The Press

Me­dia’s ap­proach hurts Mus­lims

DONNA MOJA Bar­gues against a West­ern me­dia nar­ra­tive that she says vil­i­fies Mus­lims and blames Is­lam wrongly as an in­her­ently vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy.

- Terrorism · Islamophobia · Human Rights · Middle East News · Discrimination · Politics · Society · Paris · Copenhagen · Algeria · France · Iran · al-Qaeda · Afghanistan · Saudi Arabia · Harvard University · Harvard University · New York City · University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill · North Carolina · Chapel Hill · University of California, Berkeley · California · University of California, Santa Barbara · Berkley, CA · Robert Fisk · Bahrain · Chris Hedges · Chapel Hill, NC

Robert Fisk, one of the most no­table Bri­tish war cor­re­spon­dents, in his com­ment on Char­lie Hebdo, writes in the Bri­tish news­pa­per The In­de­pen­dent: ‘‘Maybe all news­pa­per and tele­vi­sion re­ports should carry a ‘his­tory cor­ner’, a lit­tle re­minder that noth­ing – ab­so­lutely zilch – hap­pens with­out a past.’’

The re­cent bar­baric acts of ter­ror­ism in Paris and Copen­hagen have been mostly re­ported – and de­bated – as at­tacks on West­ern cul­ture and free­dom of speech. Is­lam-bash­ing quickly fol­lowed and con­tin­ues.

Fisk writes, ‘‘Long be­fore the iden­tity of the Char­lie Hebdo’s mur­der sus­pects was re­vealed . . . I mut­tered the word ‘Al­ge­ria’ to my­self’’. Why? Be­cause, as Fisk says, he is in­ter­ested, not only in ‘‘who’’ and ‘‘how’’, but also in ‘‘why’’.

Of course, the ‘‘why’’ in the Char­lie Hebdo story does not fit con­ve­niently into a para­graph or two and the peo­ple who com­mit them­selves to ex­plain­ing the ‘‘why’’ risk be­ing ac­cused of act­ing as apol­o­gists for the ter­ror­ists, as I have been in the past.

So, the end re­sult is that we do not hear much about the bru­tal French im­pe­ri­al­ism in Al­ge­ria or learn about the 1.5 mil­lion dead Arab Mus­lims who fell vic­tim to the Al­ge­rian war of in­de­pen­dence.

You see, the Kouachi broth­ers who car­ried out the Char­lie Hebdo massacre, were not born evil and it is un­likely that the par­ents who chose to name their sons ‘‘noble’’ and ‘‘happy’ (that is what Cherif and Said mean in Ara­bic) in­tended for them to grow up as vi­o­lent ter­ror­ists.

The re­al­ity is that the bit­ter his­tory of 5m Al­ge­rian Mus­lims in France has left an un­re­solved resid­ual anger that fes­ters the minds of those marginalis­ed by the so­ci­ety. It is the bla­tant injustice and the re­sul­tant ac­cu­mu­la­tion of bit­ter re­sent­ment that have led to vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism of so many Mus­lims.

The ap­palling treat­ment of Pales­tini­ans since the late 1940s, the hypocrisy of the West in crush­ing bud­ding democ­ra­cies (think Iran in 1953), cre­at­ing and arm­ing ex­trem­ist groups such as Al-Qaeda in Afghanista­n, and their sup­port for cor­rupt dic­ta­tor­ships that sub­ju­gate their Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions in places like Saudi Ara­bia and Bahrain, have all led to Mus­lim anger.

It is cer­tainly true that the lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam, like most re­li­gions, can be used to val­i­date some ex­pres­sions of vi­o­lence, but it is a grave mis­take to as­sume that the jour­ney to ex­trem­ism starts with the be­lief in Is­lam.

No one knows this bet­ter than, Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prizewin­ning jour­nal­ist and di­vin­ity grad­u­ate from Har­vard. Hedges, who speaks Ara­bic and has re­ported from the world’s most war-rav­aged re­gions, con­firms the limited re­li­gious knowl­edge of most Is­lamist fighters.

In in­ter­view­ing a group of young Al-Qaeda mem­bers, Hedges found that he was the only one who had read the Ko­ran.

Hedges says, ‘‘We have de­cap­i­tated, through our drones, our air­craft and our mis­siles, far more peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren, than Isis has ever de­cap­i­tated and when you bru­talise peo­ple to that ex­tend, they be­come bru­tal’’.

While there can never be any ex­cuse for bar­baric acts of ter­ror­ism, the proper anal­y­sis and his­tor­i­cal con­text mat­ter be­cause with­out them, Mus­lims are falsely per­ceived as in­her­ently vi­o­lent peo­ple whose reli­gion and val­ues can­not co­ex­ist peace­fully with the West.

We need to de­bate and un­der­stand the root causes of ter­ror­ism be­fore we can tackle it suc­cess­fully. Aim­less at­tempts to chop back its branches will only re­sult in a stronger growth in fu­ture.

