Mob against the Hijab
Written by: J. Stokes – January 31, 2017
If you’ve been following news reports lately, whether through television, the internet, or social media, chances are you’ve come across images of people gathered in large groups at airports around the U.S. protesting what some consider President Donald J. Trump’s “Muslim Ban.” Last Friday, January 27th, President Trump signed an executive order that he asserted was part of an extreme vetting plan to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists.” This legal action will stop Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. indefinitely and prevents entry into the U.S. for 90 days from seven countries, those being Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. Despite President Trump’s claims that he is not discriminating against any particular religious group, the seven countries under scrutiny are largely Muslim (i.e. most of the inhabitants practice Islam).
This executive order has caused much criticism. Many believe it may worsen the state of Muslims in the U.S., who have been viewed through a negative lens for some time.
According to Ahmed and Matthes (2016), today those who identify as Muslim or practice Islam “are at the crux of much censure and debate” (p. 2). Ogan et al.’s (2014) study on media and Islamophobia in Europe and the U.S. found “that negative attitudes toward Muslims and Islam are most strongly and consistently associated with political conservatism” (Ogan et al., 2014, p. 40). Coincidently, President Trump is affiliated with the Republican Party, which practices a conservative ideology. Ultimately, the most strained sociopolitical relationships concerning Muslims are said to be found in the U.S.
Some researchers have asserted that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the starting point for Islamophobia in the U.S. Gottschalk and Greenwald (2008), however, argue that Islamophobia was present earlier and “that Americans were using the fear of Islam as a unifying concept in defining America” (as cited in Ogan et al., 2014, p. 31). Other researchers have also tied American anti-Muslim sentiment with racism and link the transatlantic slave trade to America’s Islam connection. Nevertheless, “wars in Iraq in the 1990s, and the consequent events of 9/11 in 2001, further amplified the tone and volume of the discourse” (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016, p. 4).
Media has been highly influential in amplifying the aforementioned events, which has led to negative stereotypes being associated with Muslims. Said (1997) has purported that a typical feature of Western media is to relate Islam to aggression. In fact, “Islam’s role in hijackings and terrorism seems to play increasingly on Western consciousness” (Halse, 2015, p. 58). After the attacks on 9/11, in which the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners in the U.S., there has been a divide in both Middle Eastern and Western media. Muslims and Arabs living in the U.S. “have suffered arguably from a kind of collective punishment” (pp. 58-59). Some have asserted that the traditional Muslim Arab stereotype in U.S. television resides in Hollywood’s depiction of the Middle East.
Studies have found that the media often represents Islam as a monolith.
Muslims are usually shown as being “heartless, brutal, uncivilized, religious fanatics, as militants and terrorists, or as societal problems” (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016, p. 4). Another negative stereotype of Islam that is often highlighted by the media is its subordination of women. Shaheen (2008) has asserted that even when Muslim and Arab-American women show up in current Hollywood television entertainment, they are either wild and repressed or silent and submissive. This portrayal does nothing to advance the narrative that women who identify as Muslim or practice Islam can be independent or self-sufficient. Ultimately, “in the generalizability of assumptions, ‘The West’ and ‘Islam’ can be expected to be defined as opposites, propagating the idea of confrontation” (Ahmed & Matthes, 2016, p. 4).
In order to combat the negative stereotypes associated with Islam, some scholars have argued that media should include Muslims in both the organization and production of media content. It is important to remember that social interactions between Muslims and other members of the general public in the U.S. are restricted. Therefore, the content coming out of certain media may prove highly influential in shaping individual and societal opinions and attitudes. Having Muslims more involved with U.S. media could lead to a disruption in the negative stereotypes currently out there. This change could prove highly beneficial regarding older people, since they usually consume more news than younger audiences.
Ahmed and Matthes (2014) also recommend that media focus on new geographical regions where Islam is practiced. Oftentimes, countries in Latin America and Africa, where Muslims also reside in large numbers, remain largely ignored. Lastly, it might be helpful to look at how Muslims are represented in media outside of the U.S. This could “provide us with a better understanding of the similarities and differences in the construction of media frames across societies” (Ahmed & Matthes, 2014, p. 19).
To conclude, we wanted to add a quick excerpt about Islamic extremists. First, “fewer than one percent of Muslims around the world have been involved in any militant movement in the last 25 years” (Ogan et al., 2016, p. 28). Nevertheless, this group is largely depicted as such. Regarding Muslims that live in the U.S., a 2016 report from Pew Research Center found that almost half of U.S. Muslims (48 percent) do not believe their religious leaders have done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists. As a whole, the Muslim community comprises over a billion people and stretches across six continents, practiced by hundreds of cultures. With this understanding, it is necessary that we refrain from viewing Islam as a monolith. Indeed, this “mob against the hijab” mentality must immediately cease before things get dangerously out of hand.
**Let us know what you thought about today’s blog post. Leave your ideas, questions, or concerns in the comment section below!
Ahmed, S., & Matthes, J. (2016). Media representation of Muslims and Islam from 2000 to 2015: A meta-analysis. International Communication Gazette, 1748048516656305.
Halse, R. (2015). Counter-Stereotypical Images of Muslim Characters in the Television Serial 24: A Difference That Makes No Difference?. Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies, 10(1), 54-72.
Ogan, C., Willnat, L., Pennington, R., & Bashir, M. (2014). The rise of anti-Muslim prejudice: Media and Islamophobia in Europe and the United States. International Communication Gazette, 76(1), 27-46.
Said, E. W. (1997). Covering Islam: how the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world (2nd ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
Shaheen, J. (2012). Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11. Interlink Publishing.