Media is held responsible for the distorted and caricature image of Muslims and their most holy figure prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the West. The movie “innocence of Muslims” is the most recent stereotype demonstration of them. People’s thinking on a matter, which they don’t have much knowledge about, is largely formed by what media determines, following an agenda setting theory. Islam has always been such issue in the West and Muslims have always been shown as fanatics, extremists and violent killers thus giving negative connotations to Islam. According to semiotic theory of sighs, every image or sign has a coded message, which is always decoded by different people in the same way by a common cognitive system. When the messages in the carton images of Prophet Muhammad published by a Danish magazine Jyllands-Posten in 2006 were decoded, there was an outcry in the Muslim world, which later developed a carton controversy around the global politics.
This blasphemous movie of prophet Muhammad, another genre of visual communication, created the same political conflict between East and West and upheaval in the politics of Muslim countries too. The first part of my paper which is a media plan for Pakistani government to deal with the issue, analyses how Muslim world reacted to this movie and how a troublesome situation in all the Muslim countries is affecting the relations of Muslims’ with the U.S. Second part examines how western media, in the name of freedom of speech, has been deconstructing the bodies of Muslims as violent treacherous men and their religion as a danger to West. This message has been continuously shot into the heads of masses since ages analyzing magic bullet theory of media. Media effects theory can easily elucidate the results of such efforts. The article advocates media should consider ethical boundaries while discussing religions and religious entities. Key words: Muslims, stereotypes, prophet Muhammad, cartons, movies, western media, protests, politics.
Background of the problem.
Just a 14 minute trailer of the blasphemous movie “innocence of Muslims” caused a great upheaval in the Muslim world .the holiest figure of Islam prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been shown in this movie as a child molester, womanizer, drunk and a violent killer. This is not the first movie, there is a list of such movies against Muslims and Islam, e.g. Black Hawk Dawn, the kingdom, the Seige, fitna, which created havoc in Muslim world and we saw riots, violence, boycotts and deaths as a result of them. Later on, such trouble tic situations were always manipulated by politicians.(see links of movies trailers in references) This movie produced by Nakoula Basseley led Muslims protests in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and in many other Muslim countries including the killing of US ambassador to Libya in a violent attack by extremists.
Obama and Clinton condemned this movie like many other governments of the countries, even Cindy Lee Garcia told The Hollywood Reporter that she and many actors were duped by filmmaker. “He has a price to pay, this Mr.Bacile, maybe not here on Earth, but he’ll stand before God one day for what he has done”. These protests were going on and “meanwhile a French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published the controversial cartoons of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) further inflaming Muslims’ sentiments”.(the Dawn 30 sep) Such protests were started in earlier September in Pakistan where hundreds of thousands from all walks of life recorded their protest against this movie and publication of carton images again.
Many marched towards US embassy in Islamabad and many were killed and wounded in clash with police there. There were rallies of protests nationwide having more than 45,000 people earlier in September, 21 were killed and 229 wounded, more than 200 protesters set fire to effigy of Barack Obama in the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir.(Aljazeerah 21sep). Pakistanis are demanding from the government to stop missions with US If they don’t ban this movie altogether, though it was banned later in many Muslim countries on a request from Washington house to goggle.
Problem for Pakistani Government:
In Pakistan election campaigns are going on and the political parties are engaging mob in violent attacks to make unrest in the country. By highlighting the weaknesses of the government and the wrong dealings of the issue by the government, the other political parties are trying to take advantage of the situation. Many banners in the rallies led by other political parties demand from government to shut US and French missions in Pakistan which is definitely not possible. So there is a great need to make a well developed strategy through media to handle the situation as president is loosing the popularity because of many stories of the corruption of government and this issue of blasphemy is very complex to handle as the demand to ban this movie cannot be accomplished at once like Pakistani are wishing. so is the case with their demands to shut the missions with US.
Objectives of the media plan:
1) Stop the people from violent protests by giving references from Islamic values teaching peace and tolerance. 2) Gain trust and confidence of the people as a responsible government by focusing what government has done to deal with the issue. 3 minimize the nation’s hatred for US and shift their focus from their demands of not to assist US in the war going on in the region. 4) Present your nation’s viewpoint on international forums regarding the issue.
Key messages of the plan:
1) By quoting from the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), the people should be stopped from making violent protests and showing hatred to other countries as it is leaving a bad image of the nation and the Islam as well. Media should focus how prophet has taught Muslims to be tolerant and how he hated bloodshed and violence. So key message would be “Islam is a religion of tolerance not of violence”. 2) Key message to the west should be that we respect freedom of speech but reject freedom of hatred.
