Muslims, Islam and the Media

Taking the Initiative against Scare Scenarios

The media and politicians are having trouble drawing the line between Islam, Islamism, and extremism due to insufficient knowledge and clichés. Therefore we need the Muslim community to isolate radical Islamists, says Sabine Schiffer

The media and politicians are having trouble drawing the line between Islam, Islamism, and extremism due to insufficient knowledge and clichés. Therefore we need the Muslim community to isolate radical Islamists, writes Sabine Schiffer

Muslim boy holding a Koran (photo: AP)
Since 7/7 and due to respective media coverage it has become increasingly difficult to escape the implied conflation of the motif Islam + terror, says Sabine Schiffer

​​The horrifying attacks in London have made us aware of two things: militant and inhuman fanatics can attack everywhere, and another connection exists to so-called Islamist terrorism.

On the other hand, despite many sophisticated statements from British politicians, the media frequently speaks of "Islamic" terror.

Since reports on the attacks, the explosives, the problem of terrorism, and the danger posed to the "civilized" world are often intercut with images of praying Muslims, it is difficult to escape the implied conflation of the motif Islam + terror – even if one is not initially aware of the association made by means of technology.

Linking Islam and terror

Two trends can currently be observed which do not demoralize but encourage those who refuse to let themselves be misled in their efforts to promote and foster understanding.

On July 15, for example, the evening news on the German television station ARD reported that all leading Islamic organizations had denounced such acts of violence and called for their members to actively oppose such extremist tendencies in their midst. They even explicitly recommended that their members work more closely with the authorities.

This announcement had a tremendous effect, and it is a novelty for such statements, which are often simply ignored, to be reported during prime airtime. The broadcast affected Muslims and non-Muslims alike and even transcended this very division, for it made it clear that everyone is united in fighting extremism in every form.

Yet, it is obvious that the impact of news reports that emphasize the aesthetic – particularly the visual – are still heavily underestimated. Here we have much more work to do to raise awareness.

Scare scenarios in the media

Again we see how unfortunate and noncritical combinations in a factual news report alone can create a manipulative sequence. We, the public, are at the mercy of such reporting – and especially when we ourselves are not affected, we often do not see through these mechanisms and fall prey to these scare scenarios.

This is how the link between violence, regression, Islamization, radicalization, etc. with the symbols of Islam has been cultivated for decades now – ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran.

Headscarves, beards, prayers, and mosques are victims of this representation, and this is one explanation for why the issue of wearing headscarves is so controversial. If this piece of clothing was not so heavily burdened as a symbol – by both the media and Islamists – then politics could perhaps deal with it in a less emotional manner.

This also explains why people who publicly declare themselves to be religious Muslims are immediately pigeonholed as Islamists. A category for Islam no longer exists – our discourse and the general anti-religious sentiment in Europe have simply eliminated it.

The risk of exploitation

We can also currently observe how much of the media, with its focus on the spectacular and the terrifying, risks not only becoming a mouthpiece for extremists but also a force promoting division between our communities.

By no means, however, should we retreat at this point and wait for the world to become fair and just before contributing our part as individuals. After all, we non-Muslims – whether journalists or not – need help from Muslims to recognize the differences between extremists who frequent mosques and Muslims.

It is necessary for us to draw clear boundaries, those who format the topic for the public as well as Muslims who are affected in general.

Exposing potential agitators

Here is a task for the Muslim community, and precisely here lies its specific ability to help the general public to which it belongs: exposing potential agitators.

We cannot only demand that politicians and the media correctly draw the line between Islam, Islamism, and extremism.

We have to demand that everyone do so. If we keep in mind that German Muslims also feel called to join the jihad, then every group within the Islam community (Umma) is affected.

Those who are look more closely to figure out who and what represents a problem that, for example, might give young people growing up in contradictory media worlds a justification for excluding others and committing acts of violence, recognize the difficulties faced by outsiders when they look and try to discern the dividing lines.

Günter Beckstein's vote of distrust

One can and of course may find fault that "Muslims" are again being regarded with a general distrust, especially now when more trust would encourage cooperation. But how does this help us? Should we let ourselves be demoralized or even distracted, for example, by the vote of distrust from Günther Beckstein, the conservative Bavarian Minister of the Interior?

We need clear responses to dubious remarks. We need to ask questions to clarify diffuse and sweeping statements. We need more awareness of nonviolent strategies for action, especially in the prevailing asymmetry of global politics.

And on no account do we need idealizations nor should we lull ourselves into a false sense of security." Rather, we need to engage in a controversial discussion with one-sided views. And above all we need to pay more attention to young people everywhere, who nowadays are heavily burdened in their search for a future. It will become dangerous indeed if they lose their positive outlook for the future. Here is yet another concern we all share.

Sabine Schiffer

© Qantara.de 2005

Translation from German: Nancy Joyce

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