The media’s manipulation of anything related to Islam has led to the increased Islamophobia we are all too well aware of today. However, I feel like with our focus on how we are portrayed, we fail to acknowledge an important effect of the media’s narrative on Islam besides Islamophobia. Or maybe I’m alone in experiencing this … though I doubt it.
Following the Hebdo attacks, I read how Muslims in my city and other places were attacked, how some were even killed. Instead of worldwide condemnations and protests, there were ready made excuses; “a parking dispute, not a hate crime” was one, which anyone not blinded by prejudice would recognise as absolute rubbish. I read and listened to the commentaries on these attacks and the whole Hebdo situation – was it terrorism? Hate crime? Why? Who should’ve done what? What should Muslims do now? I read the hypocrisy and the plain inhumane views of infamous atheists. I despaired at the status of Muslims in the Western world and feared for myself and my family.
Alhamdulillah, apart from kids calling me names years ago I’d never felt targeted because of my background or religion. Despite this, after the Hebdo attacks I’d walk down the street and wonder what any and every non-Muslim thought of me. Did they think I’m a terrorist, that I condone the actions of ISIS? Do they hate me? What do they think?
Once a guy was walking too close to me, the rest of the path was empty and my mind started to ask silly questions like, “is he going to attack me?”, he was smoking too and I actually flinched as he walked past me because a part of me was convinced he’d throw the cigarette on my face. The other part of me knew how stupid I was being and how ridiculous my thoughts were.
These thoughts and feelings persisted even though I have friends who are non-Muslims and I worked with non-Muslims. My thought was it’s those who *don’t* know me who must think the worse of me. They must believe what they’re told about Islam and Muslims. They must hate me because they believe those lies. And that is the other effect of the media. The completion of the outsider created by the narrative of the extremist Muslim sold by the media. Not only should we be feared but we should fear too.
There’s no doubt that there are people who hate Muslims and people who are prepared to even kill Muslims because of their prejudice and hate. On a higher level, it’s hard to miss the discrimination and targeting of Muslims by the government especially with the new counter-terrorism and security bill. But it’s also very dangerous to think the average non-Muslim is more likely to hate us and harm us. I know from my personal experience that the exact opposite is true, so why should I question the motives of every stranger I pass? To answer my own question about what some random passerby thinks of me – I’m pretty sure the answer is not a lot! People are too consumed in their own lives to care about me, never mind think enough about me to decide I’m an awful person. It’s not healthy to think negatively of those around us especially when we’ve spent our whole lives living perfectly fine. Nor does it help break down barriers if we’re already assuming negatively of others. We cannot give in to the media’s insistence that we are hated by everyone.
On a related note, we cannot always be the victim either. When the story emerged that the Germanwings crash may have been deliberate, Muslims jumped to ask why the media didn’t call him a terrorist. I can tell you why – because there was no ideological or political aim in the supposed murder. *This time* the media was correct in not branding the co-pilot as a terrorist. But what we should’ve been asking was, “Is there solid evidence of this being true?”, “Why is mental health being blamed?” One in four people are affected by mental health problems, there would be a lot more dead people if that was truly the cause of such violence. We have a responsibility as Muslims to seek justice for every group therefore just like we shout, “Every Muslim is not a terrorist!” We must say, “Mental ill-health does not make you a murderer”.
We must not let our anger at the media get in the way of seeing the truth. Just because we quote Malcolm X doesn’t mean we’re insusceptible to the lies of the media.