Muslims have occupied a central role in British media following the war on terror, as well as featuring in issues and debates about radicalization, immigration, and oppression of women. This representation has been largely negative throughout the 21st century, alongside the rise of Islamophobia. It has been in large debate by many activist groups and public figures. Figure 5(left) and 6(right) – show Malala (a well-known women’s rights activist) and Abu Hamza (a UK Muslim extremist preacher) Throughout the British media, the representation of Muslims is negative. However, we do see some positive imagery making its way into the major headlines. In the article shown above, Malala a Pakistani women’s rights activist, is a positive role model for Women of all ethnic descent. The media is seen not only as transferring information and ideas but also as shaping opinions and presenting particular versions of reality (Gurevitch, et al, 1995).
1 Gurevitch’s extensive studies are very relevant still in today’s modern media, across the globe. Audiences are becoming more and more active rather than passive, through the growing voicing of opinions on social media. As the majority of media articles are portraying the religion in a negative way, as extremists and terrorists. Post 9/11 we see a change in the perception of Muslims in the media as it turns from largely positive to almost wholly negative.
An article published by the Huffington post in 2016 explained the five Muslim stereotypes: Muslims hate Jews and Christians Muslims hate LGBTQ Muslims don’t believe in Jesus Christ or God Muslims wear turbans Islam promotes groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS They debunk them one by one using explanations from religious perspectives and Muslim people’s perspectives. By posting articles like these the Huffington post is pushing back at the stereotypes listed and giving Muslims a voice. This negative perception is visible across the globe, in the United States of America there has been a spike of Islamophobia from such events of the Iraqi war. The media has fuelled the different perceptions by constructing negative articles. Figure 1 – Anti-Muslim assault statistics USA.
A report published by PEW in 2015 (above) shows the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the level is just less than hate crimes after 9/11. This plateau in hate crimes is mirrored by the negative media coverage of Muslims and is most likely fuelled by the media. A study by the Islamic Human Rights Commission 2007 – Titled: The British Media and Muslim Representation: The Ideology of Demonisation by Saied R. Ameli Syed Mohammed Marandi and Sameera Ahmed. Explores many aspects around the topic, one being how the UK media’s coverage of minority groups has altered the audience’s views on the Muslim religion. “Media representation of minorities and minority group issues – or rather the lack of – is a key factor in determining how majority audiences think about Muslims” 2. We see these stereotypes follow into film.
Critic Kaleem Aftab, explains his views on the latest Riz Ahmed film, ‘City of Tiny Lights’. Saying that the film ‘cannot disguise the need for radical structural change’3. He believes that independent film makers are finding it hard to tear away from the ‘box offices successes’2, Film makers aren’t challenging these stereotypes in fear that their viewing figures will drop or that they will lose their reputation – ‘nothing is set up to support niches’2. The 2010 Comedy ‘Four Lions’ co-writer and main character Riz Ahmed says it is ‘ironically funny’ as it shows a group of Muslim friends from Sheffield becoming radicalized and failing to commit a terrorist attack on the London marathon. He has made light of a taboo subject and made it into a hilarious comedy. However, this film didn’t come without its dislikes, the Muslim community was angered by the film for its ‘controversial comedy’.
Figure 4 – 2010 film ‘Four Lions’ Some even argue that this representation has made its way into children’s films and cartoons. ‘Aladdin’ (1992), a report queries why a children’s cartoon describes Aladdin’s homeland as “barbaric”4, and notes that “good Arabs”3 including Aladdin are given American accents while the rest of the cast have “exaggerated and ridiculous Arab accents”3. This projects the view that Muslims are aggressive and evil, already creating a negative denotation towards children at an early age.
A more recent documentary – ‘What Muslims really think’ (2016)– sheds light on the subject from the perspective of the Muslims themselves, a woman goes on to say that ‘Extremism Is a very small minority of the Muslim community – it isn’t stated in the Karan to be violent, the Extremists are just that! Taking Islam to the extremes’5. However, in the programme, the overall projection of the group was largely negative. Leaving many angered. A poll by Channel 4 revealed these views: Nazia, 35, West Yorkshire Rating: 1 out of 5 – “boring, inaccurate and sensationalist” Ibrahim Ilyas, 18, Birmingham Rating: 0 out of 5 – “it reinforced the us vs them narrative” An article published by Huffington post in 2016 explained the five Muslim stereotypes: Muslims hate Jews and Christians Muslims hate LGBTQ Muslims don’t believe in Jesus Christ or God Muslims wear turbans Islam promotes groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS They debunk them one by one using explanations from religious perspectives and Muslim people’s perspectives. By posting articles like these the Huffington post is pushing back at the stereotypes listed and giving Muslims a voice.
