“”Islam as News” (1980) was Edward Said’s introduction to “Covering Islam”, his book about America’s terrible news reporting on the Muslim world. The American press was shockingly ignorant and nakedly prejudiced. But it gets worse: the press was merely repeating what it heard in government and scholarly circles. Edward Wadie Said, also known as Edward Willaim Said, was born on November 1, 1935 in Jerusulem. He belonged to a wealthy family as his father was a successful businessman who even had business in the U.S. Although Said spent his childhood in Palestine but in 1947, his father moved his family out of their homeland for security reasons. They shortly got settled in America premanently. There, Said went to the most prestigious institutions such as Princeton and Harvard for the higher studies. The excellence of these institutions reflected in his insights as a writer. Though away from his roots, he did not abandon or forget them. He kept raising his voice for his fellow brothers through his writings. He used his words to counter what he felt were violations against the “other” world. For instance, in one of his essays, “Islam as News”, he talks about how ?slam’s image was mediated through the media tools and thus, controlled and reshaped to fit the Western narrative. Hence, “News” had a defining role in the current view of Islam the world holds today.
The essay opens with the historical situation that took place on November 4, 1979 as a group of Iranian students occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Edward Said remarks on how the ‘hostage crisis tale’ became a tool used by the West to represent the Iranian Revolution and the downfall of Reza Shah Pahlavi consistent with their likes. An editorial, “The Atlanta magazine charter” declared those college students who held control in Iran as the “new barbarians”. As media has portrayed the picture of Islam as irrational and anti-West, Said states that “pictures and ideas do not spring from reality into our eyes and mind, truth is not directly available to us”. He argues that this pessimistic view is the result of the media’s representations of particular aspects of legitimacy over others. In his third book of Orientalism trilogy, Covering Islam, he discusses how media impacts the truth and how it has depicted the Muslims during the period of the “hostage crisis”asbarbaric people.
Moreover, Said refers to the commercial made with the aid of Consolidated Edison of New York (Con Ed), one of the largest investor-owned energy organizations inside the United States media, showing sure mysterious Arab-looking “men”, who manage the American oil resources. Hence, placing a sadist notion in heart of Americans about Arabs and Muslims, according to Said, this ad served the motive of making the Americans afraid, full of hatred and angry for Muslims. Said also focused on how this picture of Islam and the way it was utilized by the U.S. is a window into the American ideologies and cultural frames.
He begins with a brief study of connection between Islam and Christian west throughout the history moving towards contemporary situations. In this essay, Said has sufficiently recognized that by the end of the 18th century, West divided the world into two categories geographically: the Orient, classified as the “other” and the Occident, classified as the “Us”. He said that such divisions come about only when one society or tradition thinks about another society or tradition as inferior and powerless. Occidents assume that Islam is something that wholly belongs to theOrientsand consequently, is one-of-a-kind and an essential part of their identity. To Said, the West seems to be “pitted against” Islam, as they are always in comparison with it. Thus, whatever they don’t want to accept is there in themselves, they associate with Islam. Islam is taken into consideration as a “demonic religion of apostasy and blasphemy”. Said believes that the West has a subconscious threat from their once rulers taking back the dominance and to avoid that destiny, Islam must be repressed, by way of hook or by way of crook. Consequently, they engage their most extensive and effective tool, that is the media, as much as possible,, to obtain this purpose.
Even after the doom of Islam and ascendency of Christianity, fear of “Mohammedanism” continued. Islam has never been a whole and complete subject of west and by the time of oil crisis in Europe and America, Islam seemed to repeating its history of conquests over West. Then in 1978, Iran occupied very significant position in the Islamic world and East, which provoked more anxiety and worries in Americans. It is something to be wondered about that no nation so far has kept America engaged completely like Iran; because of its oil and gas sources, its revolutionary history and stubborn culture. Iran has been the major supplier in energy crisis but its image and value degraded in American house because of Ayatollah Khomeini`s revolution and religious bent. This effort of Khomeini presented him in West as anti-America. And this lead to capturing of US embassy by students in Tehran. Reaction to the action of Iran was a planed strategized and predetermined concept of Islam, Arabs and Orient. Even the critically acclaimed fictions likeV.S.Naipaul`s A Bend in the river and John Updike`s The Coup are manifestations of such ideas and same was the case with history books, movies and films, media, comic series, caricaturing Muslims as soil suppliers, terrorists and bloodthirsty mobs. There has been no space in any western discourse for non Western part of the world especially for Islam and Muslims, unless it is a negative and barbaric representation. Said gives example that if you ask western people about any modern Islamic writer they will name Khalil Jibran who was not even a Muslim.