This movie like other blasphemous movies and carton images of prophet Muhammad fall in the category of later. Such laws should be formulated to avoid these distasteful attempts leading to the unrest in the whole world. 3) Focus on requests of Obama’s government to goggle and you tube to ban the video and also tell your nation through the media the U.S effort to make the laws against such blasphemous acts in the future, so that their hatred towards America could be minimized as their demands to shut missions with America are not easy to be considered.
Edward said’s famous work on the relations of east and west received much criticism that opens with a quotation by Karl Marx: ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’. So the west took as its responsibility to represent the east and civilize them by calling them uncivilized. Said unfolds the binary opposition as “self is familiar (Europe, the west, “us”) and the other is strange (the orient, the east, “them”) (said, 1978:43) Said asserts that European knowledge of the East goes arm in arm with expansionism, exploration and settlement. He argues that the ‘Orient’ is constructed and represented in the binary opposition against the Occident, as the ‘Other’. In many respects, the Orient is seen by European values, assumptions, and cultural codes and as the Occident’s other.
He criticizes the way that the Occident views the Orient by her own culturally-determined and biased and limited historical perspectives.(Moosavinia, Niazi & Ghaforian,2011) The universal declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (United Nations 1948). Some people could argue that they have boundless rights to mock other people’s religious believes including their holy books and holy figures. In the name of freedom of speech, 12 cartoons of Muslims Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)were published by a Danish magazine. The one most debated showed prophet Muhammad as having a bomb in the cloth over his head. (Bond B, 2007) talks about Danish media landscape as “It is fair to say that the factual social vulnerability, the stereotyping, and the division between “them” and “us” in the news media, has created a very hostile rhetoric against visible foreigners and particularly Muslims.”
He also talks about Danish media representations of Muslim women. “Appearing in the 1970s the stereotype of minority women as oppressed and battered was prominent from the late 1990s to early 2000s. The stereotype of oppressed minority women was emphasized by televised pictures of veiled women illustrating many stories about refugees and other immigrants. Another stereotype since the 1970s was the image of immigrant men as hypersexual threats to women” (Green L, & Aly A, 2011) state in their research that “there was some resentment voiced by Muslim respondents in interviews and focus groups that the media did not fully represent the diversity of Muslims and instead perpetuated stereotypes of Muslims: ‘the ugly Muslim male’ and ‘the oppressed Muslim female’. This mediated construction of Muslims was thought to provide an influential pathway for the broader community’s understanding of Muslims.”
Reporting on Islam has been a mandatory part of western media agenda. A research about agenda of German media concludes as following. In summarizing the results, it can be said that in non-fictional formats such as magazines, talk shows, documentaries and reportages over 80% of the content reproduces an image of Islam that portrays this religion as a problem and a danger for politics and society. This image of Islam in the non-fictional formats of ARD and ZDF is an exaggerated image of violence and conflict, conveying the impression that Islam is less a religion than a political and social ideology that collides with the morality and values of the West. (Richter C, & Hafez K, 2009) Talking about the publication of caricature images of Muslims’ holiest figure of Muslims prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), one can solemnly say that visuals have strong power of global communication.
The analysis of one of the images is as following. The turban bomb could also be interpreted as a symbolic depiction of a globe and the Arabic inscription would thus be located in the Middle East. The ideological threat of Islam is translated into a fanaticized face, meant to depict the prophet of Islam, and also the non-communicative attitude of his followers, who are focused on destruction instead of dialogue. This was one of the most criticized of the 12 cartoons, presumably because of its hostile depiction of the prophet, and because of the implication that all Muslims are potentially dangerous suicide-bombers. (Müller M Özcan E, & Seizov O, 2009).
The examination of over 900 Hollywood movies by Jack Shaheen (2001) may be regarded as a cornerstone in Orientalism canon where he argued how the Hollywood film genre has stereotyped the Arab society by representing them as greedy precarious men and subjugated women. Such stereotyped presentation paves a way in justification of American foreign policy with the Middle East. The continued production and successes of such movies as Black Hawk Down, The Kingdom and The Siege cannot be overlooked in light of the power struggles resulting from the ‘War on Terror’ and hegemonic representations of Muslim men and women in a variety of Western Media.
