“Go back home you terrorist!” I ran as fast as I could, away from the presence of people, away from the threats, but I was unable to shake the cold feeling I felt throughout my body, that was clenching my heart and making it harder for me to breathe. Kept thinking to myself, why would anyone say something so cruel, do I look like a terrorist; was It my clothes or just the way I looked in general. It took me a while to realize why those words were thrown at me like stones, and the answer was: my faith.
In 1996, I was born into a Muslim family in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. During the year 2001, my parents decided to move to a well-developed country for the sake of their children’s future and education (At that time, Sharjah and Dubai had not really prospered economically or education wise.) Moving at such an early age to a complete new country is always hard on any child that is developing and making new friends. Moving as a Muslim family into North America after the September 11th, 2001 attacks was even harder. During my junior high school years in New York State, I was constantly bullied because of the religion I followed, but the name-calling and hurtful comments all began in third grade. It is hard to believe that at such an early age, the portrayal of Islam through media can truly affect the minds of young children; leading them to think that the followers of Islam will harm the people residing on this planet and that everyone should try their best to stay away from the “evil followers” of this so called “cult.”
The media portrayal of Islam after September 11 attacks increased as violence and war spread throughout the Middle East. Many news channel and writers used this opportunity to begin reporting on these events from the exact locations or writing shows based on American soldiers fighting this war against terrorism. For the latest news on war on terror, many Americans turned to their local media channels and over time, media began to exaggerate the beliefs of Islam and pulled words out of context from the Quran to use it in order to represent the Muslim communities. A certain image of a man who has a beard, wears a turban, screams Islamic chants was established in the minds of many Americans so they can affiliate that image to the word terrorism and as for women, anyone who is wearing an hijab is considered to be oppressed. The word terrorist was than associated to a person who is a follower of Islamic beliefs, and who uses these beliefs to bring harm to a human life. Keeping in mind that the actual definition of terrorism, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is “Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” Although these man who committed these crimes are terrorist, nowhere does it say that: Muslims who commit these listed act of crimes are terrorist. This word is supposed to be used to associate any violent act committed by a person, but because of media coverage, the word is seen more of as a label for Muslims around the world. This common image of a “terrorist” is used throughout all types of media outlets and has been the leading cause of increase in discrimination towards Muslim communities.
Due to recent events in France, and countries in the Middle East who contain a terrorist group called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamophobia and discrimination towards Muslims has increased. In a Ted Talk called “Islamophobia,” the speaker, Melissa Boigon, shows a short clip from a show called “Homeland” in which they show vicious people in Lebanon attacking American agents in their car on a street called Hamra; she then shows an image of the same street in real life and how it is filled with people of all ethnicity and culture with small stalls everywhere. Depiction of Muslims through shows and media has always been somewhat exaggerated to fit a specific agenda and to gain more viewers for their personal interest. Such portrayal of Muslims is just causing an increase of discrimination within America, and has put many Muslim’s lives in danger. According to Cassady Pitt in his work U.S Patriot Act and Racial Profiling, he states that “…new anti-terrorism laws like the U.S Patriot Act have been instituted for national security purpose. These new laws have made many Muslim Americans very vulnerable to racial profiling and discrimination.” (Pitt 53) With laws like these intact within the government, discrimination will continue because the media has influenced such racial profiling towards these specific groups of people, and laws such as the U.S Patriot Act will continue to increase these problems rather than cause a decline within them.
Media holds a strong ground within the world. Many people believe the information that is provided over the news rather than researching on their own and learning factual information on certain topics. Unfortunately, the portrayal of Muslims in media as being hateful, terrorist group that will harm people has led to a loss in the community. On 10th of February, 2015, three college students were shot and killed by a 46- year old white male. The police at first dismissed this hate crime as a parking lot dispute, which led to a worldwide movement called #MuslimLivesMatter. This movement is quite similar to the movement called #BlackLivesMatter. These movements are both movements that are based on discrimination of different communities because of their fate or racial background. Both communities have lost people due to either police brutality because of racial profiling or discrimination. Families of the victims of the three college students believe it is a hate crime due to the fact that the victims were shot through headshot kills and the father of one of the daughters told reporters that his daughter complained about her neighbor acting weird around her and always carrying a gun and disturbing her and her husband. Due to the hatred that has built up within the people who rely on media heavily, such hatred eventually leads to violence and causes a death of an innocent.
We witness from these points that media has a greater influence on a person more than we think they do. They shape the way many people in take information and how they react towards that information. #Muslimlivesmatter is important movement because it will help many Muslims out there share their stories about discrimination and take a stand for their rights. As a Muslim myself, I could have been one of the three college students who was shot and killed. I endured years of bullying and verbal abuse because of “Islam” that was portrayed in the media. We must come forward to recognize that the media cannot have power over our minds and that people should be able to make their own opinion based on what they experience. Media presents us with information that helps us reach conclusion about a certain group rather than being able to logically think for ourselves.
The first time I ever stood up for myself was eighth grade, when one of my own friends called me a terrorist and laughed. At that point I realized that she too had been influenced by the media, and I made it my responsibility to teach her everything I knew about my religion and the beliefs we actually follow rather than the beliefs shown in the media because this time, I did not run.
Boigon, Melissa. “Islamophobia.” TEDx Talk. NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Washington Pl, New York, NY. September 2013. Speaker
Goodman, Amy. “#MuslimLivesMatter: Loved Ones Honor NC Shooting Victims & Reject Police Dismissal of a Hate Crime.” Democracy Now [New York, NY] 12 February, 2015. Web. 8th April, 2015.
Muhammad, Khalil. “The Revolution Will Be Live-Tweeted: Why #Blacklivesmatter Is the New Model for Civil Rights.” The Guardian 1 December, 2014. Web. 8th April 2015.
Pitt, Cassady. “U.S. Patriot Act and Racial Profiling: Are There Consequences Of Discrimination?” Michigan Sociological Review 25 (2011): 53-69. Web. April 10th, 2015. run.