Does Western Media Distort Our Perception of Religion?
In today’s society the way we build up an impression of the world and certain cultures is heavily governed by what is in the media and how the media perceives a certain story. We rely heavily on the media, perhaps too heavily and this can cause us to stereotype and judge certain societies and cultures. Here I am looking at how western media distorts our perception of religion and certain ethnic groups.
Human nature compels us to notice differences in people’s appearance, social status and beliefs. We act on these differences with sometimes interest or even fear, but how ever subtle the differences are we notice them. In today’s society people are becoming a lot more tolerant with differences and these dissimilarities become not so much as a difference but originality.
However many acts of violence or just cultural traits are fogged and stereotyped within western media distorting our perception of certain religions and causing us to blame a whole religious belief or capsulate a certain faith within a judgemental idea, rather than accepting that people are people and its not the wrongdoing of either religion or belief but the mistake of an, or certain, individuals.
Most Religions and Faiths teach Kindness, love and acts of compassion, but in western media too much focus is drawn to the faiths and beliefs of certain subjects and parties rather than the individuality of those capturing the medias attention, misguiding us towards a biased or distorted perception of religion.
Many people’s perceptions on certain beliefs are negative or stereotyped due to media linking crimes with religions and holding the whole religion responsible for the act of one or a few individuals.
Islam is one of the most popular beliefs in today’s society and there has been much controversy surrounding Islam in western media. For decades people have been led to false allegations and naive perceptions of the belief.
Despite being present in the United Kingdom since 1707 and being the second biggest religion in the country; in the western tradition of writing about, researching and representing Islam, Europeans have consistently positioned Muslims as the irrational, fanatic and sexually enticing. Many scholars have argued that this portrayal has been as much about Islam as it has been about Western fears, self-doubts and anxieties. After 9/11, 7/7 and the war in Afghanistan the Western societies then present perception of Islam became further rooted and the ways images of Islam have been embedded in the Western and especially the American consciousness become extremely important to everyday life.
Many Muslims were killed and worked in the world trade centre but despite the cultural fruit bowl innocent Muslims have been subject to racism and oppression. The media, particularly in western society has had a heavy influence on how Americans and westerners now perceive Islam and has caused many to wrongly associate members of the same religion with certain acts of violence such as 9/11 instead of just the individuals concerned. Too much emphasis is drawn towards people’s religious differences in the western media that in turn reflects societies views towards religions such as Islam. Most sane people oppose terrorism, whether committed by states or by organizations and individuals. But the ‘war on terror’ has become a conflict with Islam especially after 9/11. Many Muslims are angry by caricatures of their prophet Mohammed and how he is perceived in the media, this is an insult to their faith and ridicules their religion, but if a child from any ethnicity in today’s society were asked to draw a terrorist more commonly than not these infantile drawings would display a man with a beard or turban from an Asian ethnicity.
“Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition.  Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or, ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).” Wikipedia
Terrorism has no real or definitive definition other than the desired act to spread fear, it is commonly associated with violent acts against infrastructure and humanity, but because of the medias perception of terrorism and the link to alkaeda groups within recent years many now perceive or judge Asians as possible terrorists, or even if this link is not as strong many still associate Asians or Muslims with terrorism. Any group and anyone can commit terrorism, which is highly evident in humanities history, but because of biased or distorted media, modern societies make these links and ultimately their perception of the whole religion becomes clouded.
“A stereotype is the creation of a biased opinion or view — an individual will take the behavior of one person and state that all people belonging to that particular group, be it an ethnic, religious or social group, behave in the same manner. The establishment of stereotypes encourages people to react and behave in a manner that is both judgmental and biased. The word Arabs is used to describe an individual from the Middle East. Despite the fact that these individuals are from different countries, with diverse cultures, beliefs and a variety of religions, they are characterized by one term, “Arabs.” The word Arabs reduces individuals and countries to a distinct target, open to stereotypes and bias.”
ARABS AND THE MEDIA by Narmeen El-Farra
As discussed the Western media often portrays citizens of an Arab descent negatively. Currently, Arabs are seen as terrorists and murderers due to how the media presents them. In Newspapers this one sided image of Arabs is clearly evident, writers use words such as Fanatic and Terrorist.
“The present day Arab stereotype parallels the image of Jews in pre-Nazi Germany, where Jews were painted as dark, shifty-eyed, venal and threateningly different people.” These misjudgments of the Islam community, conveying mistrust and even avoidance casts Arabs in a negative light similar to that of the Jewish community in Nazi Germany.
Identifying Arabs with terrorism creates a void within society creating two sides, Arabs being the enemy. The American politician L. John Martin conducted research proving that the word “terrorism” is used by the media to describe events and individuals they disapprove of, but when describing these same acts by people of a different ethnic background i.e. not Arabs the media appears fair and neutral.
An excellent example of when the media bends or distorts its perceptions of an actual event is the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Instantly after the event, news reporters where stating that this was the act of terrorists. Bought up with the foggy stereotypes of Arabs, the American viewpoint pictured images of Arab terrorists destroying national property. These misguided beliefs where given substance by the fact that it was a government building housing several agencies, furthermore CNN also gave the names of suspects of Arab background being detained in connection with the bombing. Reporting in this way was much different from usual, as the names of suspects are usually withheld for humanitarian reasons, but after an American was detained for questioning In connection with the bombing, America was forced to review its mainstream ideologies and views on the Muslim community.
Stereotypes are natural judgments that we use as soon as we can remember. They are a way of protection and assessing situations or people. There is nothing wrong with stereotypes that we learn through life, by meeting people and gaining experience, good and bad. The media however uses stereotypes to group our society helping the readability and understanding of a story; they also use stereotypes to describe and to gain support. This commercial way of portraying stereotypes causes much controversy and casts religion, beliefs and social groups in a contained, largely negative and biased light. These stereotypes shown in the media are different from stereotypes we learn as we grow up, because they are falsely manipulated to give an article weight or even politically to give a society an opinion that is controlled.
Western media has tight control over our perceptions of religion especially in children and young adults who have not experienced enough of the world to make their own judgments on certain beliefs and thus take the medias opinion and constructed stereotypes as their own.
Terrorist acts have been recorded in history by every ethnical background and every belief, but as history changes so do trends and stereotypes and ultimately our views on religions. Media should not be ignored but we must seriously calculate what we stand for and what we believe, stereotypes come and go and so do peoples perceptions, but religions are archaic and should be respected. Everyone should be regarded as an individual, whether Christian, Muslim or a belief vastly unheard of. Because the media, i.e. television, newspapers etc. is the whole worlds way of easily gathering information and the fact that generations now grow up around televisions we take the medias perception and believe it. In answer to the question, Western media distorts our perception of religion from the moment we are born and it will continue to do so.
– The Media and the War on Terrorism –
Stephen Hess (Editor), Marvin L. Kalb (Editor), Politics, and Public Policy Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press (Corporate Author), Brookings Institution (Corporate Author) – 2003
– Islam in a globalized world – negotiating fault lines
edited by Mushiral Hasan – 2010
– Chronologies of modern terrorism-
Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin- 2002
– Global Terrorism: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld)
Leonard Weinberg – 2008
– Western Views on Islam in the Middle Ages
R. W. Southern
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism – terrorism quote
– Arabs and the media