The visual narrative in The Kingdom—with its deployment of the only American female main character, Janet Mayes, whose body was scripted to represent essential differences between white and brown women—illuminates imperialist discourses, with Muslim bodies becoming the battleground upon which such discourses are both visually and literally being fought. It was argued that a critical engagement with Hollywood cinema is necessary to unveil the complex ways in which Muslim bodies are scripted as dangerous, pre-modern and uncivilized in U.S popular culture. (Michelle Aguayo, 2009)
The concept of binary opposition given by Edward said (1978) op,cit. as “us” and the “Others” is applicable to present scenario easily, western media has always presented the eastern countries specially Muslim countries as “others” uncivilized, savages, brutal, untamed and western countries as “us” civilized, educated, tamed and rational. Thinking of Agenda setting approach, I can easily relate how western media has set an agenda against Muslims by presenting them always as violent, precarious, killers and women as oppressed. While talking about Danish media landscape, there were riots, protests, boycotts, deaths in Islamic world including the burning of Danish embassies in Syria and Egypt in response to publication of caricature images of prophet Muhammad. But the western media proved so stubborn that 143 newspapers in 56 countries of West re –published the images again after sometime. To mock Muslims’ holy figure, their holy book and to show Muslims stereotype was included in the common agenda of western media.
Semiotic theory helps understanding the process of carrying meanings by those images as semiotics refers to Modality, which is a specific way to encode the information for presentation to people and the meaning, is conceived by people as an effect of it. A list of sign types is considered in such presentations like writing, symbol, color, map, index, graph etc. The different people decode all the signs in the same way by a common cognitive system according to psychology of perception; this concept elucidates how all people about prophet as a terrorist decoded negative messages in such images of prophet Muhammad. The movie “Innocence of Muslims” brought another catastrophe in the hearts of Muslims that presented prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, child abuser, homosexual and a violent killer. The purpose of this low quality picture is just to mock and insult Islam and prophet Muhammad and the producer gave as many negative attributes to Prophet Muhammad as he could.
Agenda setting approach of media can be helpful in understanding the western agenda of presenting Muslims and Islam as dangerous men and violent religion respectively. Another anti-Islamic movie “fitna” made by a Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, where Quranic versus are shown alongside the scenes of terrorism. Those versus, in reality, are about the wars going on in that era of fourteen hundred years back but without giving the actual context those versus are misrepresented to show that Quran teaches Muslims to be violent killer. And this proved to be another extreme distortion of Islam. (See link in references). The production of such movies by Hollywood confirms common western agenda to present Muslims stereotypes.
All these negative connotations continuously given to Islam and Muslims had a power to shape the thinking of people about Muslims as terrorists, that is also explained by Magic Bullet theory that messages by media are so powerful, and act as a bullet shot into the heads of people by shaping the thoughts of people in a magical way. So the people who don’t know much about Islam and Muslims mostly get Muslims as terrorists. Western media has cast a spell over the people by continuous shots of negativity into their heads. Media effects theory elucidates easily such stereotype representations of Muslims as we can see isolation of Muslims in the world and negative concepts of them in the eyes of common people in the west. People in the West always think of Muslims as extremists, the feelings of hatred and fear against Muslims is prevailing in the western society, which is the most visible effect of media’s stereotype presentations.
Whenever media takes such blasphemous steps, they take to riots, protest and upheaval in Muslim countries, which may also lead to global political conflicts sometimes. The biased approach to one religion or to one particular group of people is surely an attempt to divide the world population into the boundaries of pointless hatred. Media should take great care while talking about religion and religious entities. It should consider some ethical limits while talking negative about Islam as it hurts the feelings of almost 2 billion people in the world.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HR0Vj-8dqTM&feature=fvsr http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0ET9qez-Kshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HLNawUg_ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUJ6cxWdZwA3s Pakistan hit by anti-Islamic video protests. (2012, September21). Aljazeerah Said,Edward W. (1978). Orientalism. New York. Penguin Moosavinia, S. R., Niazi, N. N., & Ghaforian, A. (2011). Edward Said’s Orientalism and the Study of the Self and the Other in Orwell’s Burmese Days. Studies In Literature & Language, 2(1), 103-113. Bonde,B. (2007). How 12 Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were brought to Trigger an International Conflict. NORDICOM Review, 28(1), 33-48 Green, L., & Aly, A. (2011). How Australian Muslims Construct Western Fear of the Muslim Other. At The Interface / Probing The Boundaries, 7765-90 Richter C, Hafez K. The image of Islam in German public service television programmes. Journal Of Arab & Muslim Media Research [serial on the Internet]. (2009, Dec), [cited October 23, 2012]; 2(3): 169-181. Available from: Communication & Mass Media Complete. Müller, M. G., Özcan, E., & Seizov, O. (2009). Dangerous Depictions: A Visual Case Study of Contemporary Cartoon Controversies. Popular Communication, 7(1), 28-39. doi:10.1080/15405700802598361 Shaheen, Jack. (2001). Reel bad Arabs. New York: Olive Branch Press
Aguayo, M. (2009). Representations of Muslim Bodies in The Kingdom: Deconstructing Discourses in Hollywood. Global Media Journal: Canadian Edition, 2(2), 41-56.