Islamophobia, the fear of or prejudice against the Islamic religion, is a social phenomenon prominent worldwide and in dire need of the public’s attention, considering the wide implications it has on the lives of Muslims. With the internet and social media facilitating both the misrepresentation and exaggeration of the Islamic religion as pro-terrorist and a threat to society, the lives of three million Muslims residing in the UK have limited socio-economic mobility, restricting and denying Muslims from access to “employment, education, freedom of movement, and free speech, while at the same time subjecting them to counterterrorism laws and strategies that unfairly discriminate against Muslims (Islamophobia: Understanding). The Western media’s portrayal of the Islamic Religion has intensely exacerbated following 9/11, a terrorist attack led by the Islamic terrorist group al Qaeda, resulting in the backlash against Muslims in Western countries such as the UK (Gould).
The theme of social media facilitating the misrepresentation of Islamic groups and how discrimination restricts people’s lives renders throughout the stimulus packet, specifically in the Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Edward Kessler’s “Social Media and the Movement of Ideas.” In the first source, the author communicates about the painful experience during the civil rights movement when segregation was still prominent in America and how inferior colored-people felt amongst the whites (King). The second delineates how social media is both a fast-growing outlet yet easy to abuse when it comes to promoting prejudice and stereotypes of religious groups online (Kessler). Both sources stress the necessity for inclusion in societies, emphasizing that segregation or narrow mindedness will cause havoc by not only destroying the quality of lives of those affected but also hindering the progression of modern society.
With the media integrating into every aspect of people’s lives in the UK and worsening the severity of Islamophobia, it is important to address: How is mainstream media facilitating Islamophobia, thus, negatively affecting the lives of young British Muslim adults socioeconomically in the UK?
In order to analyze the extent to which the media is responsible for Islamophobia thus hindering the socio-economic lives of Muslims in the UK, this paper will tend to various perspectives and limitations before reaching a counteractive solution: the government should proactively interfere by educating the public on the Islamic Religion, providing media literacy programs, as well as promoting one-to-one guidance for Muslims currently facing discrimination.
IMPACT ON EDUCATION
Increasingly, living as a Muslim is becoming a social mobility challenge with cultural barriers that strictly limit one’s ability to receive a proper education. In a survey done by the National Union of Students, a confederation of students’ unions in the UK, one in every three British Muslim students have experienced abuse or crime at their place of study (Kong). In support of this, figures released by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, reveal that anti-Muslim hate crimes in London have increased by 59.4% between 2015 and 2016 (Khan). The biggest targets of such abuse were found to be Muslim women. Since Muslim women wear hijabs that explicitly manifest their identity as a Muslim, averting oppression in schools becomes unpreventable (Livingstone).
On the subject of increased maltreatment of Muslims in schools, Alan Milburn, a British labor politician, confirms that there were reports of teachers having low expectations of Muslim students (Adu). This justifies why there is less student participation among Muslim students: the fear of becoming next targets for bullying.
A 2015 Perils of Perception Survey led by Didier Truchot, founder and CEO of the global market research company Ipsos, explains how mainstream media is responsible for the widespread presence of discrimination in schools. In the survey, 89% of Muslim students had agreed that Muslims were not getting an equal amount of press coverage, compared to attacks on other racial groups (Perceptions are Not Reality). Moreover, 43% felt that they could not express their views or be themselves at school for fear of persecution, harm, and bigotry (Perceptions are Not Reality). With mainstream media merely drawing attention to the extremist side of Islam, it is incrementally getting harder for Muslims to be portrayed as ethical and sane people. The misrepresentation provokes Islamophobia which ultimately hinders Muslims from fully expressing themselves in schools and engenders higher vulnerability within them. While religious hate crimes aren’t solely facilitated by mainstream media, it still has a serious role in expanding Islamophobia across nations and influencing innocent people to display coercive behaviors towards Muslims in order to feel socially compatible amongst their community and peers (Mainstream and Digital Media).
Along with such lethal oppression, Muslim students were also found less likely to be offered a spot in higher education. A research conducted by the Nuffield Foundation, a charitable trust aimed to improve social wellbeing by funding educational projects, has revealed that those of the Pakistani heritage are less likely to receive higher education offers when compared to the white British applicants (Nuffield Foundation Education). They also analyzed that those who do manage to access higher education will have all odds holding against them as they progress into the workforce (Nuffield Foundation Education). Both sources highlight the restrictions Muslims encounter in getting accepted to higher level schools, deciphering why Muslim students are underrepresented in most universities. However, a limitation to be noted regarding the lesser educational offers cannot be generalized to all universities in the UK.
Oxford University has recently initiated “the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies Program,” a curriculum which empowers educational opportunities on interpreting the Quran, designed for the inclusion of more Muslim students in their schools (Khan). Moreover, this program allows for religiously committed British Muslims seeking to build bridges between the Islamic world and the contemporary west while simultaneously allowing them to feel hospitality in their school (Khan). While the complications of living as a Muslim in the UK has ameliorated in the past few years, there is still a long way to go with regards to improvements in the entirety of higher level schools and to completely wipe the stigma that is preventing Muslims from building successful peer relationships.
In summary, the prevalence of Islamophobia driven by the mainstream media is evidently shown to obstruct the academic and social lives of Muslims studying in the UK.
