Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Media Reaction to Islam in Light of 9/11

Our case study focuses on portrayal of Islam by the mainstream media before, during, and after the events of September 11, 2001. Today there is still heated discussion over what bias Western media in particular has in its depiction of Islam as a whole. An excellent site with insight from an Islamic point of view is http://www.MeccaCentric.com which contains many videos of lectures on the subject. Another wonderful resource is http://www.cair.com/ the official website for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Before the attacks on the World Trade Centers, Islam typically received little media attention in the United States, and was usually treated stereotypically as a result of historical conflicts and controversial practices. Very few people took notice as Islam was not seen as having much relevance to the United States.

Since 9/11, Islam has received much more news coverage in America, which has led to an increased understanding of the religion, but the big questions are how fair is the coverage and whether or not there is too much emphasis given to the radical elements of Islam. In 2006 the documentary "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" was released and shown at some 30 college campuses in the United States amid some protest. In addition, a six-part series based on the film was run by a major news network, Fox News, in November 2006. Although they made it clear that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, the worry of prejudice and reprisal was definitely present in the wake of their showing. You can watch an abridged preview version of "Obsession" here: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=obsession&sitesearch= (it's the fourth one down).

Although the prevalent view is that there is an anti-Islamic slant to the Western media, many dispute this, and the matter is far from settled, among Muslims as well as among others. For an opposing view from a former Muslim, visit http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/188384.php
For a supporting view from a group not affiliated with Islam, see http://mediamatters.org/issues_topics/attacks_on_muslims_islam

At the very least, we in the West have been exposed to inconsistent takes on the Islamic religion, and breaking through the fog is important. Not only does this issue affect how we view Islam and the media today, but it also has potentially far reaching consequences in light of current U.S. foreign affairs. An understanding of the relationship between Islam and the media is crucial for an accurate view of the world today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What I learned in LBAR 181...

Our LBAR section is slowly winding down. Over the last 11 weeks we have explored a wide range of examples of Judaism & Islam's intersection with the media: from Muslim Nasheed artists use of music to present distinctive images of Islam in popular culture to exploring how UltraOrthodox Jews have debated about the internet and television and the influence these media might be having on their communities. I hope these case studies have been both thought provoking as well as spring boards for you to learn more about how religious communities engage with and view the media.

So I want to hear from you now...what is the main idea that you will take away from this LBAR course? What have you learned about Islam & Judaism and its engagement with and beliefs about media?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Passion of the Christ: A Case Study of Anti-Semitism Propogated by the Media

This week we will be discussing Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and Jewish fears of possible anti-Semitism. For some background information on the film, you con go to its official website http://thepassionofthechrist.com/splash.htm. When you watch the trailers, pay particular attention to how the Jews are portrayed.

The Anti-Defamation League promotes awareness of issues that affect Jews and works to decrease anti-Semitism. It has published many articles regarding The Passion of the Christ indicating just how important this issue is to them. The article “Gibson's 'Passion of Christ' A Potential Setback for Christian-Jewish Relations” discusses the Jewish reaction to the movie, and it can be found at http://www.adl.org/PresRele/ASUS_12/4455_12.htm. Examples of why The Passion of the Christ created such fear among Jews can be found in the article “Extremists Latch on to "The Passion of the Christ" through this link: http://www.adl.org/Interfaith/gibson_extremists.asp.

If you would like more information on passion plays in the past, “Passion Plays in History and Theology” discusses why passion plays in the past have caused problems. This article can be found at http://www.adl.org/Interfaith/passion_theology.asp.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Representations of Islam in Comedy

Group 1 will be presenting our project on how Islam is represented within a medium that is often not thought of to correlate with religion, but relates more often that you'd think: comedy, particularly stand-up, political cartoons and even sitcoms.

