Prejudice against muslims or Islam in the West mainly emerged upon 9/11 attack in the United States. On average, there have been around 145 anti-islamic hate crimes in United States from 1996-2013 (FBI reports, 1996-2013). The aim of this essay is to explain how “anti-muslims prejudice” is socially constructed and how it has affected certain groups. This essay analyses published studies to examine how media has constructed the issue. Firstly, I will explain what is social constructionism, its underlying basis and how it can be used in interpreting the social phenomenon. Secondly, I will explain how “claim makers” (media) portrayed muslims or Islam as problematic that led to westerns holding hatred towards muslims. Lastly, I will discuss how prejudice against muslims has affected muslims and whether media has represented reality.
Social constructionism was majorly established by Berger and Luckmann; they give credit to Mead, Marx, Schutz, and Durkheim on their thinking. Berger and Luckmann emphasize on construction of knowledge; they focus on how knowledge arises and how it appears to hold importance for society. They regard knowledge as formed through interactivity among individuals within a society. According to them, society exists in terms of both subjective and objective reality which is achieved through interaction of individuals to social world (Andrews, 2012). Social constructionism is a communicative theory which provides knowledge on the development of jointly established interpretation of the world that creates shared thoughts about reality (Kitchlew, Shahzad, & Bajwa,. 2015). When constructionists do research on social problem, they focus on how the issue is constructed. They question how and why some conditions became a social issue. A problem does not arise naturally on its own, it is defined by those who hold power in society. Social conditions (that are considered as adverse by some people of society) might exist but they do not constitute a social problem until they are interpreted as problematical and in need of being solved. Social problems are created by the action of claim-makers; for example, interpretation of media on certain incidents.
Claim-makers highlight the conditions that according to them are problematic, hence, existing unfavourable conditions which fail to comply with shared values affect certain groups and demand solutions (Michailakis & Schirmer, 2014). There are three types of constructionism, namely strict constructionism, contextual constructionism and debunking constructionism and moral panics. Strict constructionists are concerned with the nature of claim-making, they study social problems based on empirical reality. Contextual constructionists focus on situating claim-making within the context which consists of past events in a specific society and its claim-makers who target a specific audience. Debunking constructionists analyzes to what extend a social construction represents reality. The idea of moral panic lies in debunking constructionism; moral panic reflects the meaning of social construction in debunking constructionism (Thibodeaux, 2014) . Moral panic refers to “punctuated moments of alarm in which, more than sources of risk or harm, specific events and behaviors are perceived as threatening society’s normative foundations” (Walsh, 2017). Moral panics is commonly used by mass media to portray a condition as threatening. The theory can be used to explain how claim-makers (media) define social conditions to create prejudice against muslims. The debunking constructionism can be used to discuss whether media represents reality.
Media has portrayed muslims and Islam as terrorists, oppressive of muslim women, intiatiatave of war and threat to national culture. The September 11, 2001 attack on America received huge media coverage; media used words such as ‘terrorism’, ‘war on terror’, ‘terrorists’, ‘security’, ‘terror attack’, ‘global terrorism’ (Salih, 2009). These words or phrases used by media is an indication that media directed its focus on picturing muslims as terrorists as the 9/11 attacks were carried out by a terrorist group whose all members were muslim. Moreover, American media reported stories about the oppression of muslim women to portray Islam as an oppressive religion which leds to muslims becoming terrorists. “Lifting the Veil,’ ‘Free to Choose,’ ‘Unveiling Freedom,’ ‘Under the Veil,’ ‘Beneath the Veil,’ and ‘Unveiled Threat” were the headlines used by the media (Alsultany 2013). The study by Haque (2010) has also found that after 9/11, western media portrayed muslim women as the victims of oppression and in need of freedom from their religion which is seen as gender-oppressive. The 7/7 London terror attacks was another incident that led to media, particularly UK’s media to portray negative and destructive stereotypes against muslims, claiming muslims as terrorists and Islam the religion which promotes terrorism (Shaw, 2012). According to Alsultany (2013), media uses representational mode in which they aim to balance negative representation with the positive one. One of the examples of representational mode is Tony Blair’s statement reported by Hugh Muir and Rosie Cowan in The Guardian (8 July 2005). The statement was as following ‘We know these people act in the name of Islam but we also know the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism,’.
