Absent from the World of Image-Making
Frustrated at the rising tide of Islamophobia Muslims have bitterly complained about the absence of positive articles, or at least balanced ones, about Islam in the mass media. Muslims, as unschooled as they are in the intricacies of the modern world, have always assumed that someone else will tell their stories, about their suffering, their oppression, and in general relate their narratives favorably, and make them look good through visual images.
By Dr. Ghulam M. Haniff
St. Cloud, MN
They found out through bitter experience that that is definitely not the case. This revelation occurred to them only when they began to live in organized Islamic communities in the West, and became somewhat acquainted with Western culture. Previously, they were not sensitive to the issue of how they were presented to the world but once their words and pictures began to be put by others in another context, it was an awakening call for them.
The most positive words of Muslims, once taken by reporters, even friendly ones, and framed for print or electronic media, became virtually unrecognizable to the interviewee and his communal compatriots. When presented to the listening and viewing audience the words and pictures of the subjects became almost hostile and vulgar.
Thus, images and narratives projected in the West of Islam and Muslims have remained strangely unfavorable, and in more recent times even aggressively hostile.
Crude stereotypes embodied in terms like “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamofascism” articulated by the likes of George Bush, Dick Chaney and others, and extensively used by Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman to make various political points, are still in currency to this day. These pejorative labels have appeared in every prominent newspaper in the country, even in the writings of Tom Friedman and David Brook, both columnists for the New York Times.
Despite the uproar in the Muslim community about the negative portrayal their reactions to the bigotry has generally been subdued and disjointed even as the frequency in the usage of offensive stereotypes have continued to escalate.
Why did this happen? Primarily because Muslim representation in the world of image-making is totally absent. There are hardly any Muslim professionals in the major media markets, the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Germany, where 90 percent of the international news is packaged, processed and presented to the world. The world of Islam is seen and interpreted for news consumers in the global community by those professionals who are simply hostile to Muslims or work in the pursuit of their own agenda in dealing with the subject matter at hand.
The biases in the American media have been well documented. Favorable reports on Israel as a peaceful nation is a standard feature on page one but a story on Palestinians, if it does appear once in a while, is always in the context of violence.
The current massacre in Gaza is a publicity bonanza for the Palestinians but they do not know how to take advantage of it. Neither do anyone else in the Arab-Muslim world. The Israelis however, have already labeled Hamas a “Nazi organization” and “launching of rockets” a war crime.
Much of the blame for media distortion is due to the lack of Muslim understanding of how the contemporary world works. There are no Muslim journalists or writers or broadcasters in the world of communications. The sole exception is Al-Jazeera, an enterprise still run by Western expertise. To this point it has not produced any globally recognized Muslim journalistic star.
No Muslim media professionals have had their articles appear regularly in the pages of the major newspapers (e.g., New York Times) or serve as anchors on major television (e.g., ABC) programs. In fact, there are no Muslim journalists or writers of international repute anywhere in the world.
The blame for this shortcoming lies squarely on the shoulders of Muslims. In fact, parochial minded Muslim parents have discouraged their children from careers in journalism, broadcasting, television, film making or writing.
Their narrow outlook and inability to understand the role of mass media in projecting their narratives and images have held Muslims back by many decades. Consequently, Muslim views and perceptions are hardly ever presented to the global community in a wholesome manner.
Weighted down by their Third World mind-set Muslim parents steer their children to study engineering, medicine and more recently, computer science, because the prospects of jobs in these fields is much better. Moreover, the media world is very competitive and Muslims shy away from competition. They disdain competitiveness and want a sure thing.
Scattered handful of Muslims are gradually realizing that if they want their stories to be told to the world and authentic pictures presented they will have to do it themselves. That is possible only by Muslims becoming a part of the global media as journalists, broadcasters, producers and film makers. However, this would not happen overnight but may take years or even decades.
At the moment while the systematic cold blooded murder of the Palestinians is underway the world continues to sympathize with Israel as the besieged state! Many people lament the death of the thirteen Israelis but very little concern is shown for the 950 Palestinians killed and over 3000 wounded. In the sixty years of bloody struggle not a single Palestinian has been able to convey the emotional impact of their tragedy to the viewing world through the media in language understandable to the international audience. Why? Because Palestinians like most Muslims are lacking in literacy and the necessary sophistication to project their messages.