Solving America’s Prejudice Problem

Just like a third of the rest of the world, you practice Islam. You pray five times a day, you participate in Ramadan, and it just so happens you live in the United States. As a country that not only celebrates the freedom of religion, but was founded off of it, you believe that you are safe to practice your beliefs. Unfortunately, the United States is not what it seems, and is instead quite prejudice against you. You regularly encounter American citizens calling you a terrorist, denouncing Islam, and violently threatening you. You are afraid, and reasonably so, since hate crimes against Muslim-Americans have steeply risen in the past few years. You know that over 4 out of 10 people hold prejudice towards Muslim-Americans (Gallup, Inc.), but you feel optimistic because you know this anger is misguided. Americans are fearful, and you are perceived to be the closest thing to the source of their fear. The fear has stemmed from attacks on American soil by the very few Muslims that had no connection to you. Then, you observe that this fear is inflamed by the hysteria of conservative media and misinformation. This is what the United States has become, fear and anger perpetuated by stereotypes, the media, and a need for the perception of safety. Due to terrorist attacks perceived to be carried out by Muslims, Americans have turned to security measures detrimental to the United States’ relationship with other countries; however, the more effective solution would be to change the psyche of the American people to perceive Muslims differently through the media.

Even at the time of its foundation, the United States was never friendly to diverse populations of people. One only has to consider the colonization of North America, slavery, or Japanese Internment to know that it has had a history of prejudice. Blaming Muslim-Americans for the cause of terrorist attacks is no different; sadly, it was almost predictable. After the United States infiltrated the Middle East for a selfish need for oil, relationships between countries became turbulent. It is understandable to look at the situation from the Middle East standpoint, where the United States used its military force to take advantage of its resources, and created tensions which destabilized nations that would have been better off without United States intervention. It is also understandable to dislike the actions of the United States as it had supported “…local regimes, denounced as authoritarian, corrupt, and repressive…” as addressed in Understanding Al Qaeda: Changing War and Global Politics by Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou. The United States had caused an uprising in radicalist groups within the Middle East who wanted to do harm to the source of the problems. One such radicalist group was called Al-Qaeda, which was led by a man named Osama Bin Laden. They had carried out a horrific four pronged attack at the heart of America causing thousands of American deaths. Americans saw this attack to be detrimental and caused an enormous amount of pain. However, the way American citizens dealt with the trauma was misguided. The anger and pain that Al-Qaeda created has only been fueled by media needing interesting and attention catching headlines. It is quite apparent that terrorism, while gruesome and vile, have been the subject of news outlets throughout the world. As written in Beyond 9/11: Terrorism and Media in a Mid-term Period View (1998–2005) by Paolo Campana, “As it was to be expected, between 1998 and 2005, the [seven] newspapers examined have given plenty of space to the terrorism issue: on average, about 1,940 articles per year per newspaper.” What news corporations have figured out, is that terrorism can get their sales to peak. Knowing this fact, they’ve allotted space to make sure terrorist attacks have a front headline. It is important for a news corporation to stay relevant and comment on current events, but they also have an ulterior motive to create an audience that follows unquestionably. The most recent headline comes from an alt-right group called BreitBart which has radically racist beliefs and is blunt about voicing their opinion. The headline reads, Here’s Everything I Wanted To Say About Islam Yesterday, But Couldn’t, and was written after the Orlando shooting of June 2016. The rhetoric is written, “America has a Muslim problem…The terror attack [in Orlando] is an expression of mainstream Muslim values.” While it is important to note that the United States is founded off of the freedom of speech, news outlets have a responsibility with the weight of their words. Listened to more often than not, BreitBart needs to understand how much leverage words have on the psyche of American citizens. These hateful words have horrible consequences that empower Anti-Muslim hatred and actions that have the perception of providing safety to the American population. As described by the Columbia Journalism Review, “The prevalence of Islamophobia has been…contributing to the belief that all terrorists are Muslims and hence that all Muslims be viewed with suspicion, justifiably hated, excoriated, and even banned. At the same time, amplification by social media reinforces hostile political rhetoric…” What is unfortunate is that not only are media outlets providing false information of Muslim-Americans, but American citizens are sharing these articles at an astounding rate. Social media has been flooded by negative and detrimental rhetoric of the Muslim-American population, which is a way that the United States has resorted to create an illusion of security.