A universal hostility has emerged, as a consequence, of this type of use of the media. Other than journalistic tools, Said asserts, other tools have also performed a vast function in the making of the hostile image of Islam. One such example is the use of literature to establish that “Muslim fundamentalism has no intellectual substance to it…”, to cite Naipaul, an author who heavily contributed in creating a negative image of Islam through his novel, A Bend inside the River. Said criticizes the way “novelists, journalists, policy-makers, “specialists” joined forces to establish Islam as a device to “cover the entirety that one maximum disapproves of…”. Subsequently, making Islam the magnificent “other” opponent to whom the “one” is defined. Said observes hypocrisy in the ways through which the West highlight the negative happenings in the Muslim world, while the same negative incidents happening in the Christian and Western world are willfully disregarded. He explains that “this sort of equation is reserved for Islam”.
Understanding of Islam has been made difficult by the prejudices, biases and conservative religious and academic scholars. Said criticizes Naipaul`s role in projection of Islam in postcolonial world and in the Empire as fundamentalist ideologies in control of intellectually disenchanted rulers. He explains Islam as everything which is rejected by the point of view of civilization and western rationality. Said says that it is beyond one`s understanding that when Iranians or Muslims talk about their issues, history of oppression, injustices and suffering no one takes it into account but it suddenly matters when America thinks about right and wrong doings of Khomeini and his revolution in Iran. While no one is concerned about the massacres, killings and brutalities of Christianity inside and outside the West. Here Said raise a question that what is the basic stimulus which urges west for unrestrained response and in what ways is Islam different from west? He says that if Islam is ideologically loaded and imprecise, so Christianity is problematic too. Everyone talks about his own faith in convincing ways. To consider the extreme outsets of ideology we see binaries between Islam(religion) and West (geographical location), Christianity is never being mentioned. Said says that these labels of Islam vs. West perform function of identification and meaning. People who aren’t even aware of these concepts talk about the Muslim world and Islam with anger and hatred. One thing to be kept in mind in that it is west who is always been pitted against Islam, not Christianity. The reason explained is that west has passed Christianity with modernity while Islam resides in backward regimes of culture and society. He claims that western people simply ignore the history, background and culture of Islam just to induce meaning of oppositionality in comparison to the Islam.
Said argues that even if people believe in and assist something, it does not mean that they have a “solid grip” on all its components. He talks for both “Islam” in addition to the “West”. Subsequently, not only that it’s essential to identify that the followers or advocates of those ideologies are not their ideal embodiment, it is also necessary to keep a track of the meaning of these terms as they have, at the same time, an “enabling and disabling” history, which constantly modifies and alters their connotation. For instance, Said discusses how Islam has stopped being the counterpart of the religion of West that is Christianity, but has become that of the West itself. Hence, therefore, West establishes itself as an entity beyond its faith, but at the same time reduces Islam to be “still mired in faith, primitivity and backwardness”. Thus, Islam is reduced to a “small quantity of unchanging characteristics”.
Said, then, quotes an article written by John Kifner in which Kifner has drawn Islam as primitive and totalistic religion, which seeks to be the “central force” within the lives of its followers. He compares it to the “modern West” which has gone through the liberating experience of Reformation and, hence, is beyond it. Said believes that Kinfer has the liberty to say whatever without the risk of being wrong as herest his argument on evaluation of Islam and West and simply ignored the collection of parallels between Islam and Marxism. Europe versus Islam and America versus Islam is the thesis that Islam versus West builds upon, but there’s a distinction among European and American recognition of Islam. Europe (France, Italy, Germany, and Holland) has a long way of life of direct relation with Islamic world. This is reflected in European academic discipline of Orientalism. Even Soviet Union has a population of 50 million Muslims but none of this is true for the United States and this makes the current obsession of America more peculiar and more second-hand. Islam is the second one religion in factor of numbers in France while in the united states some of folks that are speaking have a good deal to do with the Muslims. This contemporary European burst of interest is called “the Oriental renaissance,” a period in which French and British observed “the East”.
Said states that Islam has shared its mystery, exoticism, corruption and latent power as a part of “the East.” Truly, Islam has been a problem for Christian thinkers and a direct military threat to Europe for centuries. Islam stood as a “religiocultural challenge,” which could not even prevent European imperialism from building its institutions on Islamic territory yet Islam has never been welcomed in Europe. The great philosophers like Hegel to Spengler regarded Islam, in a dispassionately manner and without enthusiasm, “the wisdom for the East” and rarely included Islamic sages or poets. The idea of Islam was unacceptable on Christian grounds. As Islamic nationalism increased in Asia and Africa there was widely shared view that Muslim colonies meant to remain under the West, as they need Western discipline. Towards the end of 19th century Europeans did express a fairly energetic sense of what Islam meant to them and we find its reflection in their cultural and literary heritage.
