Smiley face Islam.
That seems to be how the media is determined to depict the face of Islam. The media has unacknowledged, and at times unknown agendas on multiple fronts. It’s the perfectly natural outcome when a large group of people have essentially the same worldview and their check and balance on that worldview is each other.
There is not going to be much of a check or balance. In a word, bias.
The bias in Muslim coverage seems to be ensuring that all Muslims are painted as exactly like every other American, and that Islam as a religion is depicted the same as any other religion. The truth is that Islam is a mixed bag in 2017 unlike any other religion. There are many productive, pro-American, peaceable Muslims in the United States. We probably have the most moderate Muslim population in the world, on a whole, and a majority fit into the American culture.
But while polls show that American Muslims are some of the least radicalized in the world, they also show that Islam worldwide does not fit the media narrative and hundreds of millions believe Sharia law, for instance, a legal system antithetical to American beliefs. And that raises questions of immigration.
Yet the media persists in describing Islam as an overtly peaceful religion that preaches tolerance, and the thousands of adherents to Islam that participate in atrocities are not really Muslims. No real reporting on the millions that support atrocious behavior, but do not participate directly.
So the truth is there really exists a smiley face Islam. But there also really exists a hateful, murderous Islam. Both are true, but the media highlights one.
The happy face example
An example that beautifully illustrates this bias was published a little over a year ago in a well-regarded Florida daily newspaper. In fact, this particular Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper helpfully directed readers with the headline, “The Face of Islam in Southwest Florida.”
Here is the lead:
“Imam Yousuf Memon is the face of Islam in Sarasota and Bradenton — and it’s a face that smiles constantly and is quick to laugh.
“Memon, only 24, shatters the stereotype of a Muslim cleric.
“Before services Friday, he was dressed in a trendy Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie, jeans and flip-flops.
“He admits he’s much younger than most Islamic clergy, but in the eight months since he became Imam of Sarasota’s diverse Muslim community, his efforts have drawn wide acclaim.”
The brave Imam — truly a brave young man — condemns violence in the name of Islam and says if he got wind of radicalized Muslims in his community, the first thing he would do is report them to the authorities. Here here! That is precisely the type of leadership many Americans hope for from Muslim clerics. So that’s all great and may God protect him.
What is missing journalistically
But as to the journalism…this story is one big promotional puff piece for smiley face Islam on Page 1 of a newspaper. Paid advertising is only mildly more overt. There are verrrrrrry long quotes (which you rarely see) by the Imam explaining that his view is true Islam and not the violent views of others around the world and occasionally in the United States. That’s legitimate, except that there is zero balance in the story.
What is missing? No normal journalistic push back. No context. No actual tough questions or topics, which are abundant with the Muslim issue. As a former journalist, I would ask some basics such as:
- Do you believe in Sharia law?
- Do you think it is safe to let in Syrians?
- How have ISIS and others gained such huge followings in your religion, particularly when no other religion has anything like this going on?
- Why do such large percentages of Muslims around the world support Sharia and even support terrorism and terror organizations in many instances?
That used to be basic journalism. But none of those were asked — or were not reported if they were asked, which seems unlikely. Instead, we got a happy face Islam promotional piece ignoring all the tough questions.
This type of coverage played out recently in President Trump’s 90-day ban on people traveling to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The first day of the ban, 109 people were detained because of it, out of 325,000 who entered the country that day. All were released within 48 hours. But the media reported chaos at the airports (which was caused in part by a major computer outage at Delta) and referred for a while to the “Muslim ban” (an absurd characterization) while endlessly quoting people about the inhumanity and civil rights violations and un-Americanism of it all.
This is a constant within media coverage, and driven by a monolithic worldview that sees Islam as peaceful, violence as not Islamic, and Christian extremists are an equal threat as Islamic extremists. This is done in two ways: One, equating maybe half a dozen terrorist acts attributed to Christians in the past 30 years, to literally thousands of acts attributed to Muslims in the past 10 years. The false equivalence muddies the waters and makes way for the second way, smiley face Islam the reality.
There are obviously Americans like Imam Yousuf Memon who is an important and productive part of his communities. If all Islam were like him, obviously there would be no conversation. But the data overwhelmingly demonstrates that is not the case.
You just won’t get that in most media reporting.
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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.