The Boston Marathon bombings is the most recent act of violence which is being linked to “Islamic terrorism,” and even mainstream commentators are taking the easy route and blaming it on Islam. This bias in media showing Islam as barbaric, backward, and violent goes back hundreds of years and is not new, but the ease with how this is happening is shocking and disturbing. In modern times, the answer for why this is occurring lies in Orientalist perspectives of Islam, and how they have consistently distorted and exoticised the Islam and Muslim world.
While there is still not enough proof linking the Boston bombers with any radical group or ideology, the ease with which people are using their imagination to demonize Chechens, Muslims and American Muslims is appalling. The right-wing in the U.S. is particular egregious in this regard, as a recent Pat Robertson video shows. This is a clear case of falling back on stereotypes, lazy generalizations and blatant Islamophobia.
Edward Said points out in Covering Islam in quite a lot of detail how the image of the violent, angry Muslim starting with the Iranian Revolution, and events in the Middle East following that have become dominant. Even scholars such as Noam Chomsky have built on how framing in media occurs on a regular basis and this seems to bias against Muslims. The key thesis of Said’s work is that there is a lot of “projection,” going on in the case of Western media writing about the Muslim world. He points out in Orientalism: ”Indeed, my real argument is that Orientalism is — and does not simply represent — a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with 'our' world.”
The most recent and egregious sample of this is from Bill Maher, the self-professed rationalist, who does something terribly irrational here. This video demonstrates more than anything, how mainstream it is to not reason and blatantly blame Islam for anything that goes wrong. And the fact that this is coming from mainstream commentators is worrying.
While there isn’t enough space to discuss what Islam says about mass violence, suffice it to say that there are several verses in the Qur’an and also prophetic traditions that sanctify human life and making the killing of one innocent equivalent to the murder of all humanity — in essence, a grave, unforgivable sin. While this is part and parcel of the daily practice of virtually all Muslims around the world, barring a minuscule number of extremists, those who promote Islamophobia make it seem violence is an acceptable part of Islam.
What all of this shows perhaps, is that with the growth of technology and social media, we may be becoming more ignorant rather than becoming more knowledgeable. That is the bigger danger — when ignorance trumps knowledge, because it is couched as “expertise” or seems “authoritative.” And unfortunately, the media needs to be blamed for a good portion of it.