Islamophobia: Media Coverage is a Symptom Not a Cause!

Islamophobia, an intensifying crisis, is mistakenly approached by many and symptoms are taken for the real causes. The incorrect analysis then, are used in constructing faulty responses that waste time and badly needed resources.  Pointing this obvious shortcoming in analyzing the problem does not mean that the symptoms are not important or significant on their own.  They are important, but a distinction has to be made when approaching the work on Islamophobia between symptoms and real causes behind the phenomena, and then produce the needed remedies for it.

Let us dispense with the notion that the problem of Islamophobia is one driven by the media and the constant negative representation of Islam and Muslims. While I concur that media coverage intensifies the problem, the press role, as Chomsky aptly argued, is to manufacture consent of the governed.  The decision for a Muslim boogeyman is far too sophisticated to be left to anchormen and anchorwomen needing constant image control themselves and a nose, cheeks, and forehead constantly needing powdering to frame meaning for people.

In reality, economic and political elites in the West identify society’s enemies and the media then is off to the races with the needed distorted coverage.  The corporate media is an economic enterprise owned by elites in the Global North and the scope of coverage is shaped by those who own and operate these outfits. The media pursues the agenda that reflect elite’s priorities and journalists are under tight reign on who, what, when is to be covered with the final content subject to editorial control.

At one time or another, the political and economic elites have identified African Americans, Native Americans, Jews, Chinese, Latinos, Japanese, Irish, Italians, Mormons, Catholics, and Vietnamese as enemy number one and media coverage reflected the set priorities in each era.  African Americans are constantly framed negatively in the media and the cause is White Supremacy.  The argument is not a chicken and egg one, but the political and economic elites giving birth to the racist eggs that end up creating the needed conditions to cook a fascist omelet.

When the scope of the problem is narrowed to media representation of Islam and Muslims, then it makes the issue one of image with community responses focusing on image control, public relations efforts, and politics of respectability as the solution.  While one can argue that such responses are needed at one level, in reality, it ends up addressing the symptoms of the disease and not its epistemic and ideological foundations.  Furthermore, addressing the symptoms results in affirming the otherization paradigm, since the image and public relations approach must take as a point of departure the market conditions as they are and then work to improve or shift perceptions about the subject matter without addressing its root causes.

Indeed, Muslims in civil society are being punched in the face and the response has been to rush and pay for a facelift, plastic surgery, nose job, or inject Botox in order to make ourselves look beautiful to the racist.  The media, and Fox in particular, reporting a punch goes something like this: A Muslim face viciously attacked an innocent western fist in midair causing serious laceration to a White peaceful hand.  Police and the FBI are investigating if the face is connected to terrorism, was reading the Qur’an, or said Allah Akbar when barbarically attacking the poor fist. Some blood from the face was found on the fist and medics were careful in handling the evidence as it might be carrying the infectious Islam virus.

The media report is a problem, but elites in civil society should be held responsible because they have prepared and stoked the conditions that embolden the ignorant to take their fists into Muslim faces in the first place.  The subsequent framing or reporting by the media is secondary to the immediate cause that made the violent attacks possible.

We should make a fundamental shift in how Islamophobia is defined and the areas of emphasis for research and work in the future.  Correctly defined, Islamophobia is a structural organizing principle that sits at the present global crossroads and is employed to rationalize and extend the dominant global power alignment, while embarking on a project for silencing the collective global other.  Yes, the basic term– Islamophobia can be defined as “fear”, “anxiety” or “phobia” of Muslims but at the same time it is a far more encompassing process impacting law, economy, and society.  At one level, its civil society ideologues attempt to classify who belongs to the “civilized world”, the criteria for membership, and who is the demonized and ostracized global other.  At a deeper level, Islamophobia is a renewed drive to rationalize existing domestic and global racial stratification, economic power hierarchies, and open ended militarism.

Muslims are targeted so as to make of them an instrument to shape and reshape through it power disparities at a time when all existing political and economic modalities in the West have run into dead end failures.  Muslims indeed are the present global patsies propped up in the media for all to look at in fear, while someone or the .01% laughs all the way to the bank many times over.  Islamophobia emerges from elites in Western society who are fighting ideological battles among themselves and Muslims are constructed as enemy number one so as to make it possible for a proxy cultural, ideological, economic, and religious war to take shape.