By Ayesha Fakhar
16 March, 2015
A phobia, according to American Psychological Association (APA), is an exaggerated fear that becomes all-consuming and interferes with daily lives. All phobias are anxiety disorders, lumped in the same class as post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. All of these phobias are, fundamentally, based on fear. In recent years, a specific phobia has riveted the western societies known as Islamophobia.
However, after the 9/11 attack the term ‘Islamophobia’ surfaced and an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims, perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalisation and the exclusion of Muslims from social, political and civic life became rampant in the western societies and the term is used with increasing frequency in the media and political arenas.
The term Islamophobia is defined as an irrational fear of Islam, and prejudice against and hatred of Muslims. Simply put in this era as Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The promotion of Islamophobia creates both prejudice and discrimination among the general population. Prejudice plays a key role in the existence and propagation of Islamophobia. Prejudice alone, as a negative judgment, opinion, or attitude, is a detriment to a population’s overall wellbeing. Prejudice combined with overt actions, rising to the level of discrimination, creates a dangerous environment for its victims.
Since 9/11, media across the globe have its way of showing Islam as a radical religion and a global threat, the aftermath of the attack and the rise of religious militancy, Islam has been the focus of much scrutiny. This has been further perpetuated by the media’s depiction of Islam as a representation of violence which has endangered the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. The majority of the Muslims face the repercussions and the blame of the isolated terrorist activities.
The traditional role of mass media as defined by the media gurus are to inform, educate and entertain the people. Media can bring change in behaviour and attitudes of the people by emphasising certain issues. The media has turned the affairs into a war of words. The instrument of mass communication in the modern world have an enormous potential for inducing newer images in shaping global politics, culture and the public believes. With the emergence of modern communication technology, the society as a whole is now a simple hostage at the hands of the media. The time has come to ask whether the people are being managed, manipulated, massaged and brainwashed by the media. The western media has numerous ways of managing and controlling all the global stories especially linked with Islam and has launched a determined campaign against Islam in the name of diminishing terrorism.
The Commission on The Human Rights under the Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers that the disregard for and infringement of human rights and fundamental freedoms in particular to the freedom of religion or belief, thought, conscience have brought directly and indirectly, wars and great suffering to humankind. Thus, they reaffirmed the call on the Human Rights upon all governments to take all appropriate measures in compliance with their international obligations and with their due regard to their respective legal systems to counter intolerance and related violence based on religion or belief, recognising that every individual has the right to freedom of religion, belief, thought, conscience and expression and condemns all sorts of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion and belief.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world especially the West and it has many stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam that are mainly due to the media, prejudice and obliviousness; and is labelled as an ‘extremist’, ‘radical’ and a ‘fundamental’ religion. A major factor which contributes to Islamic stereotyping in the West is due to the media’s selection of their words that describe Muslims. Some common names heard or seen in the news about Muslims are “extremist” or “terrorist”. These words are misleading and are mainly anti-Islamic.
A negative image of Islam is becoming more inherent in the western culture from inaccurate media coverage. The western public is often misinformed about Muslims through the images on television, motion picture screens, magazines, radios, and comic strips in newspapers, which promote strong messages among their audiences and due to this, the entire Muslim community residing in the West and other non-Muslim nations is facing humiliation plus discrimination, which is challenging for their survival.
Currently, the concept of Islamophobia, unfortunately, is widespread across the world. The global media today is a leader in its own accord; its influence outshines that of any other institution. Therefore, it is vital that they maintain an attitude as a neutral global spearhead; one that is free of bias, and has responsibility for the news, publications, and images and photographs that profile the event, its causes and effects instead of portraying negative images of Islam and labelling Muslims as terrorists.
The media of today has an absolute power over all the institutions of religion, politics, societies, cultures. Given the authority and power of influence that the global media possesses, it should be an instrument that focuses its ability to resolve conflicts and its role must be played in a positive way. The media, be it western or local, should emphasise the universal message of Islam i.e. peace, and by doing so, become a medium through which conflicts can be resolved.