Saint Xavier University learns about Muslim media representation

What’s wrong with the way Muslims are portrayed in the media? Where do biases and stereotypes stem from? What does popular culture have to say about Muslim women? CAIR-Chicago communications coordinators Aymen Abdel Halim and Leena Saleh answered these questions and more in a presentation at Saint Xavier University on March 21st.

Students learned first and foremost about the role socio-political contexts play in mass representations of Muslims in not only news coverage but in Hollywood films and television. The audience was encouraged to reexamine some stale representations of Muslims that were the most common such as them being “terrorists” “oppressive” and “backwards.”

Touching not only on how the news characterizes Muslims at large with blatant headlines and misinformed generalizations but how this reflects a historically consistent scapegoating of minority groups in the U.S. Students drew parallels between African-American, Asian-American and American-Muslims struggle for accurate representation.

“What we fail to see in mainstream media and popular culture is a portrayal of the average American-Muslim and instead are offered only polarized extremes,” said Saleh.

Segueing into present day representations, Abdel Halim highlighted the current wave of Islamophobia – from the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, the King hearings, to a video entitled “Hate Comes to Orange County” which exposes bigoted anti-Muslim protesters in Southern California. He also illustrated the importance of such representations by showing how today’s politicians use them as justifications for potential policies that would infringe upon Americans’ civil liberties. Showing clips of GOP candidates Rick Santorum and Herman Cain discussing their levels of discomfort with Muslims.

Saleh related these biased perception when observing representation of Muslim women in the media. From popular movies to news stories the spectrum of portrayal of Muslim women falls short. Without delving into further research or independent study audiences are led to believe that Muslim women are submissive, oppressed, and uneducated.

Using Gallup polls and historical documentation Saleh presented students with a very different image of the Muslim woman. From current prime ministers to historical scholars and statistics about American-Muslim women being more highly educated than Muslim men, the audience was shown a very different representation.

Students left with a more accurate representation of Muslims, tools for developing media literacy and ways in which they can critically consume media.