Islam Awareness Week commences with media panel

The Muslim Student Organization is hosting the week’s festivities.

The Muslim Student Organization began this year’s Islam Awareness Week with its Muslims and the Media panel Monday night in Memorial Union.

About 20 students attended the discussion. The panel was composed of three members: graduate student Nabihah Maqbool, department of religious studies chairman Robert Baum and journalism studies chairman Earnest Perry.

Throughout the night, students and panelists responded to a number of questions concerning how the media’s portrayal of Muslims has changed in America, particularly following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The panelists discussed how a number of problems have affected the media’s coverage of Muslims and Islam, including the lack of complete, comprehensive stories, an uninformed public and glitches in the journalistic process.

Baum said the media is not properly criticizing politicians who are stirring up irrational fears about Islam.

“The media, I think, has also played its hand in this by not being sufficiently critical both at a factual level and also in terms of looking at the motivations of those who were stirring things up,” Baum said.

Maqbool said the media often falls short of covering all of the aspects of Islam integral to understanding the religion.

“Islam is a very large religion,” Maqbool said. “Islam is a very complicated religion. It has so many viewpoints. There are debates to be had. There are criticisms to be made. There are people to be discussing, and I don’t feel like many of those are being analyzed.”

Perry said the stiff competition entertainment news provides makes following controversial stereotypes a temptation for news programs attempting to attract viewers.

“If I’m Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, it’s very easy for me to follow that stereotype and draw in more people because it plays into what they see in the entertainment,” Perry said. “The Discovery Channel and the History Channel can’t compete with ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or ‘Monday Night Football.’ It’s hard to do that.”

Baum said the decreasing length of television news stories also plays on the use of negative stereotypes to attract more attention to the brief story.

“It’s a lot easier to go with a stereotype than it is to actually unpack the stereotype,” Baum said. “It’s faster. If you need a sound bite to get your story on the news, then you want the most spectacular thing you could say.”

Maqbool said the media’s negligence of meaningful, complete portrayals of Islam is an unfortunate problem for Muslims.

“I think it’s a shame that we’re wasting time not getting to substantive questions and we’re wasting time being afraid,” she said.

After addressing the various problems Muslims face in the media, the panel discussed what must be done to correct the negative portrayal of Islam.

Baum said an informed public is critical to eliminating the stereotypes regarding Muslims.

“How do we foster a more informed public?” Baum said. “Part of that is to encourage specialization by reporters. We need more of a cultural immersion before people begin to report, and I think that’s crucial.”

Maqbool said the journey to a society where there is a general understanding of Muslims and Islam begins with individual people informing themselves and using their knowledge to inform others.

“I think it really starts with all of us if we can just make sure that we’re informed,” Maqbool said. “No one knows who they’re affecting when they’re talking to someone, and trying to explain their viewpoints can really have an impact in the national discourse.”

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