Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Little Diversion: Blogs By My Classmates

In order not to be so full of myself, I visited several blogs created by my classmates, which in fact proved to be a rather enriching and inspiring experience. With one exception - the "Humor vs. Annoyance in Advertisement" - I mostly stuck with themes more or less related to the topic of my blog. Here are the links:

CommUNblock - UNblocking media's secrets:
Portrayal of Minorities:
Stereotypes About Russians: Truth or Lie:
Hate Sites:
Humor vs. Annoyance in Advertisement:

I decided to include the last one for personal reasons - annoying ads are one of my all-time pet peeves...
Overall, with the possible exception of the blog on stereotypes about Russians, which I find to be mostly the author's emotional response to the problem, the blogs are informative and some are rather insightful. Each of them, I believe, would serve as a good basis for a discussion.The names of the blogs are self-explanatory, so there is no need for me to go into the content of each. I would, however, like to draw your attention to a few concepts and/or issues discussed on these sites:

- "cyber-polarization" is a very relevant contemporary phenomenon Lucy touches on in her blog, as are the increasingly more sophisticated ways the media influence our perceptions of a reality, also discussed here
- the double-edged sword of political correctness that is one of the subjects of Kamila's blog
- the controversy surrounding the question of a free speech in relation to hate sites and their use as a vehicle to spread anti-social messages is something Tamta looks into

These are just a few things I found of particular interest, but please go visit these blogs to see for yourself what insights you find interesting, leave a comment if you feel like it, and then come back here to tell me what you found, and we can start a discussion...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My humble appeal

As I said in my first blog entry, the concern about how different subgroups within a society are treated has been growing in me steadily for some time now. Given that people are often treated according to the opinion others have of them, it is important to look at how this opinion is formed. I am not discovering America when I say we (at least in the "Western" world) live in the age of media, influence of which on our worldview has been well documented (Harris 28). Although it needs to be said we are not helpless victims of some kind of media propaganda - there are other factors that play a role in our socialization and worldview formation - the impact of the way media portray different groups within the society must not be underestimated. Hence the subject of my blog.

Since 2001, the year when I started to pay a closer attention to the media's obsession with the Muslim world, a lot has changed in this regard. The stories depicting Muslims as lunatic religious fundamentalist willing to blow themselves (and those around them) up in the name of their God seem to be appearing less frequently now than they did shortly after the attacks of 9/11. Yet, according to many analyses of U.S. media, Arabs (and by association Muslims) are still among the groups portrayed most derogatorily (Harris 76).

The purpose of my blog is not to analyze the individual stories where members of Islam appear in one role or another. Nor is it to develop theories about the possible agendas of the various media outlets who run these stories. What I am hoping to accomplish with this blog is to spark a discussion on this topic, to prompt the visitors of my website to perhaps think about the topic differently, to open their eyes and minds more widely to what they hear, see, and read in the media about Muslims and the Islamic faith in general, and to process this information more critically.

There is one more point I would like to make: by no means do I advocate a sheltering of any group from negative media coverage. In fact, I regard it as a natural product of the concept of free speech and by extension, free press. The answer to the problem of a more or less biased media content and delivery, which I call for in this blog, is an increase in public's media literacy. Blogs like this one can help to expose a certain issue that otherwise could go unnoticed or largely ignored by vast segments of the media audiences. Next step is then to for the audiences, that is for us, to assume a more active approach to the way we collect and interpret media messages. This entails not relying on a single source or a few sources, but multiple diverse sources of information, followed by a critical processing thereof. A passive consumption of carefully cooked up stories that are served to us by the media will not do if we do not want to fall prey to framing and/or other media devices affecting public opinion.

The question of media portrayal of Muslims is no different. On these pages you will keep finding links to relevant stories as they appear in various media outlets, most of the time supplemented with my comments. I too am not fully objective, nor do I claim to be. I intend this blog to be a little watchdog, a watchpuppy of mostly the mainstream media; a source against which you can compare your own observations about the topic. With that I conclude my today's entry, and am off to watch some news. See you soon!

Harris, Richard Jackson. A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication. Mahwah, N.J.:
     L. Erlbaum Associates, 2004. Print.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Few Useful Websites

Ok, so today may be a good day to share with you the names of some of the websites I have been visiting. Those that are relevant to the subject of this blog, that is ;-) Obviously, there are numerous sites where one can find related information, but I want to link you to three of them today (I will likely "send" you to more sites later, in my future postings). Here they are, along with short descriptions:

The full name, Council on American-Islamic Relations, says a lot. This is an informational, educational website on the subject of Islam in general, while focusing on the US-Islamic relations. It contains many useful news links, articles, press releases, initiatives - all dealing with the issue of Islam, life of Muslims in the US, their image in the media, and the like.

I really enjoy this one. It is basically an opinion website started by a journalist and an author of many books on Islam and related problematic, Robert Spencer. He often poses a question, writes a few lines about it, and then lets the public react to it. And that is in my view the most enriching aspect of his website. The comments to his postings come from people of diverse religions, ethnicities, races, nationalities, socio-economic standing,... it makes the Jihad Watch a very lively and often turbulent place!

This is a Muslim Media Activists-run website. Also rather interactive, with a number of neat features, such as a collection of subject-related blogs, invitations to current events, book and film  reviews, news articles, and much more - all concerning the issue of Muslims and the media.This site is both educational AND practically oriented, which I believe is its greates asset.