The 19th century Americans contacts with Islam are very restricted culturally as there was no distinct place in America for Islam before World War II. Sai mentions that academic experts did their work on Islam in corners and avoided the limelight of Orientalism. For a century, there existed a mutual beneficial relationship between America and Islamic countries. On the other hand, all the great academics of America are foreign born but none has had the relative cultural prestige enjoyed by Jacques Berque and Albert Hourani in England. Academic experts on Islam in the West today have no idea about the whole civilization pattern of Islam but they do know about jurisprudential school and Moroccan urban patterns. Hence, their schema is not perfect and all-round yet this has not prevented experts from generalizing from time to time about “Islamic mindset.” However, this has confined to media and journals as political crises have provided fairly enough occasions for public discussions on Islam.
Said feels that Islam only got the attention of Western intellectuals because it has been highly associated with terrorism and such negative portrayal of Islam is largely done by the Western media. Atlantic Council’s special working Group made a report in the fall of 1979 and very suggestively named it as “Oil and Turmoil: Western Choices in the Middle East”. Moreover, Time magazine also put forth a special cover story on Islam on April 16,1979, the cover of the magazine was too florid having a muezzin standing and calling for people to prayers. This whole thing was an exaggerated version of a 19th century period piece of Orientalist art. After mentioning these things about Islam, Said, then mockingly asks a rhetorical question, “Surely I am exaggerating? Wasn’t time’s magazine story on Islam is simply a piece of vulgarization? And surely Islam has thrust itself upon the world’s attention”. Resuming the same discussion, Said questions about the experts and the scholars that why their contributions are entirely avoided or submerged by the media. These cover stories symbolize Islam as vulgar and hostile and media is responsible for propagating such an image of Islam.
Said further mentions the several reasons for the absence of any expert opinions on Islam. The first reason that he gives is that there has never been any American expert on the Islamic world who brings the true essence of the religion that is why no proper work on Islam has been compiled except The Venture of Islam by Marshall Hodgson, to give a proper insight about the religion. The ignorance could be mainly because of two reasons, either the experts are way too talented so all they do is to refer to other’s works or address other scholars. Secondly, their works are not specialized enough to differentiate them from the prior works and to be presented before a wide audience. Moreover, Said mentions, there is not even a single American institute that has ever encouraged studying Islam because of its recurrent association with oil suppliers and terrorist by media groups.
Said has further elucidated upon the marginal position of Islam. He links it mainly to the political agendas of the West which has made Islam a “news” since the 1970s. Oil producing gulf countries appeared very powerful. Unending wars taking place in Lebanon, Ethiopia and Somalia, Iran grasped itself into “Islamic revolution”, Afghanistan was gripped by Marxist coups of Soviet Union in 1978 and then invaded by Soviet army in 1979. The clashes between Algerian and Morocco over Sothern Sahara and lastly the execution of Pakistan’s president, were all very fruitfully exploited by the Western media. These all incidents were taking place at different times in history but few of these happening were explored by the writers of the West, they provided its readers with a mass literature about regions of the world that were turbulent, violent and irrational in all aspects not only in media but literature also.
As it is already mentioned above how the image of Islam has been manipulated by media and literary scholars, Said doesn’t put the whole blame on academic scholars who produce such massive literature about Islam rather he says that a person sitting in Princeton or New York should explore Islam which is presented in media and literature. He further mentions that when a scholar writes about some political problems of the world, he consults an “area expert”, who is basically a government official, politician or journalist. He mentions Iran-U.S. relationships, that how in the past, during Shah Pahlavi’s regime students were exchanged to learn counter culture as well as to provide a bridge between these two countries and this intermingling helped the Western scholar to presume the fall of Pahlavi regime by Khomeini.
The conditions the Lebanese society experienced for over fifteen years caused by a civil war were not a front-page news in American newspapers until the abduction of Associated Press Beirut bureau chief, Terry Anderson. America’s profound obliviousness about Lebanon is directly connected to the letdown of the American media to report in depth about the Lebanese conflict. America’s particular ignorance regarding the Islam and Islamic nations is not acceptable because Lebanon plays a key role in the persistent problems in the Middle East, which directly affect the United States and world peace. There may be no way to objectively report the situation in Lebanon because the history of the myriad culture clashes there are so complex but author of War Stories: The Culture of Foreign Correspondents, acknowledges that objectivity is not necessary for good reporting, and in fact raises poor reporting. To try to solve the problem of America’s obliviousness, Terry Anderson has taken the first step in recognizing the problem of ignorance toward the conflict and then by searching for and publishing knowledge which aids the American people in understanding the conflict, as well as the cultures and people of Lebanon.The bias could have been intentionally what most Americans identify with as “pro-Israeli” tendencies, or could have been unknowingly biased through the method of filtering information to report. Growing islamophobia is a social attitude endorsed by American media instead of defying it. Media reporting has also been a spot for “rebranding” Islam in a bad faith.There remain a number of media outlets and individuals who seem committed to promoting fear-inducing, monolithic, and extremist understandings of Islam. As Muslim communities and their allies continue to find ways to counter these negative stereotypes, there may yet be a day when “Islamophobia” is an idea of the past and no longer a living reality.”