Non-Muslims, especially Westerners, tend to have a misunderstanding of people who are Muslim, as is expressed in this New York Times article written by Nicholas D. Kristof. Essentially, as we are all aware, because of the events of 9/11, Americans tend to have negative stereotypes about all Muslims just because of a few extremists. Even though many of us know it's irrational and wrong, we still tend to think poorly of Muslims however unfounded our prejudices. It's essential to learn more about the culture and the people that take the brunt of our unfounded discrimination, and to be conscious of the views we have about people just because of their heritage or religion.

Recall the incident of the offensive Denmark cartoons published in the newspapers that made jabs at Muhammad and Muslims. The most infamous depiction of Muhammad was one in which he had a bomb in his turban. Not only is it offensive to pictorally depict the prophet Muhammad at all, but couple that with a negative stereotype and it's no wonder that many Muslims were angry. The incident fueled protests from members of the Islamic community, and in some cases even violent actions. However, there is a community of people, including one specific blogger who say that the negative reactions to these cartoons were too rash and violent to be considered Islamic. People like this urged those opposing the cartoons to be calm, and embody the non-violence that Islam upholds so as to show that Muslims are not all violent religious extremists.

We didn't really expect to see many stand-up comics pursue the subject of Islam in their acts, but there were a few, and of course the reactions to these comics range vastly. One of these comics, a man named Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist who has a puppet named Achmed, who happens to be a suicide bomber who has died. The puppet looks like a Halloween decoration, and the act is rather humorous in its secular portions, but the fact remains that this character who is a terrorist just happens to have the characteristics that apply to a Muslim. And while some viewers appreciate this supposed attempt at making light of a tense subject, others claim that this comic is blatantly racist and ethnocentric. You can watch the video on YouTube and decide for yourself. Another comic is a Muslim woman named Shazia Mirza who, despite the disapproval of her parents and other members of the Islamic culture, is a stand-up comedian even though her religion presumably states that as a woman she should not be on a stage. However, Shazia says that there is textual support from the Qu'ran that advocates her choice of career. Reactions to her act also vary, with many people claiming to be uncomfortable with her style, not sure whether to laugh because of the sensitivity of the subject of Islam in America. She also says that comedy bridges the gap between oppression and empowerment, and that she hopes that her actions will have leverage against all the negativities we may hear about Muslims and Islam itself.

Additionally, there is a Canadian sitcom called Little Mosque on the Prairie that also uses the technique of comedy to communicate the true values and ways of life of Muslims that many people may overlook or misunderstand. People who have viewed the show have said that it is very accurate and funny as well. In the same way as stand-up comedians hope to do, this show hopes to utilize comedy as a light-hearted form of communication that can get through to everyone, so that everyone can begin to understand things about this religion and lifestyle that they never have before.

Although it's perhaps an unorthodox way to view and study Islam in the media, comedy is a unique but loveable medium through which many ideas can be communicated, even serious ones, without seeming too overt or harshly calling for social change. With comedy, people will see it or hear it, laugh and internalize the issue in a way that is comfortable and maybe surface-level at first. But it still helps to teach people about concepts they were not aware of before or were reluctant to learn about. Although there has not been many studies done on this particular form of expression in regards to Islam that we could find, it is still emerging, for this concept of talking about a tense religious subject through televised and published comedy is still tricky and prone to failure. Hopefully in the future we will find that it is an effective way to teach and to make light of a subject that is normally taken so seriously to the point of offense.

If you want to learn more about Islam in general, there is a Mosque Open House Saturday November 10th, from 10 am to 4 pm at the Islamic Community of Bryan at 417 Stasney St. It's in College Station, by University right off of Cherry St. If you Mapquest it, you'll find it; it should be really fun!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When Religion meets Music: Muslim Pop & Hassidic Reggae

This coming week we will be looking at Religion and Music, specifically how contemporary Jewish and Muslim artists are using music to communicate ideas about religious community and identity. This week's reading, "A New Research Agenda: Exploring Transglobal Hip Hop Umma" by H. Samy Alim, focuses on how popular music is being used to bring cohesion cohesion across cultures to Muslims around the world. We will be looking at artist such as Sami Yusuf and the Danish Band Outlandish and how they try to communicate issue of faith cross culturally through their music. We will also be looking at the music of Matisyahu and how he communicates Orthodox Judaism through Reggae. Check out the following videos:

Sami Yusuf, is a rising star of contemporary Arabic Nasheed (traditional) music. His song Hasbi Rabbi is sung in English, Hindi, Turkish & Arabic and the video takes him to different parts of the world to engage with the Muslim Ummah (community) in those places.