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This shows that media is portraying Islamic beliefs as terrorism as well as providing positive representation of muslims. Another focus of media was on wars within and between muslim countries. Iraq war was framed in a different way by the western media when compared to the Arab media; there was difference in language-use. Arab media described those who were fighting against occupying forces as “Iraqi resistance group” while western media described them as “armed pockets”, “terrorist groups” or “Saddam loyalists” (Salih, 2009, p.88). Portrayals of the 1991 Gulf war reported Arabs and Muslims as inferior, threatening and immoral; portraying Islam as a threat to democratic western societies (Muscati, 2002). Western media also focused on ethno-political consensus in which Muslim migrants were demonstrated as a threat to national culture (Hussain, 2007). Security threat and cultural threat were the main driving force in the media for creating prejudice against Muslims (Ciftci, 2012).
Media effectively creates common sense for its audience, causing them to hold negative and destructive stereotypes against muslims. The number of hate crimes grew dramatically in 2001, the year of 9/11 attacks (FBI report, 2001). It was the same year when media shifted its focus on portraying muslims as terrorists. The incidents such as “killing of Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein”, “2016 Minneapolis shooting”, “Finsbury Park attack”, and “Brick Lane nail bomb” were committed by those who supported anti-muslim prejudice. The above incidents in UK and US were not framed as terrorist attacks by the media, instead, the headlines consisted of words such as “hate crime” and “islamophobia”, indicating a biased view of western media. According to Holbrook (2010), terrorist groups who claim to have Islamic motivation for their terrorist act justify it with their own interpretation of Islamic book which is Quran.
Hence, Islam itself does not possess beliefs of terrorism, it is misinterpreted by the terrorist groups as well as media. Moreover, the incidents caused by these terrorist groups do not only occur in Western countries, the highest number of these incidents occur in muslim countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria (Global Terrorism Index Report 2015). Furthermore, according to Halliday (2003), most muslims consider the act of terrorism as violation of Islam’s law. This shows that media has created misconception of muslims or islam; it has implied the deviant act of a certain group to whole muslim community. It is true that some terrorists claim to have Islamic motivations for their act but their misinterpretation of Islam does not make the religion inferior, threatening or terrorism oriented. Muslims are portrayed as terrorists by the media, but they are also victims of terrorism just like the non-muslims and as mentioned previously, muslims are against terrorism. Media has framed muslim women as oppressed and used headlines such as “Lifting the Veil,’ ‘Free to Choose,’ ‘Unveiling Freedom,’ and ‘Under the Veil”. Women in Saudi Arabia and Iran are legally required to wear the headscarf, but the rest of the muslim countries allow women to have the choice to wear or not to wear the hijab (Elgenaidi, March 6, 2018). Overall, media does not represent reality, it has created misconception about Muslims and Islam.
Social constructionism is useful in explaining and discussing how a issue is constructed. We can use the theory to explain how claim-makers define social conditions as a social issue. As discussed above, media has created prejudice against muslims by defining oppression of women, terrorist attacks and other social conditions as an issue. This essay also focused on debunking constructionism to demonstrate that media lacks representation of reality; media raised anxiety among westerns mainly post terrorism attacks and created misconceptions about muslims and Islam.
In conclusion, media has constructed prejudice against muslims or islam by portraying them as terrorist, oppressive of muslim women, and threat to democratic values. However, media lacked representation of reality as there was language difference in portrayal of terrorism against non-muslims and muslims as well as misinterpretation of muslims or islam which was based on terrorism attacks, oppression of muslim women and wars within and between muslim countries.