Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Look Back at Media Coverage of Islam and Islamic Law in 2012

By Krystina Friedlander | Huff Post Religion | December 27, 2012 | [Original Article
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. [Read More...]

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