Outlandish, a Muslim Danish Trio mixes hip hop, folk, soul and pop to create music focusing on themes of racism, social justice and religion. as seen in their video " I Only Ask of God"

Matisyahu infusion of Reggae & Hip Hop seeks to communicate his Jewish faith to a global audience as well, check out his hit song "Jerusalem".

For more information on Contemporary Muslim & Jewish music check out Muslim Hip-Hop and Jews Rock.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Judaism and the Internet

This next week we will be looking at Judaism and the internet by specifically looking at a study by Barzilai-Nahon & Barzilai. Cultured Technology: Internet and Religious Fundamentalism explores UltraOrthodox use and response to the internet. Within Judaism their has been much discussion about the use and effect of the internet, such as Is the internet kosher? and How does it effect religious culture? What does this article have to say about how the UO have responded to this new technology? What is the basis or support for their response?

Some Jewish groups have responded to the concerns about the secular nature of the internet by forbidding its use, while other have cultured the technology to create safe online spaces such as Jgog search engine which uses a filtering mechanism so some "unorthodox" words or searches to be blocked or re-defined or Kosher net which "provides the ideal, rabbinically endorsed, internet experience for ... anyone who wants or needs control over exposure to undesirable content during the internet experience". What does this teach us about religious culturing of new media?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Islam and the Internet

In week seven we will be discussing Islamic use and perception of the Internet. Back in 2002 NPR did an interesting series where it explored the interspection between Islam, Faith and Technology and this provides a good introduction to how Islam has been presented online as well as how Muslim have enaged with internet technolgy.

As we have previously discussed, the internet has the potential to transform perceptions of religious authority online. This is especially true in relation to precept ions of who are the official interpreters of Islam in an age when the internet form the backbone of much popular religious discourse. This is an issue we will discuss in light of Anderson's article “The Internet and Islam’s New Interpreters”. We will also look at examples of how Islam has imported various religious rituals and practices online through Bunt's chapter "Rip, Burn & Pray: Islamic Expression Online". For more examples of the presence of Islam online check out Bunt's blog Virtually Islamic. While you read these article try to reflect on how the response to the Internet is similar and/or different to their response to other forms of media discussed in the class. What unique challenges and possibilities does the internet pose? How might the internet influence global perceptions of Islam?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Religion and New Media

In week six we will be looking at how religious groups approach new media. Think back to the example we talked about the first week, the Amish response to the telephone. This case study demonstrated that rather than reject new media all together, many religious groups instead resist those aspect of the technology that run counter to their religious values. This often leads them to reconstruct their use or language related to that form of media. So in the assigned reading think critically and reflect how Jews and Muslims resist, reconstruct and talk about new media.

We will be exploring a study I conducted related to religious responses to the Internet, and what they have to tell us about how new media impacts religious communities view of traditional religious authority. In Who's got the power Religious authority and the Internet, I draw on interviews conducted with Jewish students from the University of Haifa and Muslim students at Al Qasami Academy in Israel on their views about the internet. Based on the data shared in the article what issues of religion and belief influence their views about new media technology? How do these differ between the Jewish and Muslim student?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Islam and Images

In class this week we will be discussing two articles related to Islam's perception of images within the media. Being the season of Ramadan we will first look at Armburst's article “The Riddle of Ramadan: Media, Consumer Culture and the ‘Christmasization’ of a Muslim Holiday”. Here we see concerns about the commercialization of Islam and debates about advertising images during Ramadan. What does this article tell us about Muslim views of images and the media? Other helpful articles on this topic include "Ramadan Advertising in Egypt" which appeared in the Journal of Media & Religion.

