Islamophobia: negative image of Muslims perpetuated by media portrayals

Following the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States banded together to fight a common enemy: Middle Eastern terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda marketed under the brand of radical Islam.

The fallout of the war on terror saw a deterioration in how many Americans viewed all Muslims; nearly 14 years later those views remain in decline.

Extensive media coverage of recent violence committed in the name of Islam, from the attack on French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo to the Islamic State’s massacre of hundreds of people in the Middle East, is affecting the American public’s growing discrimination of Islamic beliefs.

“You’re not supposed to take a life,” said Jose Palacios, 23, a business major and officer of Cosumnes River College’s Muslim Student Association. “In the Quran it says if you kill one human being, it’s like you’ve killed all of humanity, and if you save one person, it’s like you’ve saved all of humanity. You’re supposed to be tolerant as well.”

Amerah Edais, president of CRC’s Muslim Student Association, agreed with Palacios.

“[The Islamic State] is more about control and power and using religion as an excuse,” the 20-year-old anthropology major said.

A poll conducted jointly by ABC News and the Washington Post in October 2001 found that 47 percent of Americans viewed Muslims positively. Further polls conducted by the Arab American Institute found that number had sunk to 35 percent by 2010 and 27 percent by 2014.

“I think the American media affects it a huge amount,” said Rosalie Amer, a humanities professor at CRC. “When 9/11 happened, there was really negative reporting on the whole situation.”

Amer, who teaches a class on global Islam, said that people don’t understand that “the human practice is where individuals, like extremists, interpret the Quran a certain way,” and that this interpretation is where extremists “are violating the Quranic ideal.”

Efforts by Muslim-American communities to distance the real teachings of Islam from the actions of extremists and denounce their killing of innocents go largely unacknowledged by the media, Edais said.

“In the media, there always has to be some sort of target,” Edais said. “We don’t get portrayed for the good things that we do … there are a lot of people who speak up about what’s going on, but we don’t get the views.”

The negative perspectives held by many Americans can also lead to intimidating and dangerous situations for Muslim-American citizens, especially women.

“I’ve had my scarf pulled off … last semester a guy told me that my people are going to be put in concentration camps,” Edais said.

While statistics show that this phenomenon, sometimes labeled Islamophobia, is steadily increasing, Edais said she has seen the discrimination “go up and down” and that “the majority of it has been getting better, but there’s always ignorance.”

As for changing people’s views and creating a more positive light for Islam, Palacios echoed the consensus view that the job lies on the shoulders of every American, not just American Muslims.

“The [Muslim] community can only do so much if no one else is willing to help portray them,” Palacios said. “[The Islamic State] is out there proclaiming Islam, it’s a hard job to do good and say ‘no, this is Islam.’”