Security has constantly been the United State’s main priority, which has only become more essential after terrorist attacks. Without security, the United States would become a target of angry and violent terrorists. It is important to realize what is described in Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism, “To do violence is thus to experience a euphoric sense of transcendence, of being outside the self and thrust into the present in a way that is like a drug.” Not only is effective security required to stop dangerous people from causing harm, but the public perception that the United States is providing up to par security is also needed. Without the latter, the American population would fall into mass hysteria where security had been broken and imminent threats will harm anyone. Whether this fact is known in the media world or not, they have advocated the necessity of keeping up the image of effective security. Media outlets such as BreitBart or Fox News paint a picture of the “Good guy vs. Bad Guy” world where they show the United States versus the Muslim population. This is the aesthetic that alt-right media corporations have chosen, that the mission of the United States is to defeat the bad guys. It is an aesthetic that takes advantage of the American population’s simplistic views of enemies and allies. Dangerous and harmful rhetoric uses this same technique to coddle its audiences to believe them through scare tactics. What is important is to note that the American population has no desire to observe the true magnitude of the situation. They are completely satisfied listening to hateful comments about Muslim-Americans which are thus embodied into actions and words that carry the ideals of media corporations. Not only are all these skewed ideas of Muslim-Americans and harmful rhetoric channelled through the media, solutions to the problem of terrorism and security have been proposed by a person soon to be the most powerful person of the free world.

On November 8th, 2016 the United States elected Donald Trump to become their president, who has proposed solutions to terrorism in America. However, his solutions ride on the assumption that Muslims are the root of all terrorism. Though some of the terrorist attacks that have happened on American soil were carried out by people who followed Islam, the connection with Islam stops there. Some terrorists follow Islam, but a more massive percentage of terrorists follow Christianity. As the US News explains in The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: A New Threat Emerges,  “Of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 have come at the hands of Muslim-Americans…” So this bring up the question, why doesn’t the United States look to other reasons for terrorism than just religion? Well, it is important to note that the American population holds grudges for a long time. Additionally, the American population has been conditioned by media corporations to hate anything foreign. All of these factors combined becomes a catalyst to hate crimes. What is important is the The New York Times notes in U.S. Hate Crimes Surge 6%, Fueled by Attacks on Muslims, “There were 257 reports of assault, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, [in a comprehensive FBI report] a jump of about 67 percent over 2014.” The unfortunate aspect of a hateful President-elect and corrupt media corporations is that their words justify racist language and actions. It then leads to hate crimes targeting Muslims which gives Muslim-Americans a reason to dislike America. Donald Trump has no intention of sewing up the wounds between Muslim-Americans and the rest of the American population. When the President-elect proposes to build a wall, stop immigration of all Muslims, and plans to deport millions of people, it sends a message of hostility to the rest of the world. All these solutions cater to Americans fear of the unknown and primal anger, while not addressing the real problem, which is prejudice against anyone perceived to be Muslim.

The United States has a prejudice problem that has persisted for its whole existence. While the idea of creating a community that is unbiased is close to impossible, there are measures that can be taken to lessen the impact. All the solutions proposed by the President-elect aim at slapping a bandage over the wound, when it really needs surgery. They are all short-term solutions to a long-term problem. To find a solution, there needs to be a realization that gets back to the basics. These basics would have to derive from appealing to the American population’s emotions. However, to fully depend on a person’s emotions would cause a reaction that could turn away the audience. Not only would a solution have to include emotions, it would have to come from someone who has gone through that prejudice. This solution may seem obvious in this context, but has rarely been approached in regards to the media. One media source called Viceland in an episode called “Ramadan” of a series called “Balls Deep” took this approach by having a man join a Muslim family during Ramadan. It allowed for conversations about Muslim culture in a positive and productive context. However, the problems arise when the show was aired. The media source called Viceland was a relatively new news source when it showed that episode. While this isn’t the only problem, the channel itself caters to a younger generation. Since the channel had little time to have influence on the rest of the media in conjunction with the fact that it is meant for a younger generation , it didn’t allow for a proper marinating within the American population. To be effective in changing the minds of the nation, Viceland would have to have a longer presence in the television realm and try to capture an older audience to have a greater effect. Using the media to convey messages is an effective way, if used properly. To do so, would be to convince the whole American population, but would have to be approached in a subtle, but impactful way.

