American media coverage of the Middle East has been questionable since 9/11. America has framed the Middle East as a region of violence, and itself as a victim of terrorism. This in turn produces expressions of anxieties amongst Americans, which develops into racism, as they blame Muslims for their security problems. Islamophobia has garnered more attention during the presidential elections as Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, has publicly expressed negativity towards Muslims. Diplomatic relations between America and the Middle East have been in vain since the Gulf War of 1991, but the cultural troubles have been reignited since 9/11. Hate crimes against Muslims have increased, and the media publicity that Islamophobia receives has reached a high after Trump entered the presidential campaign. Trump warns his supporters about Muslims, and this expressed fear is a product of post-9/11 media.
Trump’s representation of Muslims–an extension of broader America’s impression–is an example of ‘Orientalism’, a theory by Palestinian writer, intellectual, and literary/cultural critic Edward Said, which explains the Occidental (West) impressions of the Orient (East). It creates a hierarchical structure because Westerners subordinate Muslims. Is orientalism posing as a risk today for Muslims living in the West? This report will discuss the ways in which the instigation of Islamophobia presses a potential violation of human rights.
Orientalism can be interpreted in two ways. First, this theory can be used to describe the imperial relationship between two states, usually amongst the dominated/dominating binary. The second interpretation of orientalism is they way ‘the Occident’ absorbs and understands ‘Oriental’ culture. Orientalism can be considered an ideology deeply rooted in Western societies. Orientalism went from being blatant in literature to being ubiquitous in the media, and Trump is a prime example of orientalism being absorbed through a medium other than literature. We, the viewers, absorb this biased information, and this affects our conceptions of the world. Instead of personally seeing things and basing our interpretations off our experiences, we view the news through a false lens– and this is dangerous. Alternative media outlets such as Al Jazeera, for example, provide first-hand coverage of events in the Middle East. Western media conglomerates only produce what they believe is appealing to the audience, and this often hides most of the story. This lack of provided knowledge proves manipulative of Western viewers. This, in turn, enables the oppression of certain groups. Media in the 21st century is now an oppressive tool.
In Orientalism, Said writes the following:
One aspect of the electronic, postmodern world is that there has been a reinforcement of the stereotypes by which the Orient is viewed. Television, the films, and all the media’s resources have forced information into more and more standardized molds. So far as the Orient is concerned, standardization and cultural stereotyping have intensified the hold of the nineteenth-century academic and imaginative demonology of “the mysterious Orient.”[i]
Post-9/11 media changed significantly, framing all terrorist activity within Muslim context. There is a strong Western prejudice towards Islam, and one can even argue this goes back to America’s failed attempts at democratizing the Middle East. As Kumar puts it,
“…the overall framework was one that cast the ‘West’ as a beacon of democracy and enlightenment and the ‘Muslim’ world as mired in backwardness and intolerance….Every other civilization was then defined in relation to this notion of a superior ‘West.’”[ii]
Trump’s view of Muslims as a threat is a reciprocation of what American media has to offer.
Trump’s conditioning enables him to say things such as “Islam hates us”[iii] and: “They’re not coming to this country if I’m president. And if Obama has brought some to this country they are leaving, they’re going, they’re gone.”[iv] The media frames America as a victim of terrorism, and as Trump is a media personality himself, he is able to channel the state’s dominant views. Through Trump’s eyes, this is all absolute. The security reforms that result from the technological exposition provide democracy for the white, secular American, but not the coloured, Islamic individual, regardless if they are a refugee or a citizen of the state. Though as Americans, they have democratic rights according to the constitution, Muslims cannot practice it to its full extent because they are politically and socially silenced. It seems to suggest, why include Muslims in American politics when American politics is working on protecting themselves from Muslims?
America ‘seems to have created its own “machinery of truth” about Islam. Through it the lens is directed and small narratives are produced and reproduced ad infinitum. The titles and headlines may vary, but they lead back to a narrow ring of notions that define Muslim society in the eyes of manufacturer and domesticated consumer alike.’[v]
As stated on the Migration Policy Institute’s website, “since all 19 terrorists who attacked the United States that September morning were foreign nationals who had entered the country through legal travel channels, detecting and preventing terrorist activity became the paramount objective of post-9/11 U.S. immigration policy and programs.”[vi] The terrorist attacks as framed in the media create spaces for reform. Trump vows to increase border security and to ban all Muslims from entering the state. How will increased security protect the rights and image of Muslims, specifically those living in the West? It won’t. By barring Muslims from entering the state and limiting the rights and freedoms of Muslims already living in the state, Trump is only meditating a recipe for disaster. In reality, dictating the rights of an individual based on their ethnicity and religion is a violation of basic human rights. It’s easy to say that to prevent this from happening, no one should vote for Trump. However, he still has supporters. He is still participating in rallies. His face is still plastered in the media. The media is ubiquitous, and it’s the media itself that needs to be evaluated.
