News Media: Generalization of Arab/Muslims
By Zade Al-Khatatbeh
There is a fine line between stereotypes and perceptual media facts. What do I mean exactly? Most news you hear about Arabs and Muslims are about extremism and those are the main headlines in the US. That being said, the media expresses information with bias and with a one sided agenda. Ever since the 9/11 attack which was a tragedy and changed many people’s lives including my own, the media has slowly been feeding this idea that when they speak about extremism they say Muslim countries as if everyone is painted by the same brush stroke. If I told you there are Muslim countries not in the Middle East like in Malaysia, Bangladesh and etc., you won’t ever hear about these countries because they are not Arabs. Main stream Islam is what most of the 1.57 billion people around the world specifically the US, Europe, Canada, South America, Asia, and Africa. The media is filled with information that is not pertinent, but using major headlines about extremism mixed with mainstream Islam and the countries that practice; this is where diversifying the difference between these developed stereotypes the news has been spreading to the actual facts.
We often mistake in choosing the trustworthy source of news. If you’re an avid consumer of mainstream news and media there is a lot of one way biases towards headlines, especially when it comes to Arabs and Muslims. One scenario is where CNN will try to justify stereotypes that have developed over years that have never been factual. For instance, Reza Aslan is a well-known religious scholar and has written many books about religions and countries that abide by the standards. CNN decided to invite Reza Aslan to talk about how Bill Maher’s show is correct about Islam and extremism as one single commodity. Reza Aslan fired back with correct information and was correcting the news anchors. In this example one of the anchors repeatedly said that all the countries dealing with extremism and many of the African and world issues were coming from “Muslim countries”. This is where it got interesting because when he corrected her on all those issues they are not Muslim problems, but all the countries around the Middle East. This is where I shook my head and realized that the news castors were trying to justify a stereotype and had a very distinct bias towards Muslims from the interview. At the end this interview was about commenting to Bill Maher’s idea that we should focus all our attention in the Middle East and all Muslims. Reza Aslan pointed out the ignorance and stubbornness within the interview, trying to justify their idea on extremism and mainstream Muslims rather than showing the effort to understand the true practice.
Satire and comedians also have effect on the world. Real Time with Bill Maher is an HBO show that mainly focuses on satire, but there are instances where there are serious conversations that impact the audience. Bill Maher invited some people that were thought to not be as educated as him or to have lack of facts to prove their argument. Ben Affleck was one of the people invited and he was not interested in the generalization of Bill Maher’s conversation about Islam as a whole. He was not showing information about other religions or any countries in this interview but arguing a point that wasn’t sustainable and comprehensive to Ben Affleck. Bill Maher did not ever talk about the Muslims in the US or the UK or any European countries or other Asian countries other than Middle East area. There is about 1.6 Billion Muslims around the world which sums up to be 23% of the world’s population. Bill Maher took information from one spot of the world and generalized it to all. Watching this interview unfold on Bill Maher it was convincing in the end Affleck couldn’t say much more then what was on his mind. The argument that Bill Maher was trying to prove which was about Islam was facts that feed to his own audience and wanted to hear this media consumption.
US news has a major effect worldwide. In most of the world they follow the trend of what the US news is saying. CNN which is a worldwide and very well established media giant, and Fox news, another news giant, are examples of widely effective sources. Despite the fact, they still report biases including when Reza Aslan was invited to talk about his book released in 2014. The interview was to talk about his accomplishment of this book then was turned around to talk about his religious faith without positive remarks towards the book at all. Reza Aslan as a scholar of Religions and knows what he’s talking about in his book through research. The news castor was pretty much attacking Reza Aslan until he came back with information that kept her quiet through the whole broadcast about religion and his personal faith towards Islam. In Germany and most of Europe this type of news affects their countries it will play follow the leader(US being the leader) and have more stories about the bad of Arabs/Islam than the positive, and good things that the Muslim communities bring back to their societies in the US and Europe. US news is very much portraying a bias and it is affecting communities around the world which is strengthening these stereotypes, and making people more paranoid.
