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British Media and Islaamophobia

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“There are a various dimensions of anti-Muslims prejudice in Britain, relaying especially on numerous statements and images that have been appeared in recent years in the media. Certain closed views of Islaam that generally support a ‘clash of civilisations’ perspective pitting ‘us/the West’ versus ‘them/Muslims’ are widespread in Britain” (Vetrovec, 2002).

The Race Relations Act issued in 1976 in the U.K. doesn’t deal with Muslims as an ethnic group, and this leaves you “with the absurd situation that you can be as rude as you wish against Muslims” (Vetrovec, 2002). In spite of that, this paper deals with the Muslim minority in the U.K. as an ethnic group. There are at least four reasons to do so, firstly, Simon Cottle advises that “the relationship between media and ethnic minorities is characterised by complexity, and one way of opening this up to considered discussion is to focus on particular context” (2000).

Secondly, Abbott (1998:106) states that race is more likely to be defined in terms of culture or religion. In fact, religion is regarded as culture. Islaam, as a religious faith, includes people from different racial backgrounds, Asians, Blacks, Whites, so any prejudice towards this group reflects the new racism which Van Dijk (2000) explains. This reflects the shift in defining racism from biology to culture. This opens the possibility that non-whites can be racist, and allows that whites can be victims of racism (Gaandy, 1998:79). Thirdly, this paper considers Islaamophobia to be a result from the negative stereotypical representation of the Muslim minority in the British media. In fact, stereotypical images of Muslims, particularly but not exclusively Arabs, are prevalent in the British Society.

Both the Rushdie’s affair panic in 1989 and Mr. Kilroy-Silk’s article against Arabs and Muslims early this year support Cottle’s (2000) point of view that “many journalists and news proprietors do indeed harbour racist views and sentiments.” These are just two examples of the racist minds which legitimise to the public their prejudice and discriminations towards the minorities in the society.

In 1989, under the term “freedom of speech”, the British writer Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, an offensive novel full with blasphemous, racist and anti-Semitic representation (Ahsan and Kidwai,1993:170). Muslims in Britain protested to ban the book, which attacks their religion. The British media, with rare exceptions, played a very negative game against Muslims and took Rushdie’s sage as a golden opportunity to represent Muslims in a stereotypical way. The media’s rage against Islaam: “escalated step by even sillier step to a wholly mindless anger first against Bradford Muslims, then against all British Muslims, then against all Muslims, and ultimately against Islaam Itself” (Ahsan and Kidwai, 1993:41).

The nature of media coverage surrounding the Rushdie’s affair transformed the dominant view toward Muslims in Britain. “The book burning in Bradford on January 1989 was sized in the press as evidence of an “uncivilised” and “intolerant” Muslim nature” (Vetrovec, 2002). The media picked on Rushdie’s affairs without any concern for the anguish suffered by the Muslims, even after the author of The Satanic Verses himself frankly admitted that he was being used as a pawn in a wider game.

Although in his book Racism and the Press, Van Dijk (1991:3) defines the Islaamic term ‘fatwa’ as a license to kill, he states that the press not only contributed to the legitimisation of prevalent prejudices against the Muslim minorities in the Western countries, and against Islaam and Arabs in general, but also emphasised the socio-cultural superiority of White Western or European values and cultures. Thus, mentioning ‘terrorist’ all the time will stereotypically refer to Arab. “Violent men who are our friends or allies will seldom get that label” (Van Dijk, 2000). Muslims are frequently portrayed as oil suppliers, as terrorists, and more recently, as blood thirsty mobs (Said, 1997:6).

1. Abbott, David (1998), Culture and Identity. Hodder & Stoughton.
2. Ahsan, Muhammad & Kidawi, Manazir (1991), Sacrilege versus civility: Muslim perspectives on The Satanic verses affair. Markfield: Islamic Foundation
3. Cottle, Simon (2000), ‘Introduction: Media Research and Ethnic Minorities: Mapping the Field’, in Cottle, Simon (ed.), Ethnic Minorities and the Media, pp.1-31. Open University Press.
4. Gandy. Oscar (1998), Communication and Race: A Structural Perspective. London: Arnold.
5. Said, Edward (1997), Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. Vintage.
6. Van Dijk, Teun A.(2000), ‘New(s) Racism: A Discourse Analytical Approaches’, in Cottle, Simon (ed.), Ethnic Minorities and the Media, pp.33-50. Open University Press.
7. Van Dijk, Teun (1991), Racism and the Press. London: Routledge.
8. Vertovec, Steven (2002), ‘Islamophobia and Muslim Recognition in Britain’, in Haddad, Yvonne (ed.), Muslims in the West, pp. 19-36. Oxford University Press.
Hasan Hamarsha -

Hasan Hamarsha has a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Leicester, England and a BA in journalism and political science from Birzeit University, Palestine.


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