It is not just the cru­cial his­tor­i­cal con­text and anal­y­sis that are miss­ing from our news; lack of bal­ance in re­port­ing is of con­cern too.

Ni­cholas Kristof, an op-ed colum­nist for New York Times, re­minds us that ‘‘jour­nal­ists cover planes that crash, not planes that take off’’. So, nat­u­rally, if ev­ery­thing you knew about planes came from the me­dia, you might as­sume that ev­ery plane crashes.

Given the state of the cur­rent re­port­ing on Mus­lims, and the fact that non-Mus­lims who carry out ter­ror­is­tic acts are not called ter­ror­ists, is it any won­der that so many falsely as­sume that all ter­ror­ists are Mus­lims?

It was easy to com­pletely miss the few lines of news that ap­peared here and there about the mur­ders of three young and promis­ing Amer­i­can uni­ver­sity stu­dents who hap­pened to be Mus­lims.

The ex­e­cu­tion-style mur­ders were car­ried out on Fe­bru­ary 10, 2015 by an athe­ist white Amer­i­can man in Chapel Hill, a quiet neigh­bour­hood in North Carolina.

The bar­baric killings of Deah Barakat, Yousar Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha could not have been, as re­ported, solely mo­ti­vated by a park­ing dis­pute. It is more likely that the mur­ders were caused by the big­oted as­sump­tion that Mus­lims can­not be rea­soned with that the only way of deal­ing with th­ese peo­ple is to give them a bloody nose; or in this case, a bul­let in each of their young, bril­liant heads.

The vic­tims’ fam­ily were adamant: ‘‘This has hate crime writ­ten all over it’’.

Ac­cord­ing to Mar­wan Bishara, a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at AlJazeera, at least 2m peo­ple tweeted their out­rage on the me­dia’s si­lence over the shoot­ings in Chapel Hill; a si­lence that sent a clear mes­sage to Mus­lims around the world: you are only news­wor­thy when we see you be­hind the gun, not in front of it, be­ing gunned down.

We did not see – as was the case with Char­lie Hebdo and Copen­hagen – splashed all over our news­pa­pers and TVs, the beau­ti­ful and en­dear­ing faces of th­ese Amer­i­can Mus­lim vic­tims and the full cov­er­age of their mur­der. Why not?

What made the cal­lous killings of th­ese three in­no­cent Mus­lims any less news­wor­thy of me­dia cov­er­age than the sense­less shoot­ings of two Dan­ish peo­ple in Copen­hagen?

The re­al­ity is that the Copen­hagen shoot­ings pro­vide a per­fect fit for the cur­rent me­dia nar­ra­tive that vil­i­fies Mus­lims and blames Is­lam as an in­her­ently vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy.

Craig Hicks, the Chapel Hill gun­man, did not meet the me­dia’s racial and re­li­gious pro­fil­ing of a ter­ror­ist and so was of lit­tle in­ter­est to the me­dia.

Mus­lims as vic­tims, did not fit the me­dia’s nar­ra­tive ei­ther and there­fore were not viewed as news­wor­thy. What an in­sult to us Mus­lims!

Do the man­u­fac­tured per­cep­tion of Mus­lims re­flect the re­al­ity? Do Mus­lims, more than oth­ers, faith­fully fol­low the teach­ings of their scrip­ture? Are Mus­lims in­her­ently more vi­o­lent than fol­low­ers of other re­li­gions?

The an­swer is ‘‘yes’’, if all you knew about Mus­lims came from the main­stream TV and news­pa­pers, a big ‘‘no’’ if you con­sid­ered the facts.

Whilst it is true that the ma­jor­ity of the global ter­ror­ism to­day is car­ried out by Is­lamist groups, 50 or 100 years ago, it was com­mu­nists, an­ar­chists, fas­cists and oth­ers who re­sorted to ter­ror­ism to achieve their goals. That is ac­cord­ing toMSteven Fish, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley and the au­thor of Are Mus­lims Dis­tinc­tive?

Fish, who draws on global data, in his re­cently pub­lished study, re­minds us that the vic­tims of the ma­jor­ity of Is­lamist at­tacks are Mus­lims them­selves and that at­tacks on non-Mus­lims living in West­ern Hemi­sphere and Europe are ex­tremely rare.

Be­tween 1994 and 2008 they ac­counted for only 3 per cent of the over­all ter­ror­ist at­tacks in those coun­tries.

When it comes to other forms of vi­o­lence, the pic­ture changes. Fish proves that Mus­lim so­ci­eties are, in fact, less prone to po­lit­i­cal and crim­i­nal vi­o­lence.

On com­ment­ing on his study of the global data for crim­i­nal vi­o­lence be­tween 1946 and 2007 Fish writes: ‘‘The mur­der gap is im­mense. Mur­der rates av­er­age 2.4 per an­num per 100,000 peo­ple in Mus­lim coun­tries and 7.5 in nonMus­lim coun­tries. Fur­ther sta­tis­ti­cal tests con­firm what is ob­vi­ous from th­ese raw data: more Mus­lims, less homi­cide.’’

