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Analyzing media portrayal of US Muslims

By Carissa D. Lamkahouan
OnIslam US Correspondent

HOUSTON – “You don’t speak Arabic? What kind of terrorist are you?”

This line was delivered during a popular, prime-time US television show about a family of cops working in New York City.

One of the main characters was interrogating a Muslim suspect following a failed bombing attempt. This line was heard by, presumably, millions of Americans.

It’s clear what the character said, but what does the message behind the words mean?

Anyone can make that determination for themselves, but it’s worthwhile to look at the research behind media messages about Muslims, particularly those since 9/11.

A joint study published by the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan analyzed more than 1,000 press releases sent out from more than 100 organizations both Muslim and non-Muslim.

The overriding finding of this research was that press releases regarding Muslims and Islam written in such a way as to incite fear of Muslims and anger toward their religion were the ones journalists and news organizations were most likely to notice and, subsequently, devote stories to.

The result was heightened influence for and strengthening of the causes supported by these groups, exacerbating anti-Muslim sentiment across media outlets and in the minds of Americans exposed to such reports.

Regardless of the fact that most of the harvested press releases came from organizations representing a fringe or outlying group that was the least likely to represent mainstream Islam and the actions of moderate Muslims.

Unfortunately, fear sells; and the noted quote from that popular TV program demonstrates it perfectly. Stereotypes are prevalent, as well.

Media Smart, Canada’s center for digital and media literacy, pointed out television characters like that of Sayid Jarrah on Lost, a wildly popular show that was broadcast a few years ago on the ABC network. Jarrah was the only Muslim portrayed on the program and, as a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard, he was shown as naturally violent and someone who used torture in his former work.

Media: New Religion

Lindsey Bnadad, a native Texan residing in North Carolina, has strong words for the media, or what she calls “the new religion.”

“I absolutely think the media has a responsibility to show people in ways that don’t unnecessarily stereotype entire populations. Sadly, that’s not something that interests the media at-large because it isn’t polarizing enough, and we all know that the mundane isn’t what makes the news,” Bnadad told OnIslam.net.

“But it isn’t just our news in the US, this happens on BBC, Al-Jazeera and all the other media outlets, too.”

She continued: “In my opinion media is the new religion. Forget what you think is right; just listen to what the news wants you to believe. When they say things loudly enough and often enough, for long enough, people believe what they’re told and behave accordingly. The media is the best way to control the masses.”

Bnadad said she enjoys Tyrant, a program depicting the story of a Muslim doctor living and working in the United States who is compelled to return to his Middle-Eastern home where his father is dictator.

“I think it’s good that people see the various characters and different archetypes that are present,” she said.

“Even if they are caricatures, it shows there are different types of people who belong to [Islam] and gives [other people] an opportunity to empathize with someone from a different culture or religion and maybe even view them as a hero.”

Katy Rosenbaum of North Carolina agreed the media has a responsibility to “show the diversity that exists within Islam.”

She said such a move could have a big impact.

“Currently, the dominant narrative is that Islam perpetrates violence and intolerance,” said Rosenbaum. “There is a need for positive stories, more nuanced stories and a reminder that there are good and bad people of every race, ethnicity and religious group.”

Some television and movie producers may be coming around to Rosenbaum’s way of thinking.

Little Mosque on the Prairie was a TV comedy set in Canada which ran from 2007-2012. Critics roundly praised the show not only for its positive characterization of Muslims, but also for its influence in dispelling negative stereotypes of those who follow Islam.

Muslims also had a win against damaging media messages when a Twitter campaign led by Arab-Americans was instrumental in the cancellation of Alice in Arabia on the ABC Family network.
Subsequently, the pilot never aired. The story, based in Saudi Arabia, centered on a girl kidnapped by relatives and forced to survive a life of apparent horror. Protesters argued the show’s narrative would perpetuate negative and damaging stereotypes about American Muslims.

Ibrahim Younas, an Egyptian-American living in California, said he realizes the likelihood of American news outlets and American entertainment media suddenly becoming a place of “roses and sunshine” for Muslims and Islam is pretty low. However, he said a balanced approach and well-organized advocacy by Muslims and Islamic organizations can be helpful.

“We are here in America and many people think that because of that we’re at a disadvantage,” Younas told OnIslam.net.

“That may be true, but if we, as Muslims, are involved in the public narrative and take charge of our own images, then we [would] have a better chance of changing heart and minds. It’s difficult, but it can be done. And with all the bad stuff that’s going on about Muslims, we really need to do it now.”