IMPACT ON OCCUPATION
Once set back from higher education, it takes a bigger threshold for Muslims to break from poverty and to become successful in the workforce. Professor Jacqueline Stevenson from Sheffield Hallam University states, “Muslims from low socio-economic backgrounds lack sufficient resources and support to enable them to reach their potential, exacerbated by their parents’ experiences of higher levels of underemployment and unemployment” (Willingham).
In the labor market, Muslims face the lowest employment rates as well as the lowest rates of pay of any group in the UK (Pritchard). Mr. Milburn, the former secretary of state for health in UK, explains, “Young Muslims feel their transition into their labor market is hampered by discrimination in the recruitment process. At a national level, a Muslim candidate’s callback rates were 13% less than the Christian counterparts” (Pritchard). Together, these two sources delineate that even before Muslims enter the workforce, they face pitfalls in finding an occupation. According to the Muslim Council of Britain’s study of population data, among 16-74 year old Muslims, only one in five of the Muslim population is in full-time employment (British Muslims in Numbers). More shockingly, a report from Processor Ron Johnson from the University of Bristol had found Muslim men were 76% less likely to have a job and Muslim women were 65% less likely to be employed than their white Christian counterparts of the same age, with the same qualifications (Tappa). Dr. Khattab, a Lecturer in Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, buttresses this by affirming that “[Muslims] are perceived as disloyal and as a threat rather than just a disadvantaged minority mainly through media, making those from their own groups or others from less threatening groups to fill their jobs” (Faimau). Being categorized as a threat due to their religious identity obstructs one’s socio-economic well being and begets lower standards of living among unwaged Muslims.
Once a Muslim manages to secure an occupation, he or she must face the negative stereotyping that still prevails in the workplace. These stereotypes include assumptions such as Muslims being antisocial, uncommitted, and needy people, as well as “threats to the business”, excluding them from informal relationship-building and mentorship opportunities at work (Ali). This elucidates why the Muslim Council of Britain has found Muslim employees less likely to be satisfied with their involvement in decision making at work (Supporting the Aspiration). With the fear that participating and confronting their coworkers may get them fired, Muslim workers become inexpressive and unable to be actively engaged at work.
On the contrary, while it may appear that there is a lack in government interference to deal with such matters at hand, other organizations and companies have actively been engaged to assist young British Muslim adults in the labor market. The Muslim Aid Organization of UK is an organization that works in assisting Muslim young adults in finding occupations while providing training programs that helps individuals get exposed to real-life work experiences (Who are We). Outside of organizations engrossed in supporting Muslims, companies like Gordon Dadds, law and professional service firm based in the UK, has also taken initiative to help Muslims develop the fundamental skills and confidence required in their job interviews (Livingstone). Not only does the program entail to teach Muslim students with low socio-economic mobility the skills necessary to getting recruited, it also provides guidance in ways to counter the discrimination they may face (Livingstone).
Overall, the repercussions of Islamophobia facilitated by the mainstream media is holding back Muslim employees from consolidating into the workforce and reducing their chances of employment, which ensues into lesser socio-economic mobility amongst them.
Through observing the existence of Islamophobia on mainstream media and its effect on promoting negative stereotypes and discrimination in our society, it can be concluded that greater efforts must be enacted. In terms of education, Islamophobia is responsible for the discrimination against Muslims in receiving higher education and halting them from having a socially productive life with their peers. In terms of occupation, Islamophobia will hamper Muslims in both the recruitment process and the workplace through ways like closing them off from social events and from fully harmonizing with the rest of their coworkers.
In summary, the repercussions of Islamophobia facilitated by mainstream media appears in cases of discrimination against Muslim young adults which ensues into less socio-economic mobility within those identified with the Islamic religion.
The most efficient and feasible solution is for proactive government interference by firstly, educating the public on the roots of the Islamic religion and how to counter Islamophobia in school and work. By understanding the basis of what the Islamic Religion entails to teach its worshippers, this would allow students to see Islam from a different perspective, outside from what they are used to seeing on media, explains Dr. Monisha Bajaj from the Teaching Tolerance Organization that helps teachers educate prejudice in schools (Naresh). This would ultimately work to break down the barriers between the two communities.
Additionally, teaching students media literacy is essential in today’s age as mainstream media is largely responsible for facilitating the negative portrayal of Islamic groups and rising into a more problematic issue gradually—advocates the Center for Media Literacy, an educational organization dedicated to promoting literacy education (Johnsen).
Lastly, the government should intervene in taking the initiative to promote one-to-one guidance for Muslims facing discrimination in schools with guidance counselors and in workplaces through occupational psychologists. This would be the most direct way of helping Muslims get the help they need by teaching ways in better dealing with any discrimination and negative stereotyping that they encounter (Padela).
While the limitation for the last solution may be the cost and time that governments would have to bear in the process of promoting these guidance programs, if we were to look for the more long-term and direct solution, this solution would be the most effective as it would ensure that each individual fully gets the help they deserve. Moreover, it would teach Muslim young adults on ways to handle discrimination and increase their level of productiveness, which in turn would positively impact their socio-economic mobility as citizens of UK.
Conclusively, it is evident that Muslims are socioeconomically confined in a society that continues to be indulged in targeting the Muslim community; thus, in order for social progression to flourish, it is vital we integrate Muslims into our community and provide them the opportunity for equal social standing.