Well, I hope you will find the above websites interesting, inspiring, useful... whatever use you decide to put them to, I hope they'll help. ("Uses and Gratifications Theory" hint to earn me a few brownie points with Mr. Nesbitt ;-)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Time to Make this Personal

Today I thought I would make the subject of my blog a bit more personal by introducing to you Shamsa Mangalji, a Muslim student of the Columbia University, NY, USA. If you are not a Muslim yourself (as I am not either), it is probably hard for you to imagine what the followers of Islam may feel when exposed to the media image of their religion. How can they possibly feel when they see their kin portrayed in the media as terrorists, or more or less violent extremists in the better case?

Shamsa's moving, but also informative and enlightening article she wrote for a student newspaper The Rice Tresher, provides a few insights into the issue:

Here are some of Shamsa's own words that in my judgement capture the essence of her column:

"I feel outraged at these terrorists' disgusting perversion of my Islamic faith. I am ashamed to see the way my faith is being portrayed in mainstream media, and I think the world needs to understand the real meaning of Islam, a word derived from the Arabic concept of 'salaam,' or peace..." (Mangalji).

I don't know about you, but when I read Shamsa's words, I feel her frustration and dispair, but also determination to change the very situation that causes so much pain to her and her fellow Muslims. In fact, this blog is my contribution, my way to try to help Shamsa and others in their fight.

Mangalji, Shamsa. "National Media Distorts Image of Muslims." The Rice Thresher. College Publisher,

Islamic Terrorism as a part of TV Entertainment

For those of you who do not know Jack Bauer (FOX channel people would not be happy with you), he is the main character in the show series "24". What makes Jack so awesome is his ability to hunt down, interrogate (read: torture), and then punish (whatever that might entail) terrorists. Terrorists who endanger the United States and/or its representatives. Terrorists, who unfortunately, but not surprisingly, often are of Arabic origin and Muslim faith. These two characteristics, btw, are used interchangeably  in this show. If you don't see the problem with that, here is an illustratory equation, in a form Prof. Nurullah used it in his thorough analysis of "24" and its potential impacts on the viewers:

 Muslims = Arabs = fundamentalists = terrorists = Muslims (Nurullah 1044)

For specific numbers, examples from the episodes, and other data cited by Prof. Nurullah, please follow this link to his article:

I wonder how many Christians would like an equation based on a somewhat similar logic:

Euroamericans = Christians = Catholics = pedophiles = Euroamericans

Sounds not fair, twisted, ignorant? Yeah...

Besides the portrayal of many of the show's villains as Muslims and/or Arabs, the timing of the show's launching was also detrimental to the image of Muslims, especially in the US society: the show first went on air shortly after the attacks of 9/11 (Nurullah 1042). Speaking of the audiences' susceptibility to any Muslim-related messages, let alone the negative ones...

Some of you may think that a show is just a show - after all, it is fiction, and as such people understand it, distinguishing it from reality. While some highly media literate viewers probably do draw this distinction, I dare to say that still a large part of the audience believes the images and the messages sent to them via TV regardless of the format. And when such images are coherent with a schema established through a real-life experience ( like the 2001 terrorist attacks), even a fictional show may acquire the veracity of news.

Nurullah, Abu Sadat. "Portrayal of Muslims in the Media: "24" and the 'Othering' Process." International
     Journal of Human Sciences 7.1 (2010): 1020-1046. Ulusrararasi Insan Bilimleri Dergisi. Web.
     15 Apr. 2010.<>.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Needle in a Haystack

That saying describes perfectly how difficult it is to find a positive story about a member of the Islam faith in the western media. Well, today I decided to do the hard work for you by finding one such example. It is a story run by several US TV news channels - ABC 7 and CNN to name a few. The piece can be described as one of those Christmas feel-good stories that are supposed to fill people with hope and love for each other. This frame is often used for rather superficial soft news, and one can say this (human interest) story is no different. Yet, given its rather rare message, I find it important and want to share it with you:

Watched it? What do you think of it? For those who didn't feel like watching it or don't have time to do so (in which case I thank you guys for finding time to read my blog ;-) ), here is the video's content in a nutshell: A young Jewish man is attacked on a NYC subway train by racist Christians - and is saved by ... you guessed it... a Muslim! The story is rather emotional, supplemented by interviews with both the victim and his girlfriend, as well as Hassan Askari, the Muslim hero. Here are the words of Walter Sebastian Adler, the Jewish victim:

"A Muslim American saved us when our own people were on a train and didn't do anything....someone that in the media often gets painted as the enemy of Israel and the Jews...."

In the case of ABC 7 News, the piece goes on citing a passage from Qur'an about the virtue of saving a human life, which is also commented on by Hassan Askari: "Islam teaches you to know, to help your fellow man, to be kind, courteous...."

I wanted to include a story like this one as an example of a positive, pro-social media deed, which in my opinion is way too rare - to the point I would nominate it on the list of endangered species. Still, it is important to note there are stories like that in the media and we as the audience can do our part by encouraging the media people to show more of them. How? There are number of ways, but the easiest and cost-free first step could be a letter to the editor or a simple call-in to give a positive feedback if a story like the one above is shown. After all, the media need you, they need us, for their survival!