There aren’t stories or information about why extremist do the things they do. The news portrays it as doing it for religion. Mostly it’s about power in a region and using whoever they can to get what they want even at their expense. I watched a movie about a true story. I met the director last year at a movie festival. His name is Nabil Ayouch and I asked him what the purpose of this movie was? His response was “to educate people that even the poorest and the most uneducated people in any country can be taken advantage of and be used to do things for people that give them specialness by giving them attention and care”. The movie Horses of God was about a few kids who grew up with nothing, growing up with no food or education. They were discarded from the world and have never been out of their rural village. A Muslim radical who used these kids to do his work by blowing up a hotel in the middle of Casablanca. It was clear to represent children’s lives were like, when a guy uses religion to take them out of the city to pay for food and shelter. The leader uses these kids to create a tragic act. Nabil Ayouch explained in the after film discussion after filming, that these children were not educated and were very easily manipulated into setting off bombs just like the other 11 people around Morocco that were a part of this massive attack. I recommend watching and analyzing this film with an open mind to hopefully see what the director is trying to explain. The manipulation method unfortunately has been used for many years worldwide to get people to do their bidding and use religion as a source. This manipulation method to get people to hurt other people is not mainstream Islam, but a radicalized version that is prohibited in all Arab countries to be used or practiced in any country. This movie was a shock to watch and gets you to really think about how these people are being manipulated. The movie won countless awards in Europe, Middle East, and US (but never played in theaters).
Horses of God can be found on Netflix; Movie Review: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2369047/
One of my learning moments was analyzing the media and our communities. I was able to understand how much of an impact media and communities respond to different influences. As I dug deeper into the research on media consumption there are habits, stereotypes, and ideology that is transferred directly and indirectly to audiences. One example in class was about a reading in class where John Berger explains how glamorized products, styles, and information can affect our own thoughts. BBC documentary Ways of Seeing was eye opening. I was able to understand the changes people have had from media. Understanding John Berger’s documentary got me thinking about media stereotypes. This brought out another learning moment from class about communities and being aware of stereotypes. I was never into thinking stereotypes were something that would affect me or any community. Until, I did more analyzed research. Checked media groups that expressed news with bias and most of the time they had an inherent bias towards a story. I checked into Arab and Muslim stories 90% of those stories were about extremism and maybe 10% were small stories about communities doing little good in the world. This learning moment helped me understand the stereotypes that surround me and the tools to research effectively.
There is a wide variety of stereotypes and it is affecting the world especially people in the Arab and Muslim community. September 11 2001, a day that political views and stereotypes destroyed any good views about Arab/Muslim communities had long residue effect on media. Reza Aslan became a big activist after the two encounters over the news stations about him being Muslim and the image of Islam that Bill Maher was painting to the world. As mentioned above, after Reza Aslan saw Bill Maher/large news channels trying to paint the world into his/their stereotypes towards Muslims, Aslan became a big activist to advocate for his community. CNN and Fox news and other news stations that have established worldwide viewers really affect the trending headlines of Arab Muslims and change those headlines to “Muslim Terrorist attacks…” then it becomes an issue for all the Arab/ Muslim communities the 1.6 billion people around the world. The movie Horses of God, shows this type of extremism can happen in any country or any place whether or not it is Islam. That is the broken stereotype no Muslim countries follow a radical or extreme agenda these are people looking for power and throughout history many leader have used this method to take over land and political control. My learning moments from class have impacted my thoughts on news and media. I’m much more aware of stereotypes and the bias stories that affect communities. The media is filled with information that is not pertinent, but using major headlines about extremism mixed with mainstream Islam causes situations in Muslim communities all over the world, and shouldn’t use these headlines so boldly when there is no correlation to mainstream Islam to what the news says with bias.
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