Krystina Friedlander, senior editor of Islawmix has an excellent article in the Huffington Post that reviews media coverage of Islam and Islamic law over the past year. She points out the fact that anti-Muslim messaging remains high as do hate crimes. She notes the frenzy over anti-Shariah legislation, Tennessee, coverage of the sloppy constitutional process in Egypt, Islamic law around the world, blasphemy and free speech debates and the 2012 Elections. (h/t: Razainc.)
by Krystina Friedlander (HuffingtonPost)
This has been a big year for Islam and Islamic law in American media. As politicians vied for local and national office, anti-sharia messages — and sometimes overtly anti-Islam messages — were broadcast across the media, at times functioning to normalize anti-Islam discourse. Turmoil in places like Egypt and Mali ensured that there were plenty of stories with “sharia” in the forefront, but little contextualization for the average reader to give a sense of what Islamic law means in those places. As we look back at media coverage in 2012, a number of trends emerge, ranging from regional and national hotspots like Tennessee and Egypt; in specific areas, such as gender and Islamophobia; and in wider issues of how Islamic law was covered and who was cited by the media as an authority.
Anti-Islam Messages Dominate Media
A December study published by the American Sociological Review from sociologist Christopher Bail shows that over the last decade, conversations about Islam in American media have been largely dominated by organizations with anti-Islam agendas. The American Sociological Association quotes Bail:
I found that organizations with negative messages about Muslims captivated the mass media after the Sept. 11 attacks, even though the vast majority of civil society organizations depict Muslims as peaceful, contributing members of American society … As a result, public condemnations of terrorism by Muslims have received little media attention, but organizations spreading negative messages continue to stoke public fears that Muslims are secretly plotting to overthrow the U.S. government … They are now so much a part of the mainstream that they have been able to recast genuinely mainstream Muslim organizations as radicals.
Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon reported on the study, noting that journalists do work to “find voices that accurately [represent] Islam,” but that “simply by being outspoken,” “self-described terrorism experts” end up being cited in the media as authorities on Islam and Islamic law. At the same time, by covering stories about and told by anti-Islam activists and pundits — which tend to be captivating (Creeping shari’a!, Terry Jones burning Qur’ans!, Pamela Geller and her Ground Zero Mega Mosque!) — the media brings these organizations and speakers to the world’s attention, thereby generating a greater following (and greater donation revenue). Seitz-Wald asks, “[i]f the media hadn’t paid attention to them, would they have mattered?” The takeaway: reinforcement from the media makes these stories stick.
On that note, David Edwards at The Raw Story quotes Toledo, Ohio mosque arsonist Randolph Linn. When asked whether he knew “any Muslims or … what Islam is,” Linn responded
No, I only know what I hear on Fox News and what I hear on radio … Muslims are killing Americans and trying to blow stuff up … Most Muslims are terrorists and don’t believe in Jesus Christ.
Hate Crimes Against Muslims Remain High
Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, highlights a December FBI hate-crime report showing practically no decrease in anti-Muslim crimes in 2011, according to an article published in Salon. Sadly, 2012 is shaping up to be worse. Crimes this year included an arson attack against a mosque in Ohio,a mosque in Missouri and a Muslim home in Florida; a bomb threat against a Washington State mosque; vandalization of a Virginia mosque, a Rhode Island mosque and Muslim graves in a Chicago cemetery;shots fired and a bottle of acid thrown at two Illinois mosques; and pig parts thrown at a California mosque and at a New York outdoor prayer space, among other incidents. Potok attributes hate crimes against perceived Muslims to “anti-Muslim propagandizing,” while others point to specific remarks made by politicians. Hate crimes are the ugliest, worst manifestation of the fear and tension that can result from misinformation, but messaging around Muslims and Islam has had other effects as well.
Anti-sharia Legislation in the United States
Kansas lawmakers passed a ban on foreign laws in May, seemingly without much discussion. Elsewhere in America, legislation to address “sharia creep” — and creep would accurately describe the speed of some of these proposed laws — continues to be put forth. A bill proposed by Rep. Dave Agema of Michigan in January of 2011 popped up again in December, but after outcry and opposition from local Muslim, Catholic and other organizations, the bill ended up dying in the Michigan House of Representatives, despite beingon the schedule. Rep. Kim King pre-filed a bill for 2013 in Kentucky. Sen. Alan Hayes re-filed a 2011Florida bill that drew outcry from various religious and secular groups. And New Hampshire bill HB1422 was killed for 2012. See Gavel to Gavel for a comprehensive list of anti-shari’a bills.