By Asyifa Putri, Depok
January 31 2015
About five years ago, my life was altered utterly when my father decided to move to the US, along with my family. Although different, everything was structured and simpler than back home in Jakarta.
However, I was still a minority with attached stereotypes.
The fact that I’m a Muslim is what might have caused problems if my classmates had known, which they didn’t.
This opinion was formed because of what I gathered from the media and personal encounters. It came to the point where I was reluctant to show any sign of my “Muslim-ness”.
I don’t like how my religion is being portrayed in the media but I also don’t feel I have enough knowledge to refute the stereotypes already formed long before I was even there.
I heard stories from close friends that they had had to sit through prolonged investigation at the airport; one’s first name is Mohammad.
Also, my mother’s fingerprints were taken at the airport, whilst my sister, brother, father and myself could go through security easily.
“It’s just a random check” the official said. What a coincidence; it was my mother, who wears a hijab, who got checked.
At the time, news about Muslims in the mainstream media was revolving around 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the Beslan hostage massacre, and everything violent.
Muslims were shown to be these lunatic people running around with weapons, demonstrating chaotically and dressing weirdly according to western standards.
It seems as if the western media has an agenda to make all Muslims look petrifying.
A friend once told me, unaware that I’m Muslim, that he was extremely nervous about boarding his plane because an Arabic-looking guy was in the same row as his.
Today, the situation, if not the same, has become worse.
The Boston marathon bombing, which occurred in 2013 and caused three deaths and many injuries, has opened up the old wound of 9/11 as the suspects were said to be Muslim.
Many people expressed anger online, saying what horrible human beings Muslims were and that they had grown even more suspicious toward all Muslims.
Then the Sydney siege happened in the Lindt Café not too long ago, carried out by a Muslim man, and two were killed in the incident.
The occurrence sparked more buzz about how violent Muslims are in Australia and beyond.
Further, the IS extremist group is known for their videos of the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, and lately Japanese hostages.
If I were in westerners’ shoes and was presented with this kind of news every day, I would definitely think of Muslims as barbarians who love killing people and hitting their wives.
In no way am I blaming the media for what those people did and in no way am I supporting anything they did. But if we are to talk about religion and Islam, I was taught the value of tolerance since kindergarten, and hitting anyone is out of the question, especially when it involves women and kids.
But with what the media has shown, no one would believe Islam is a religion that encourages peace.
And I was also in shock that these things happened and were declared to be a form of jihad to protect Islam.
But then again, if the media said that they were only showing the facts of what happened around the world, why hasn’t the news shown coverage of similar intensity about how the US has practically destroyed countries, killing civilians? Even if it is being covered, the news has made the US come out as the hero.
They bombed cities with civilians living there. Countless people died as a result. Many children become orphaned, losing limbs, schools and houses. Why hasn’t the media covered that justifiably; how much of the US actions were for oil? Although this may be a rumor, it’s a rumor that people named Mohammad and Aisyah are suspected as terrorists.
Is it more sinful and morally wrong to kill people from developed countries than it is to kill those from developing countries?
Shouldn’t the people living in, say, Palestine, be the ones feeling afraid whenever there are westerners on their soil?
Journalism plays a major part in shaping public opinion about Islam. So with the fear that the coverage of Islam and Muslims has brought about, and the low media power of people from developing countries, which is where many Muslims come from, we just have to endure the painstakingly long investigations at the airport.
And just maybe, when we have a chance and time, we could explain that not all Muslims are like those being covered in the news, just like not all westerners are heroes. And when people say that actions speak louder than words, then show them that most of us just want to live a normal, peaceful life.
Just like all other religions and races, there are good and bad people. And the fact that we are of the same religion and/or race does not make us all behave the same way.
Asyifa Putri, Depok is a communications student from the school of social and political sciences at the University of Indonesia.