Panel Presentation: Combatting Islamophobia in the Media
by Judy Hanazawa
This presentation on April 5 at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House featured 3 speakers who spoke from their personal and professional experience. It was sponsored by the pro human rights internet news journal rabble.ca, Media Democracy Days, Langara College Women Studies Program and BC Civil Liberties Association.
The speakers were:
Urooba Jamal: A student activist who founded The Talon, a left oriented alternative student press at UBC. Urooba ran in the last Vancouver municipal election as a candidate for city council.
Itrath Syed: PhD candidate of School of Communication at SFU. Itrath also teaches Women’s Studies at Langara College and Asian Studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Sunera Thobani: Associate Professor at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, UBC.
This presentation was about examining media representation, its power to influence and distort, and the importance of addressing misrepresentation especially when communities are negatively affected. Panellists criticized the media for presenting and describing the experience of targeted communities from the perspective of a medium which represents and feeds the dominant majority. There is no acknowledgment of marginalization, no respect for the value of diversity, no hearing the voices of those with firsthand life experience. All panellists described the challenging experience for the Muslim community, particularly Muslim women, of being subjected to media fed negative assumptions and distortions.
Urooba Jamal spoke about the stereotyping of the Muslim community as violent and misogynistic. Islamophobia exists in the media and intensifies the unfounded fears held by the mainstream. There is police surveillance in Muslim communities, mosques and temples are targeted and hate crimes are committed against Muslims and others who are perceived to be Muslim.
Itrath Syed said “Muslim” and “Islam” have become code words for specific fears which can be enflamed to the point of national crisis if a situation arises. Itrath stated, ” It’s about anyone who is assumed to be Muslim because it’s not about Islam, it’s about the racialized construction of what it means to be Muslim.”
Sunera Thobani added that because of media misrepresentation, Islam is assumed to be a religion which promotes violence and the hatred of women. Islam is now assumed to be the religion of Arabs and South Asians. There is no awareness of diversity and minimal knowledge that Islam has existed in North America since colonization. Sunera pointed out that Islam was transported with the first Europeans, later emerging as a belief system of African Americans.
What can be done to address and overcome media misrepresentation? The three panellists concluded there is a need to challenge the status quo at all levels, politically, and socially. The voice and perspective of those who are marginalized and misrepresented must be heard. The Muslim community needs to represent itself, support an open, informative dialogue with others so that others will have truthful and accurate information. There is challenge to taking steps, but there may be no other way to end the misrepresentation. The media must also be called upon to correct misrepresentation and end its Islamophobia.
There is also urgency as one negative consequence of media misrepresentation is that it adds to and fuels the power of hate groups. Today the online racist and toxic misrepresentations by hate groups are going unchallenged, with no effective consequence. Internet, and social media Islamophobia is widespread and growing according to the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
On October 15, the GVJCCA Human Rights Committee will host a community education workshop on Muslim Canadians and their challenging issues today. More information will be provided in the next editions of The Bulletin.