Wars in which mainly Christian powers were involved and the strife was more for national domination this time rather than a desire for domination by two religious rivals. Once reconstruction of destroyed nations began and United Nations Organization (UN) came into existence, human rights and human dignity became central and religion and religious rivalry receded into the background.

Soon another factor emerged on the scene in the form of the creation of Israel in what was Arab-Muslim Palestine. What the Crusades could not achieve, was achieved through Israel, post-World War Two. Israel was created not so much as to compensate for the killing of millions of innocent Jews but to continue to dominate the Muslim world through other, indirect, means. Arabs, any way, were in no way responsible for anti-Semitism or for the killing of innocent Jews in Europe, yet it was the Arabs, particularly Palestinians, who were made to pay the price.

Zionism emerged as the most aggressive right wing political ideology with the support of western powers, particularly the USA which had emerged as the most powerful nation after the Second World War replacing Great Britain. Thus, US backed Israel to the hilt and continues to do so till today. Israel with its right wing ideology and Neocons of USA found in each other political allies and came very close to each other.

It is these elements who control the US media both print as well as electronic and their interest was well served by maligning Islam and Muslims. Their alliance was not that of Jews and Christians but of right wing political forces. Similarly, in Palestine the Muslim and Christian Arabs are solidly united as allies as both are victims of the Zionist aggression and occupation. This makes it clear that it is not Christian or Jewish assault on Muslims but right wing political assault on Islam and Muslims.

It is interesting to note that western nations are generally secular and believe in secular nationalism but they fully support Israel which is a theocratic nation and all non-Jewish people  –  Muslims as well as Christians -- are second class citizens. Thus Muslim and Christian Arabs are discriminated against in the Jewish State. But since Israel serves the interests of western nations, it is acceptable as a key ally even if it is founded on the principle of religious nationalism and persecutes even local Christians. Any other nation, if based on religion, would be denounced as reactionary by these same western powers.

This hostility towards Islam and Muslims, which has historical roots, became much more acute with the events of 9/11. Now it was an open war with Islam and Muslims. It was projected in the western media as such. It is for Muslims to deeply reflect that such terrorist acts do not achieve anything. Instead, they bring a bad name to Islam. Such acts by a handful of al-Qaida followers led by Osama bin Laden have tremendously harmed Islam and Muslims; and thanks to western media, now it is universally believed that Islam is a religion of violence.

Of course, al-Qaeda never enjoyed the support of the majority of Muslims. It was supported by a small aggressive minority as it generally happens in other communities also. Many surveys conducted by various agencies like PEW and others clearly showed that right from Algeria to Indonesia only a minuscule minority supported acts like that of 9/11 and yet the mainstream western media never splashed such news prominently whereas any violent attack would be displayed most prominently.

Muslims should not only be peaceful but also appear to be so in various ways so that the media is compelled to splash such news. If not, as we have been seeing, violence by a few would be projected as if all Muslims are responsible for it.

Also, there are other reasons too for projecting Islam and Muslims in an unfavourable light and it is for us Muslims to deeply reflect on it and bring about changes in our society.

They see lack of freedom and dictatorship in most of the Muslim countries. Instead of probing deeper, they take it that Islam is the main reason, that Islam does not permit democracy and instead promotes autocracy. Many Muslim youth belonging to right wing ideologies propagate early Caliphate system as the only solution and then the media builds upon it.

The moment an article or cartoon or picture derogatory to Islam or the Holy Prophet or any other holy personality of Islam appears in the media, there are violent demonstrations or even threats to kill the person who wrote the article or drew the cartoon and this leads to the conclusion that there is total intolerance and lack of freedom in Islam or Muslim societies, as western culture is totally different.

They forget that until yesterday western society was no different and Muslim society is still pre-modern and semi-feudal. The young generation of journalists brought up in a very different culture and environment and also subject to right wing propaganda think it is serious violation of human rights and write strongly against it. They think only western culture guarantees freedom and has a democratic culture whereas Islamic societies are highly intolerant and autocratic.

The present generation of journalists has been brought up in a highly commercialized ethos of journalism and lacks the investigative ethos of the older generation. It draws instant conclusions on the basis of hasty and sketchy evidence and under pressure of events to earn fat salaries. This is the truth of investigation of modern day journalism and it is truth which is the casualty here.

What is worse is that what is written in the western press or spoken and discussed in the electronic media in the west is taken as gospel truth by the media in the Third World and reproduced in its own print and electronic media. Thus this western attitude acquires global dimensions. India is no different. Though there is a free and independent media but it prides itself on regurgling whatever appears in the western media. And India has its own right wing parties, outfits and ideologies which are strongly reflected especially in regional language media.

Media is supposed to be an essential part of democratic functioning as it cultivates public opinion but, instead of creating critical opinions, it caters to existing prejudices and thus strengthens the status quo and supports the majoritarian point of view. The same is true of the media in Muslim countries. It also reflects majoritarian point of view and caters to anti-minorityism and right wing ideologies. What is worse, there is hardly any free media in Muslim countries except in a few cases. Thus objective media is a casualty everywhere.  (Secular Perspective)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2012 on page no. 21

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