The word ‘Muslim’ is all too commonly used in the media. Now, obviously there shouldn’t be an issue with the word, but I feel as that, since 9/11, the word has begun to hold a degree of negative connotations due to how they are presented in the media. The media has set into motion a constant moral panic surrounding Islam and followers of the faith. So much so that some of us may see an Arab or Asian (assumingly) Muslim gentleman with a long beard and/or traditional dress on public transport and feel slightly uncomfortable.
That not ought to be an attack on us as individuals but should trigger society to reflect on how we view those who do not conform to our ‘norms’. It also exemplifies a form of ‘social conditioning’ that the media are subconsciously engaging us in. Islamophobia is rife, rather than the media disperse it – they fuel it.
Picking on the most trivial matters – for example, use of halal meat in restaurant chains. I have seen this first hand, working in a restaurant where my Muslim counterpart who wore a hijab was the victim of an ignorant rant, having to take attacks on her character and religion all for the sake of how meat is killed. In light of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, one could argue that it would be hard not to isolate the perpetrators from their faith, but I feel as though there is too much emphasis on Islam itself. The religion is not intrinsically bad, the fault lies with those who choose to practice it in such an extremist fashion. I am not of the opinion that it is the cause for these heinous crimes, but it is a mask that people hide under. Forgive me for being reductive, if you may call it.
It’s clear that the media have an agenda and continually ‘pick on’ a growing minority and coupled with far right views presented by parties such as UKIP or the BNP and groups such as the EDL – societal and political effects are inextricably linked to media output. Clearly exemplified by a suspected ‘faith attack’ on a Hijabi lady in Essex, mosque bombings and the rise of UKIP’s seats in elections. (Although the media is not completely responsible for UKIP’s rising prominence in the political landscape they are an important component (I personally think disillusionment with the current government and rising nationalism is more to blame, but that viewpoint is for another day).
However, let it not be said that Muslims are the only victims of this singling out game the media choose to play. I think it’s evident amongst most minorities – a few years ago, the Afro-Carribbean section of society and a fixation and possible over exaggeration of our role in knife and gun crime. Eastern Europeans are also under the microscope often being described as ‘spongers’. And now, for a more extended period of time, attention has been turned to followers of the Islamic faith.
In times of crisis, there is a sharp proliferation in nationalism, people often run far-right and feel the need to become some kind of immigration analysts, which could be of dangerous result. Demonstrated by the bombings of mosques or kebab shops in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo. This nationalism is coupled with an angry defence of freedom of speech. That notion is a tricky one. Freedom of speech is definitely something taken for granted in the Western Hemisphere and is an ideal that some are willing to die for (as demonstrated in places such as Syria, Egypt, Russia etc). However, is it fair that in the name of free speech, whole religions and its followers are vilified, or made to feel as if they have to prove their innocence just because of the faith they follow? I do not condone the attacks or think that they can be justified, but I think we all just need to be a bit more considerate and understanding of one another.