Western Mass Media And Islam Cultural Studies Essay

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'Edward Said is one of the most widely known, and controversial, intellectuals in the world. He is that rare breed of academic critic who is also a vocal public intellectual, having done more than any other person to place plight of Palestine before a world audience.' (Ashcroft, Ahluwalia, 1999:1). Edward Said was born in Jerusalem in 1935 which was then Palestine; he was a Palestinian refugee, to avoid the turmoil surrounding the establishment of Israel as a nation, his family fled to Cairo, Egypt. He later went on to become a citizen of the United States in 1953, where he went on to graduate from Princeton University (1957), and Harvard University (1964), earning himself a PhD, by 1970 be become a professor in Columbia University. (Biograppy.com, 2011). His interest in orientalism began when he witnessed the Arab-Israel conflict in 1967, his attention to Palestine and Islam intensified, as the shock of this war, in a radical way changed his sense of his own position in the US society, which had shaken the very foundation of the world as he knew it. 'Said recognised that texts did not exist outside the world which produced them, Said reconfigure his fascination with the western canon, to recognise its place within the project of empire, an empire that had forged the conditions that dispossessed his people.' (Ashcroft, Ahluwalia, 1999:117). Said has devoted his life work to the Palestinian cause.

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His ground breaking work in the 'Orientalism' (1978) still holds true in the world of contemporary Islam. Orientalism helps answer the question why we have a preconceived notion Muslims and 'the way we acquire the knowledge is not innocent, objective but result of a process that reflects certain interest, that is highly motivated.'(Jhally, 2005). Orientalism paints an image of a violent and fanatic customs, mannerism, culture languages Arab-Muslims in the East. Edward Said rightly argues, Orientalism is a constellation of false assumptions underlying western attitudes, where the Middle East is seen through a lens that distorts the actual reality of those places and people, it is 'a framework that we use to understand the unfamiliar and the strange; to make the peoples of the Middle East appear different and threatening.' (Jhally, 2005). Said argues, the Europeans divided the world into two parts; East and West, and defined themselves as superior compared to Orientals, which further divided the world into theirs and ours. The West claimed the East was incapable of running their own government therefore Europeans thought they had the right to represent the Orientals in the west all by themselves, so they shaped Orientals they way they perceived them, by 'Orientalising the Orients'.

Edward Said's book 'The question of Palestine' (1979), articulates a Palestinian position to a western audience. Said points out, the key to understanding the plight of the Palestinian people, lies in the intensity and passion with which Jews grasped the idea of homeland. The invisibility of Palestine is not simply a result of Zionist propaganda but one that has been aided by the discourse of Orientalism which has an 'entrenched cultural attitude toward Palestinians deriving from age-old western prejudices about Islam, the Arabs, and the orient (Said, 1980: xiv). Said argues since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the most important power in the Arab world because of its concerns that a steady flow of oil to the West be maintained. He emphasized, that Israel occupied Palestinian territory, a fact universally condemned outside the States, but nonetheless, Washington continues to support financially this occupation, which Said notes, 'is the longest military occupation in modern history.' (Said, 2002). Even if one ignores all the acts of to terrorism by Zionist groups on Palestine, with a long history of killings in Israel of Palestine's, the fact still remain 'Israel was constructed on the ruins of another society by the mass dispossession of another people who remain unacknowledged'. (Said, 1999). According to historian Benny Morris (1994), that it is a myth that the Palestinians fled. Rather, they were made to flee, and that fear was put into their hearts, they were terrorised and made to leave. Despite all this history and ongoing struggle of the Arab- Muslims, contemporary Islam is still perceived malicious and full of hatred, as there history of injustice has gone unnoticed in the Western mass media.

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The religion of Islam means peace, Muslims live by the teaching of the Holy Qur'an, 'to kill one person is like killing the entire mankind, and to give life to one person is giving life to the entire mankind.' (Qur'an, 5:32). Islam does not condom any act of violence or claim to be a new and specifically super religion, nor is it, for Islam the sanctity of human life, is supreme. However, the Western mass media have painted a demonising image of Muslims. The reality of the misperception of Muslims in the media, can be depicted from the influential work of Edward Said 'Covering Islam' (1997), he argues, 'Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed, and apprehended either as oil suppliers or as potential terrorist. Very little detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Muslim life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report Islamic world, What we have instead is a limited series of crude, essentialzed caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as, among other things, to make that world vulnerable to military aggression' (Said, 1997:28). Thus it is important to seek the truth, rather to continue to give into this malicious propaganda, as it can brainwash us into being dependent on systems where in this contemporary world; media outlets, government control what and how much information is given to us.

For instance, the Western medias reaction to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre (2001), where the fundamental fear of the contemporary Islam intensified, as it dominated newspapers and televised news reports around the world and changed the foundation of the life of Muslims in the West. Said talked about his life after 9/11, 'I have lived in the U.S. for 50 years, and I have never felt so isolated in light of the mass arrests and discrimination. I don't know a single Arab or Muslim who doesn't feel he/she has been put in the enemy camp. If one speaks Arabic in public or reads a document in the Arabic language, one is under suspicion.' (Said, 2002). It was confirmed by the Bush administration that Al-Qaeda was responsible for this horrendous attack on the US soil, which initiated the West to launch wars in the East; Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the commission investigating the attacks, reported there was 'no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein helped Al-Qaeda target the United States (Associated Press, 2004), yet Iraq was invaded. However could this have been a way for the West to place blame on the East, making that 'world vulnerable to military aggression', in order to justify War against Iraq, opportunity to curtail civil liberties. 'Some still accuse the United States government, for example, of being aware of the attacks and doing nothing to stop them in order to justify military intervention in the Muslim world.' (Greenberg, 2006).

