Vox on islamophobia: It’s not just Maher

Vox on islamophobia: It’s not just Maher October 8, 2014

Max Fisher at Vox has a long and refreshing look at Islamophobia in the media. He lays out the fundamental problem:

Because 38 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is Muslim, most of us rely on the media to shape our opinions of Muslims and of Islam. And the media is badly failing in its responsibilities to portray Muslims carefully and accurately. It has forgotten Bush’s entreaty [to embrace Muslim Americans and Islam with respect], leaving Americans more ignorant about and more hostile toward the 2.6 million Muslim-Americans living in the United States, to the vast and diverse world of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, and to the Muslim populations of the Middle East and South Asia with whom our foreign policy, and often our military, is so heavily engaged.

As I argued earlier today, when the media shapes our views against a minority in harmful ways, that’s a serious problem. Maher, though, is only a small part of it.

While Maher might be the loudest and most candid in his bigotry toward Muslims, there is a subtler, more pervasive, and far more dangerous Islamophobia that has crept into mainstream news coverage. This is the Islamophobia that presents itself as a critical and candid study of Islamist extremism, but in the process does just what Maher does: conflates extremists with the vast, un-extreme majority, perpetuating the assumption that extremism is the default, that Muslims share inherent traits that make them worse than the rest of us, and that they are guilty of extremism until proven innocent.

After discussing some particularly horrific examples on Fox News which argue for racial profiling of Muslims and solutions to Islam which require “a bullet to the head,” Fisher describes the “symbiotic relationship” Fox has with more mainstream media outlets.

The mainstream outlets create an atmosphere in which a certain baseline of implicit racism is considered normal. That makes the out-in-open racism you might see on Fox News or Bill Maher seem as if they are merely saying out loud the hard truths that no one else is brave enough to express. And those Fox News bits, in turn, allow for more implicitly Islamophobic TV hosts to position themselves as merely mediating the debate.

The ultimate result of this is that it will further normalize bigotry against Muslims in America, making it the default. This has a real effect on how American voters perceive US foreign policy toward Muslim-majority countries, which you may have noticed involves an awful lot of bombing. It also influences how non-Muslim Americans see the 2.6 million Muslim-Americans living in the United States.

Popular attitudes toward Muslims are becoming more hostile in the US: Americans are more skeptical about Muslims and Islam, express lower favorability toward Muslims, are more likely to support racial profiling of Muslims, and increasingly say that Muslim-Americans cannot be trusted in positions of government authority.

According to the Arab American Institute poll cited by Fisher, favorable attitudes towards Arabs have declined from 43% in 2010 to 32% in 2014. Favorable attitudes towards Muslims have declined from 35% in 2010 to 27% in 2014. Fisher’s whole piece is a comprehensive review of recent events, and well worth a read.

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