Media Coverage of Muslims and Islam

I went through customs in Rome after studying five weeks in Morocco. The customs officer asked me a lot of questions. I told her I lived with a host family. She asked me if they helped me pack. She asked me if they could have put anything in my suitcase.

She asked me if they put a bomb in my bag.

The officer’s question was rude, loaded, and ignorant, but I don’t believe she asked it to be hurtful. She was uninformed.

It’s the media’s responsibility to depict the recent issues in the Middle East. It’s also the media’s responsibility to minimize harm. This includes the harm in perpetuating negative stereotypes, which journalists will continue to do unless they stay informed.

The resources to be informed are available, but too many journalists don’t take the time or effort to educate themselves. California State University Northridge has a free guide called The Journalist’s Guide to Islam and Muslims. There are free e-books such as Islam for Journalists, and cheap books that are dedicated to teaching journalists about the religion and Muslims.

On Sept. 26, comedian Bill Maher said Islam and ISIS have too much in common and that liberals refuse to criticize Muslims because they don’t want to be labeled as Islamophobic. The comedian suffered backlash because he used facts that weren’t accurate. The Poynter Institute published an article that fact-checked Mahler’s comments. In the opinions column of the New York Times, Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the university of California, said there are both sides to this debate, but, “failing to recognize that religion is embedded in culture — and making a blanket judgment about the world’s second largest religion — is simply bigotry.”

Maher isn’t a journalist, but his inaccurate statements influence viewers to look at Muslims and Islam in a negative way. Are journalists doing all they can to counteract these statements?

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6 responses to “Media Coverage of Muslims and Islam

  1. This is a really cool post. I can’t believe a customs officer asked you that! I wouldn’t have known how to respond. I agree that Islam is something that people think they know about from the news, but there’s still a lot left to learn. People on the street could tell you all about ISIS, but I doubt they could name the Five Pillars of Islam. Journalists, included. I think it is journalists’ jobs to be as educated as possible about the subjects on which they are writing.

  2. That is crazy that you had to go through something like that! With ISIS popping up in the news so much today, it can get sticky when people start to bring up Islam as a whole into the picture. I think a better understanding of Islam would help not only journalists, but people who consume the news as well. This better understanding could make people like Bill Maher better understand what they’re saying and the effects because of it.

  3. I completely agree with you guys! When I told people I was going to study in the Middle East/North Africa, I got so many mixed reactions. A lot of people assumed it was really dangerous of the where it is, but Morocco has a lot of European influence too. I just wish people didn’t immediately assume that all Middle Eastern people are dangerous.

  4. That was so rude of the customs official, but sadly I can say I have either heard or seen almost the same situation many times. I come from a town with a large population of Hispanic/Mexican immigrants. My high school was almost half Hispanic, half Caucasian. But I have heard everything from “Which gang are you in? Don’t you speak English? When will you drop out of school?” There are people in this world who are just misinformed and ignorant. People assume which we all know is a bad way of thinking. I think that was the case with the customs official, they just assume everyone from that region makes bombs or wants to bomb us. These individuals are not informed citizens and need to be.

  5. That’s horrible that an officer in customs asked you something like that! I have no idea how I would have reacted or responded to something like that. I’ve never been out of the country (yet), so I don’t know how I would have handled that. But I do agree with what a lot of people are saying. With ISIS being in the news so much lately, it does tend to give the middle east a negative outlook. Journalists have a hard job in trying to separate ISIS and the extremist groups over in the middle east with muslims in general, who are not extremists.

  6. I totally agree that the media often mishandles coverage of muslim culture. That being said when I went to Italy my senior year of high school I was also asked about the possibility of someone putting a bomb in my bag so maybe Italians are really intense about their security? Either way if the customs officer was making an assumption about your host family that was completely inappropriate. It’s sad, but the media paints certain people in a certain way and it should be their job to end such stigmas.

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