Boston Marathon Bombing Islamophobia: Media to Blame For America's Ignorance On Islam

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.

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Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan is a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia. Sabith has worked for several years in the field of strategic communications, public affairs and nonprofit management, trying to understand and communicate issues pertaining to civil society, development and youth in the US and MENA region. Sabith has worked with several large global public affairs firms, on award-winning campaigns in healthcare, entertainment and government relations. During his stint at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, he ideated and executed a global award-winning campaign for Apollo Hospitals (Abby and Clio Awards). He has also worked in the Middle East managing accounts as diverse as Dubai Film Festival, Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai School of Government. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Muslim Public Service Network in Washington D.C, an NGO that engages and inspires young American Muslims to do public service. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Planning Governance and Globalization at Virginia Tech. He has been involved as a team member and leader in several international development projects including consulting for the Near East Foundation, in helping set up their Monitoring and Evaluation system for their offices across the MENA region. Sabith has a Master of Public administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. In Summer 2013, he conducted research on American Muslim philanthropy at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indianapolis, in an attempt to map giving behavior among Muslims over the last ten years i.e., 2002- 2012. Sabith’s research interests include Religion and Philanthropy, Youth issues in USA, Middle East North Africa and South Asia, Governance and Civil Society. Sabith is also the co-editor of Millennials Speak: Essays on the 21st century, a snapshot of the ideas and opinions of the global Millennial Generation. Twenty writers from five continents, a diverse mix of young academics, policy professionals, and future thought and creative leaders, cover topics from the legacy of the Arab Spring, the global food system, the U.S. student loan crisis, youth unemployment, to popular culture. Currently working: Founder and Executive Director, MENASA Publications: 1. Humanitarian Aid and Faith-Based Giving: The Potential of Muslim Charity - Unrest Magazine, George Mason University. May 2013. Accessible at http://www.unrestmag.com/about-unrest/past-issues/#sthash.GEqNfv0U.dpuf 2. Arab American Diaspora and American Muslim Philanthropy: impact of crisis situations on mobilization and formation of a “community.” American University in Cairo Press. Cairo. (NP). Expected Fall 2013. 3. Middle-East Peace Talks 2010: Investigating the Role of Lobbying and Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. as Spoilers. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Spring 2011. Accessible at : http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/parcc/Research/intrastate/Spoilers_of_Peace_Project/ Blog: www.sabithkhan.wordpress.com

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