There are many conspiracy theories that US governments orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, or that Israel agents were involved, as it was reported that four hours after the attack, FBI arrested five Israelis who had been filming the smoking skyline from the roof of a white van, later confirming two men were Israeli intelligence operatives. This was straight away dismissed as the Israeli embassy in the United States said that they had not been involved in any intelligence operation in the US, therefore the FBI concluded that the five Israelis had no foreknowledge of the attacks. (ABC, 2004). Even with all these conspiracy up in the air, no mainstream media outlet has devoted any investigation on these conspiracies, but has instead placed Islam at the forefront of terrorism. 'The so called independent media in a liberal society like this, in effect are so lazy and are controlled by interest that are commercial and political at the same time, that this is no investigating reporting, it's just basically repeating the line of the government.' (Said, 2006).

'One should note that recent Muslim activities which are categorised as terrorism are but a part of the overall terrorist activities which take place around the globe.' (Murad, 1995), such as terrorist activities of the IRA and the loyalists on a much larger scale have been going on for more than three decades, also in November 1973 the Kurdish workers party, 75 terrorist attacks against Turkish establishments and embassies worldwide, undertaken in just two days. An important issue in the representation of contemporary Islam is how Muslim activities are attributed immediately to Islam. However there is little doubt that IRA has very deep catholic roots and the protestant groups allied against it also have deep religious roots, but no one deduces their terrorist activities to Christianity, to Catholicism or Protestantism. If we span through decades of the printed pages of the Western media, and look at the images painted of Islam, it is of violence, fanaticism coupled with dark hatred. Even in the contemporary Islam, there has been continuous stream of books, articles, with titles like the, 'The rage of Islam', 'The Militant Islam'. Such fundamental fear has continued to surface further, which has dominated and intensified newspapers and journal publications by titles; 'Islam backs the dark ages', 'Fear of Islam: Britain's new disease'. All of which are all published by respectable newspapers, publishers and writers.

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Edward stresses that how writers like Lewis Bernard work defines Islamic civilizations reductively, as if most matters about is it suppose anti-westernism, 'I mean it doesn't' matter to him that Muslim have other things to do then to think about the west with hatred but you get the assumption that that's all they think about of how to destroy the west, bomb it, and you know destroy the whole world really' (Said, 1999). Lewis gives a set of reason why Islam has never modernized which is completely baseless, that Islam has never separated between church and state, that Muslims are incapable of understanding other civilizations, which Edwards stresses 'all of them are complete untruths, I mean of course, Arabs and Muslims have travelled well before the Europeans and the East and Africa and in Europe and were great discovers of other civilizations well before Marco polo, Christopher HYPERLINK "http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCIQFjAB&url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus&ei=1oKUTZHrOcW3hAeyloCECg&usg=AFQjCNE0ZGlVxRDts575D99YbO1PdnZWIw"Columbus' (Said, 1999),HYPERLINK "http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCIQFjAB&url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus&ei=1oKUTZHrOcW3hAeyloCECg&usg=AFQjCNE0ZGlVxRDts575D99YbO1PdnZWIw" but these writers do not bother with that, which is much like the ignorance painted across the mass media on contemporary Islam.

Not far behind all this propaganda, television and Hollywood has played its part too, in Britain, channel four has televised numerous 'Dispatches' episodes on Islam, which has exemplified the fear of Islam by painting Muslims as 'extremist' and 'dangerous'. Programmes such as 'Dispatches: Britain under Attack (2007), which documented how Britain is under treat by Muslims. 'Dispatches: Undercover Mosque' (2007), claimed how in Mosques a message of hated is being spread throughout the UK. All these dispatches shows have been edited in away to show Islam in a negative light. As a product of this distorted projection, many people hate Islam and do not want to acknowledge its true teachings; therefore it can be argued the mass media is guilty of perpetrating Islamophobia.

Hollywood has even more so added to this demonization of Islam, 'the Arab is associated either with lechery or bloodthirsty dishonesty. He appears and an oversexed degenerate, capable, it is true, of cleverly devious intrigues, but essentially sadistic, treacherous, low, slave trader, camel driver, money changer, colourful scoundrel: there some traditional Arab roles in the cinema.' (Said, 1978:286). As in films like; Iron Man (2008), where the main character who is an American citizen is kidnapped by Arab Muslims, and forced to build a weapon of mass destruction. This image of Islam as a form of terrorism has become transfixed in the minds of those who are listening and watching these films or reading these books and articles. All of which represent 'absolutely no change over the virulent anti-Islamic polemics of the Middle Ages and the renaissance. For no other ethnic or religion group is it true that virtually anything can be written or said about it, without challenge or demurral.' (Said, 1978).

In conclusion, Islam is unjustly treated by Western mass media today. I feel as those who are at the forefront of accusing Islam and Muslims of terrorism are in fact are greater terrorist themselves. In order to seek the truth one must examine the lens in which a distorted view is projected such the 'Orientalism'. The western media on 'Islam tells us far less than it ought to, if it covers up more than it covers, where or how are we to look for information that encourages neither new dreams of power nor old fears and prejudice? And that interpretation must be self- conscious in its methods and its aims if it is to be vigilant and humane, if it also to arrive at knowledge.' (Said, 1981).