A stark reality of the 21st century is the revolution caused by modern media. The words and images radiated by television, radio, movies, magazines, billboards, newspapers and the internet have revolutionised the life of man. Electronic media, especially, due to their convenience and ability to delight the senses are being used to control the way we act and think. Our homes, our work places, even our motor ways have been exploited and converted into centres of mind control and hypnosis.
From amongst the many ways of controlling public opinion a very powerful medium is the reporting of news and current events. At present the news media is being powerfully used to portray a certain image of Islam. A brief glance at the modern media machine clearly reveals that a war is being waged against Islam and the Muslims. When it comes to reporting news or presenting documentaries about Islam, by and large, the world media networks paint two portraits of Islam in the minds of their audience:
· Islam is a religion of violence and oppression
· Islam is a lifeless outdated cult
The religion of violence and oppression?
The 19th century artist painted pictures of ‘Muhammadans’(*) as savage warriors on horseback with swords in their hands and death written across their faces. Similarly, today, the Western media have convinced the world that Islam is a religion of harsh bearded men who oppress their women. In their movies, also, a Muslim wearing a Palestinian scarf naturally fills the role of the ruthless terrorist who murders and drives fear into innocent women and children.
One notices a definite bias in the presentation of news regarding Islam and Muslims as compared to other religious groups. The news stories regarding other religious conflicts carefully omit religion and generally regard subjects as human beings with no religious affiliation. The fact of the matter, however, is that non-Muslims have been steeped in violence and turmoil, also.
Buddhists have been responsible for genocides in Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
Hindus have committed atrocities in India and Kashmir.
Jews have been involved in a war in Palestine.
Christians have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in recent times:· two world wars, extermination of entire races like the Aborigines, colonialism and slavery of millions of women and children, the use of nuclear bombs, terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland, etc
But, extremists in these conflicts are never labelled as Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish ‘radicals’ and ‘fundamentalists’.
When it comes to Muslims, the religion of Islam is always brought into the picture. The reason for a particular act is not explained. Rather, words such as “fundamentalist”, “militant”, “fanatic” and “extremist” are sufficed upon as an explanation to allow the audience to reach a judgement. Consider how the following world events were presented by the news networks of the world:
The war in Bosnia was described in terms of Serbs, Croats and Muslims instead of Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims.
Outside the Muslim world a terrorist attack is usually attributed to a ‘militant of the IRA’ not ‘a fanatic Catholic’ or a ‘fanatic Socialist’. However, a justifiable act of self-defence in the Middle East or Algeria is automatically linked to a notorious ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ or ‘Muslim militant’ group.
The crashing of TWA Flight 800, the Oklahoma city bombing, the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the bombings of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were linked to ‘Muslim extremists’.
The indiscriminate use of terms such as ‘fundamentalists’, ‘extremists’ and ‘fanatics’ conveys the message that Islam promotes hatred and opposes the values which normal people cherish. The media have succeeded in linking these terms to the Muslims in such a convincing manner that any terrorist attack in any part of the world results in the broadcasting of the same pictures and image:
The perpetrators – a gang of ruthless bloodthirsty Muslims shouting an Arabic incantation adorned in Palestinian scarves and brandishing rifles. The victims – innocent women and children with blood running down their faces in a state of fear.
The images of suicide bombers, hijackings, assassinations, street riotings and uprisings are related to the violent religion of Islam rather than to the particular political circumstances that have given rise to them. The result is a wave of anger and violence that leaves many masjids damaged and hundreds of Muslims injured or killed. The concept is simple but very effective: An often-repeated lie becomes truth in the mind of the audience.
The distorted image of Islam is worsened every time the media presents Islam as a cult that is harsh and oppressive. Islam is often labelled as a religion that:
insists on a harsh legal system (eg. cutting of the hand for theft or stoning for adultery),is illogical, irrational, and contrary to human intellect, aims to force its beliefs upon the followers of other religious persuasions, encourages its followers to engage in Jihad and shed the blood of innocent civilians, inhibits the freedom of an individual to choose, oppresses it’s women by dressing them in hijab.
Islam – the lifeless outdated cult?
In order to discourage the common masses from Islam a negative image of the Muslims has been drummed into the minds of people. Islam is presented as a boring lacklustre cult whose vast majority of followers are irrational and insensitive. Islam is, thus, labelled as a religion which:
discourages and stifles the artistic creativity of people, is archaic, superstitious and unscientific, encourages its followers to do good by fairy tale promises of a life in heaven, is incompatible with democracy, secularism, human rights and modernism.
The normal peace-loving reader or listener is unaware of these slanted news reports and begins to hate the ‘fanatic Muslims’. ‘These Muslims are worse than criminals; they kill anybody who opposes them; they are a threat to world security; and they are a threat to every nation on earth by the sinister operation of their world-wide terrorist networks.’ They conclude that the Quran is the gospel of violence which encourages its adherents to engage in a ‘holy war’ against every non-Muslim in return for eternal bliss in the next world after the supreme sacrifice for the cause.
The media are extremely effective in propagating these false concepts of Islam because their audience is unaware of the true meaning of Islam and what it stands for. Despite the information age that we live in, many think of Islam as a cult that is restricted to a few obsolete rituals and rigid doctrines. Few people in the west are aware of the spiritual and intellectual quality of Islam and its glorious history. A shocking number of people are unaware that Islam teaches its adherents to:
* worship one Allah
* honour all the prophets
* respect men and women of all religious persuasions
Many are unaware of the time span of over a thousand years when Islam served as the focal point of world culture.
Let alone a lack of sound knowledge regarding these aspects, the common Westerner has been brainwashed to regard Islam as a threat upon his freedom, thanks to the ‘integrity’ of the modern media which claim to be completely ‘neutral’ and ‘impartial’ in their ‘presentation of the facts.’
In summary, it is as if the media has an unofficial protocol in reporting news about Muslims. As a guiding principle they aim to do as much harm and damage as is humanly possible to Islam and the Muslim world. They would like the world to believe that Muslims are irrational, fanatic and aggressive and their religion, Islam, teaches them to be so. As far as their mode of operation goes the media are more than ready to distort facts, exaggerate events, relay statements out of context, in short, do anything to discredit the Muslims. Once this frequently repeated and distorted image sinks into the minds of the unquestioning masses then nobody would dare to question the validity of a “war on terror.”
*The terms Muhammadan and Muhammadanism referring to the Muslims and Islam respectively are based on an incorrect analogy made by non-Muslims when they compare Islam with Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. which are all named after the founder of the religion. Muslims, in contrast, regard Islam as the religion of Allah and not of Muhammad. Muhammed was only a messenger or proclaimer of the teachings which he received from Allah as revelation.