Fish concludes by say­ing, ‘‘the ev­i­dence on homi­cide re­veals that non-Mus­lims have some­thing im­por­tant to learn from Mus­lims. What makes Mus­lim so­ci­eties less mur­der-prone? Greater au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Mus­lim so­ci­eties does not ex­plain the Mus­lim ad­van­tage, since my sta­tis­ti­cal analy­ses show that level of democ­racy does not in­flu­ence mur­der rates. So­cial sci­en­tists have not yet closely ex­am­ined why Mus­lims are less likely to com­mit mur­der, but it is a ques­tion that we would be wise to in­ves­ti­gate’’.

It ap­pears that much of what we be­lieve about Mus­lims is based on im­pres­sion­is­tic, rather than em­pir­i­cal, ev­i­dence.

My own lived ex­pe­ri­ence of reli­gion and grow­ing up amongst or­di­nary Mus­lims bears no re­sem­blance to the gen­eral West­ern per­cep­tion. Not a sin­gle Mus­lim I know has ever prayed five times a day or paid any at­ten­tion to the lit­eral in­struc­tions of Ko­ran. Al­most all Ira­nian Mus­lims I know trust the guid­ance of Hafez (yes the 14th cen­tury Persian poet with po­ems about re­li­gious hypocrisy and the joys of love and wine) equally, if not more, than the Ko­ran.

Many of us do not de­fine our Is­lamic her­itage through re­li­gious knowl­edge or prac­tice but through our ex­pe­ri­ence of Is­lamic arts, ar­chi­tec­ture and also the spir­i­tual con­nec­tion that brings us suc­cour at the time of need.

Does that mean that we are not real Mus­lims? No. Be­cause no­body should dic­tate to us how to ex­pe­ri­ence and live our own reli­gion, and if they do, then they are no bet­ter than Isis.

AmI say­ing that there are no fa­nat­ics? No again. The fa­nat­ics, com­pared to 1.6 bil­lion Mus­lims, are tiny mi­nori­ties that have been ex­ploited by those who have gained con­sid­er­able ac­cess to po­lit­i­cal power and re­sources by us­ing ar­cane ide­olo­gies (Saudi Ara­bia’s Wah­habism) and mod­ern weaponry sup­plied to them by the very same peo­ple who are now fight­ing them.

The way the me­dia re­ports the news is hurt­ing Mus­lims. The lack of his­tor­i­cal con­text, the ab­sence of bal­ance and a gen­uine at­tempt in coun­ter­ing the bad with the good, cre­ate poor per­cep­tions of our reli­gion and cul­ture.

It con­trib­utes to Is­lam­o­pho­bia and the on­go­ing bigotry that puts a dark veil on our real en­emy that is, for­eign in­va­sion and med­dling, dic­ta­to­rial regimes and also the so­cial, eco­nom­i­cal and cul­tural de­spair that is felt by so many.

Many of us do not de­fine our Is­lamic her­itage through re­li­gious knowl­edge or prac­tice but through our ex­pe­ri­ence of Is­lamic arts, ar­chi­tec­ture and also the spir­i­tual con­nec­tion that brings us suc­cour at the time of need.

Donna Mojab (Donna Miles) is a Bri­tish-born, Ira­nian-bred, New Zealand cit­i­zen with a strong in­ter­est in hu­man rights, jus­tice and equal­ity is­sues. Mojab worked as a se­nior math­e­mat­ics lec­turer in the United King­dom for 10 years be­fore mi­grat­ing to New Zealand as a new mother and set­ting up a small busi­ness in Christchur­ch. She is a pro­lific let­ter writer to The Press. A frac­tion of the ap­prox­i­mately 100 let­ters she has sub­mit­ted in the last year have been pub­lished.

 ?? Photo: REUTERS ?? Hate crime: Namee Barakat and his wife Layla, in cen­tre, par­ents of shoot­ing vic­tim Deah Shaddy Barakat, are seen dur­ing a vigil on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, last month. Gun­man Stephen Hicks, who had posted...
Photo: REUTERS Hate crime: Namee Barakat and his wife Layla, in cen­tre, par­ents of shoot­ing vic­tim Deah Shaddy Barakat, are seen dur­ing a vigil on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, last month. Gun­man Stephen Hicks, who had posted...
 ?? Photo: STACY SQUIRES/FAIR­FAX NZ ?? Donna Mojab: ‘‘My own lived ex­pe­ri­ence of reli­gion and grow­ing up amongst or­di­nary Mus­lims bears no re­sem­blance to the gen­eral West­ern per­cep­tion.’’
Photo: STACY SQUIRES/FAIR­FAX NZ Donna Mojab: ‘‘My own lived ex­pe­ri­ence of reli­gion and grow­ing up amongst or­di­nary Mus­lims bears no re­sem­blance to the gen­eral West­ern per­cep­tion.’’

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