This negative perception is visible across the globe, in the United States of America there has been a spike of Islamophobia from such events of the Iraqi war. The media has fuelled the different perceptions by constructing negative articles. The Guardian earlier this year (2017) posted an article titled ‘Almost all brown characters are terrorists’, the article goes on to explain how pre-9/11 the representation of Muslims was a much more positive one then of that today.
However, a shift caused by the events of 9/11 has removed the positive representations practically altogether. In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Face the Facts: Islamophobia (BBC Radio 4, 12:30 PM, 27 January 2011) 6, John Waite investigates whether the British press is contributing to growing tensions between communities through negative representations of Muslims. The radio broadcast explores how the press distorted stories about Muslims and how this ties in with the growth of English Defence League (EDL) activity. This is illustrated by the English Defence League being inspired particularly by a news story surrounding the ‘winterval myth’ the unfounded claim that councils are rebranding Christmas or even banning Figure 2 – Screen shot of an article posted by The Daily Mail According to figures released by Sadiq Khan in 2017 attacks on Muslims has increased fivefold since the London Bridge attacks and a 40% increase in racial incidents. As well as this the coverage of terrorist attacks of which the perpetrator was Muslims was seen to have a much greater level of coverage than other ethnic groups.
When relating theories to this subject there are three main ones that are considered, the first theory is the ‘reflective approach’ which can be considered as a simplistic understanding of representation. According to Reflective approach the meaning of objects lies within themselves and people. Language is a way of mirroring these meanings into real life.
‘As the poet Gertrude Stein once said, “A rose is a rose is a rose”. According to Hall (1997)7 this is believed to mean ‘things are what they are’7. The direct connotation of a text is its ‘reflective’ purpose’8. The second theory is a counter to the first, which accentuates the ordinary aspect of representation. Its main focus is on the ‘intentional approach’ to representation. Intentional theory is the way the word of an author is intended to mean and only that. The third theory is ‘dominant discourse’. This approach is the way in which the audience and writer create meaning through the use of language.
All three of these theories relies on the audience’s power or powerlessness over the topic. Which is the same with all media theories, all audiences dictate whether they accept or reject the denotations of the media texts in question. Van Dijk8 talks about how there are two types of racism the ‘New’ and the ‘Old’, the ‘old’ type of racism was caused by the belief that Muslims or other ethnic races were biologically different and inferior, ‘they are simply different, having a different culture’. The ‘new’ type of racism is more of a ‘symbolic nature’, it is expressed in ‘everyday talk’. There is a dominant perception within the Muslim community that the media portrays them and their religion in an imprecise and derogatory manner.
“The western media are largely seen by Muslims as a negative influence. This view is perhaps not without foundation. Very often the news that is shown about Muslims centres around negative stories” (Ahmed, 1992) 9. Distinctive images and stereotypes tend to dominate both Broadcast and print media, violent views combined with journalistic values create a negatively altered portrayal of the faith, the ‘preferred reading’.
An article by the BBC in 2008 titled ‘Most Muslims coverage is negative’, follows the research of a University in Cardiff, they looked through 1,000 newspaper articles from 1999 to 2008 of which two-thirds had articles focused around terrorism or cultural differences. They used words such as militancy, radicalism and fundamentalist. The head of the research, Dr.
Paul Mason, said: “we found the highest proportion of nouns used were about things like extremism, suicide bombers, militancy, radicalism – which accounted for over 35% of the adjectives used about British Muslims – fanatic, fundamentalist – those kinds of languages were used” 10. He was evidently angered by the largely negative perception of Muslims and Islam in the media – “You get these inaccurate stories about this threat of there is going to be more mosques than churches which is a complete nonsense”. The table below shows the phenomenal increase in the number of articles containing the word ‘Muslim’ before and after September 2001. However, this table does not state whether the use of the word was in a negative or positive manner. From the other research done like articles such as ‘Most Muslim representation is negative,’ we can deduct that the spike in the use of the word is most likely negative. Figure 3 – ‘Table showing the rise of the use word ‘Muslims’ in newspapers’11 Across the different platforms of the media it can be widely seen that the majority of media coverage is of a negative nature.
Through media theories we have seen that audiences have a very active role in modern media, they have the collective ability to choose what media texts create. This is important as it continues to push modern media forward increasing the convergence of media. However, the audiences increasing involvement allows negative aspects of the media to spread onto all platforms. For groups such as Muslims this has been the driving force for their negative perception we see.
In more recent years there has been an increasingly positive push back from the Muslim community countering these stereotypes. Activists such as Malala are creating a much more positive image in the modern media.