Because of the media, stigmas surrounding Muslims are being naturalized and solidified. An article published by SFGate in 2002 states 28 anti-Muslim hate crimes occurred in 2000, and jumped to 481 in 2001 following the attacks. More recently, following terrorist events in 2015, hate crimes rose 281 percent in the United States alone.[vii] Earlier in January 2016, a Muslim woman was removed from a Trump rally in South Carolina. As the Washington Post reported, “As Donald Trump questioned the motives of Syrian refugees…saying they ‘probably are ISIS,’ a woman sitting in the stands of the sports arena behind him silently stood. She was wearing a white hijab and a blue T-shirt that read: ‘Salam, I come in peace.’”[viii] Although this act is not insinuating a security reform, it still stands as an example of how Americans see their security as threatened by Muslims. The securitization of the state limits the practice of democracy, but it is mainly affecting the democracy and representation of the Muslim population. Although media and communication technologies are supposed to be promoting democracy in the 21st century, they are in fact being used to oppress.
The Western notion of democracy does not accept anything outside of its borders. It is important to note that the terrorism America experiences is actually result of the imperialist relationship with the Middle East. Trump and his supporters vilify those who follow Islam, which in turn places Americans above Muslims. Muslims have been demonized to a point where Trump felt the need to reiterate an urban legend of executing people with “bullets dipped in pigs blood”[ix], directing it towards Muslims. This is an act of victimization, but it is slightly in reverse as Trump acts as though America is a target, all while the nation actively participates in airstrikes in the Middle East as a way to dissipate violence and assert its hegemonic role as a ‘peacemaker’. Trump acts as the poster boy for American Exceptionalism, which only fuels more misinterpretations towards Islam.
A very valid method to tackling this issue is fighting to change the way individuals are treated as groups, and groups are thus represented in the media. Everyone is glued to their devices today, and information flows everywhere. We are consuming knowledge every second. More attention must be placed upon alternative news sources because they provide more sides to the story. No other regional media outlets are able to protect the rights of Muslims but those hailing from the very regions. We need more alternative outlets on the airwaves. Western medias encourage blindsidedness, and this reverberates throughout society. The less educated we are, the more likely we are to default to orientalism.
This does not only apply to Americans. Canada is host to Syrian refugees. If the West is the role model for democracy, then it needs to promote what they promise. Democracy is a constitutional right that everyone is supposed to be allowed to practice. To discriminate and take away this right based on someone’s religion is a violation, and furthers the hostility within the environment. It is understood that terrorism is still an issue, but educating individuals about the true face of Islam can prevent terrorist attacks from happening. American victimization is what fuels terrorism, and so the prime way for stopping it is by encouraging democracy and full media literacy.
[i] Said, Edward. Orientalism
[ii] Kumar, Deepa. “Framing Islam: The Resurgence of Orientalism During the Bush II Era.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 34.3 (2010): 254-77. JSTOR. Web. <//jci.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/content/34/3/254.full.pdf html>.
[iii] Schleifer, Theodore. “Donald Trump: ‘I Think Islam Hates Us'” CNN. 10 Mar. 2016. Web.
[iv] Crilly, Rob. “Donald Trump on Muslims: ‘They’re Not Coming to This Country If I’m President'” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. <//www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/republicans/12052760/republican-debate-donald-trump-las-vegas.html>.
[v] Ghannoushi, Soumaya. “The Propagation of Neo-Orientalism.” Al Jazeera. 27 Jan. 2011. Web. <//www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112611591745716.html>.
[vi] Chisti, Muzaffar, and Chris Bergeron. “Post-9/11 Policies Dramatically Alter the U.S.
Immigration Landscape.” Migrationpolicy.org. 08 Sept. 2011. Web. <//www.migrationpolicy.org/article/post-911-policies-dramatically-alter-us-immigration-landscape>.
[vii] Mark, Michelle. “Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Have Spiked After Every Major Terrorist Attack: After Paris, Muslims Speak Out Against Islamophobia.” International Business Times. 18 Nov. 2015. Web. <//www.ibtimes.com/anti-muslim-hate-crimes-have-spiked-after-every-major-terrorist-attack-after-paris-2190150>.
[viii] Johnson, Jenna. “Muslim Woman Gets Kicked out of Trump Rally — for Protesting Silently.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 9 Jan. 2016. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/01/08/muslim-woman-escorted-out-of-trump-rally-in-south-carolina/>.
[ix] Johnson, Jenna, and Jose A. DelReal. “Trump Tells Story about Killing Terrorists with Bullets
Dipped in Pigs’ Blood, Though There’s No Proof of It.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/20/trumps-story-about-killing-terrorists-with-bullets-dipped-in-pigs-blood-is-likely-not-true/>.
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