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I27)

Both Best of Times & Most Crucial Times in Pakistan: Imran Khan

Imran Khan Spoke About Future Of Pakistan At World Affairs Council (G)

The World Affairs Council (WAC) is one of Houston’s most prominent citizen forums. Through guest speakers and over 80 seminars and events, WAC gives chance to people of different view points on various issues to make presentation, especially matters related to current world events. Idea is to promote better understanding of international relations and contributes to national and international policy debates. The result is a better educated citizenry and the advancement of Houston as an important international center. Some of the prominent speakers at WAC have been: Madeleine Albright; James Baker, III; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan; Fernando Henrique Cardoso; Wesley Clark; William S. Cohen; Thomas Friedman; Robert Gates; George Mitchell; General Colin Powell; David Rockefeller; Lech Walesa; and Fareed Zakaria.

This past Monday, prominent philanthropist, sports and political figure of Pakistan Imran Khan gave a candid presentation to hundreds of WAC members on “Future of Pakistan” at a special luncheon at Omni Hotel. Program was sponsored by the Pakistani-American Council of Texas (PACT). President of PACT Sajjad Burki, Executive Members of PACT & Pakistani Community and Council General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem were in attendance.

In his presentation, Imran Khan gave detailed history of Pakistan; South Asian Region; cultural traits of people of Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan; and much more. He said USA Government is not getting proper advise about this things and in his recent meetings with Senators Kerry and Ackerman, he has asked them to find right people to know more about the people of the area. Imran himself have gone on a road journey of all these areas and written books like “Indus Journey: A Personal View of Pakistan” and “Warrior Race: A Journey Through the Land of the Tribal Pathans”.

Imran Khan said that Pakistan is going through unprecedented times in her short 62 years history. Citing incidents of the rough times Chief Justice of Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry and Media in Pakistan have gone through in the past few years, Imran Khan said that today what we see in Pakistan was never seen before in the history of Pakistan, which is that the Judiciary and Media are independent. Elections are just one of the means to have democracy, but actually institutions like Judiciary and Media are what really build good democracy. True test of the independence and Vibrancy of Judiciary and Media will come, when the next General Elections will be held.

Imran Khan said while on one hand we have seen optimism through successful struggles of Judiciary and Media (which got overwhelming support from the public): On the other hand, Pakistan is plagued by the wrong policies of the war on terror, which have been implemented by Governments of USA and Pakistan (he has been against the policies used in war of terror from the very beginning). Terrorism is an idea and ideas are not fought by military powers. Reason is when one applies power, terrorists, who are not regular armies; they retreat into civilian populations or into other hide-outs, and massive collateral damage of innocent people means more recruits towards terrorist side. After 9/11, clearly AL-Qaeda was the main force and Talebans were not. The Talebans merely asked for proof and said they will hand over AL-Qaeda suspects if given proofs: That could have been easily done.

Imran further said that terrorism is a political issue and has nothing to do with any religion. Past eight years and similar war in Ireland are proofs that this war on terror can only finish with dialogue, as such a process clearly identifies, who are the wrong guys and then they can be surgically removed or even in cases won back into own camp. There is need to isolate the terrorist and not giving them opportunities to get more recruits through indiscriminate bombing and use of force. At present, what is happening in Swat has public backing: However this is also known that to catch about 5,000 persons, Government of Pakistan has displaced 3.5 Million persons, creating a catastrophe of mammoth proportions. Now if these 5,000 persons have run away like gorillas do and not captured, these 3.5 Million Displaced Pakistanis will demand the Government for retribution and God Forbidding if nothing is done, we have potential of more violence, as these 3.5 Million people have lost their entire livelihood.

As such discourse has to start at the earliest and such dialogues will result in several disappointments, rejections and failures, but past evidence and loud thinking clearly show that to persevere with the process of dialogue and avoidance of making way for people to join terrorist camps, is what will eventually bring peace and end the ideology of terrorism. He said Benazir Bhutto would have been better in situation like this.

Four Centers of ISGH Successfully Hosted ICNA Annual Knowledge & Skills Competition

ICNA Houston Quizz - Knowledge - & - Skills Competition - H (June 20 2009) For the past fifteen times, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Houston Chapter organized Islamic Knowledge and Skills Competition for various age groups of 4 and 19 at the University of Houston and Rice University. This year through the sponsorship of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), ICNA Houston Chapter organized competitions at four ISGH Centers (Adel Road, Bear Creek, Synott Road and Hwy 3). These year maximum numbers of youth were able to participate. Finalists from each zone will now compete at the 4th ICNA-MAS South Regional Conference at Rice University on July 04th, 2009 (more info at www.icnasouth.com). For more information, one can call 1-866-CUB-ADAM.

MMN Internet

We plan to establish Internet Media (streaming web-broadcasts) to cover breaking news–MMN Internet will focus on community, national and international news. MMNS will be the main provider of content for the MMN Internet division.