The best way would be to look at the subliminal messaging that commercials use. There has been research in the Neuroscience of Consciousness that shows in Subliminal Messages Exert Long-term Effects on Decision-making that “Several studies reported that subliminally planted information can be semantically integrated outside conscious awareness…” This is an important part of advertising, and approaching prejudice in subliminal messages would make the American population think twice about their actions, in an unconscious manner. An implementation of such a solution would include commercials that have Muslim-Americans subtly slipped into the scene, whether they are simply walking passed in the background, or used as the main subject. These subliminal messaging would help to exterminate the biases that have been ingrained since first contact with media. However effective the subliminal messaging may be, a need for additional parts to this solution are required to supplement the ingrained hatred culminated from decades of anger towards Muslim-Americans.

The media has always planted the message that Muslims are the root of all terrorism since a perceived rise in terrorism has angered the American population. When watching movies surrounded around terrorism, one doesn’t question the ethnicity of the antagonist, but small, and impactful subliminal messaging has found its way into Hollywood movies. The message revolves around the idea that a Muslim equals a terrorist. While equating these two are not fair in terms of understanding Muslim culture, it repeatedly happens, as written in The Guardian in the article From Aladdin to Lost Ark, Muslims get angry at ‘bad guy’ film images, “[A] study, titled The British media and Muslim representation: the ideology of demonisation, argues that Hollywood has a crucial role in influencing how the public views Muslims.” And this influence is not a positive one. Movies such as Homeland or American Sniper have implemented Muslims as the bad guys to the American good guys. Just like news corporations, Hollywood takes the basic track of reducing Muslims to terrorists. A normal viewer of these movies does not critically think about what ideals movies shove down their throats, but has been subliminally planted there. A better use of ethnicity of the antagonist in terrorist movies should be more representative of the real world outcome. This means that the ratio of Muslim terrorists to terrorist of another ethnicity throughout Hollywood would be the same ratio outside of movies. Allowing for this change in movie creation would not only give Muslim-Americans other roles to play in movies, but the general public will be exposed to less Islamophobic media. A recognition of this biased problem must be recognized in the media for the rest of the American population to become more inclusive.

Drastic changes of the media must happen to adjust how Muslims are perceived by other Americans after terrorist attacks. In order to happen, the United States must reassess how its media is consumed and interpreted. For a Muslim-American, like yourself, you know that America has a large amount of steps to take towards a safe and accepting place. However, you have understood that slavery was eventually abolished and the Japanese Internment was resolved which has given you hope that Islamophobia will meet the same fate. You know that the United States has bounced back from such horrible events, so you know that it wouldn’t be any different. The American population has simply been told what to believe without ever questioning why, but you know that their ideas of Islam will change. Recently, there has been an uprising of independent news sources, which have an agenda of unbiased news, while large news corporations have skewed information to their benefit. Through these efforts, the United States will become a more united country that stops the continuing prejudice towards Muslims.

Sources:

Campana, Paolo. “Beyond 9/11: Terrorism and Media in a Mid-Term Period View (1998-2005).” Global Crime, vol. 8, no. 4, 2007., pp. 381-392doi:10.1080/17440570701739744.

Cline, Seth. “The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: A New Threat Emerges.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Cottee, Simon, and Keith Hayward. “Terrorist (E)Motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, vol. 34, no. 12, 2011., pp. 963-986doi:10.1080/1057610X.2011.621116.

Gallup, Inc. “Perceptions of Muslims in the United States: A Review.” Gallup.com. 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

“Hate and Incriminate: The US Election, Social Media, and American Muslims.” Columbia Journalism Review. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

https://www.facebook.com/myiannopoulos. “Here’s Everything I Wanted To Say About Islam Yesterday, But Couldn’t – Breitbart.” Breitbart News. 16 June 2016. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

Lichtblau, Eric. “U.S. Hate Crimes Surge 6%, Fueled by Attacks on Muslims.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

Mohamedou, Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould. Understanding Al Qaeda : Changing War and Global Politics (2). London, GB: Pluto Press, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 17 October 2016.

“Neuroscience of Consciousness.” Subliminal Messages Exert Long-term Effects on Decision-making | Neuroscience of Consciousness. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

“Ramadan.” Balls Deep, Viceland, 2016.

Ward, Lucy. “Muslims Get Angry at ‘bad Guy’ Film Images.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Jan. 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

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