Also for more information on Ramadan check out the following link or here for a virtual Haji experience. Also for another example of a Ramdan Advertising see this youtube video.

We will also be discussing the controversy surrounding decision of a newspaper to publish a Cartoon of Prophet Mohammad Cartoons, published in Denmark in 2005. This even received much media attention both overseas and in the USA. Jensen played a significant role during the crisis in interpreting the controversy for the press and acting as a liaison with the Danish Muslim community. He unpacks some of the core issues surrounding the situation and international response in "The Cartoon Crisis Revisited: A Danish Perspective”. What does this article argue was at the heart of the controversy? What does this article say about the Muslim community's view of the media related to this event?

For more information on the Cartoon crisis check out this report by the USC Center on Public Democracy.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Islam 101

In week 4 we will be introduced to the Islamic Faith with the help of Asmahan Sallah, so come ready with your questions. Also be ready discuss the assigned reading by Dale Eickleman & Jon Anderson “Redefining Muslim Publics”.

In order to help prepare I also encourage you to check out the following web sites related to Islam: Islam Online , Researcher Gary Bunt's Virtually Islamic blog and website and IslamiCity.com.
And for information on Islam in Aggieland check out the Muslim Student Association and the Islamic Community of Bryan-College Station.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

(Ultra)Orthodox Judaism & Media

In the next class we will be looking at one particular segment of the Jewish community and their response to one specific technology. UltraOrthodox Jews represent about 13% of Israel's total population of about 4.5 million and have significant communities in many other parts of the world including London & NYC. With the rise of many new media technologies it is a community that is constantly in conflict with the "tools of modernity" and having to make tough choices about what media forms they will and won't accept. You have been asked to read an article on the UltraOrthodox and TV. For a wider perspective on the tension between the UltraOrthodox , modernity and the media look at this article from the Guardian Online: The ultra-Orthodox Jews on a mission to save Jerusalem from secularism or this article from the Jewish News Week: Secular media continue to scapegoat the Orthodox.

What do these article argue about Ultra-Orthodox engagement with the media?

Before you say the UltraOrthodox only condemn/reject the media...take a look at this exception "Israel's Tele-Rabbi" where one Sephardi rabbi is using TV & the web as a tool for evangelising wayward Jews. What does this tell us?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Judaism in Aggieland

Professor Aune just gave me a head's up on a new Jewish organization on campus the Chabad Jewish Center. (Note their catchy ad for Rosh Hashana , "saw 'em off & make a shofar.) There is also the long established Texas A&M Hillel Center for Jewish students.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Judaism 101

In week 2 we will be discussing the basics of Jewish faith and culture, an how this influences how religious Jews may view and use mass media. A couple of helpful websites providing an introduction to Judaism include Judaism 101 and the Orthodox Union's basis guide to Judaism.

Our guest speaker will be Professor Jim Aune who specializes in rhetoric and politics and has written our weekly reading: Jim Aune, 2004. Justice and argument in Judaism: A d’var torah on shofetim, in Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 7(4), pp. 449-460. Consider: What does this article tell us about Jewish approaches to different forms of media (especially texts)?
BTW--Professor Aune also recommends Jewcy a web site focused on contemporay Jewish culture.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Welcome to LBAR 181!

Welcome to the LBAR 181 class blog. This blog provides an opportunity to explore issues raised in LBAR 181: Judaism, Islam & the Media being taught by Dr. Heidi Campbell at Texas A&M University this fall semester. Students will have an opportunity to respond to course themes here and additional information related weekly case studies will also be provided here.

This LBAR section is focused on investigating how Jewish and Muslim groups and communities interact and negotiate with the mass media. Beginning such an investigation requires self-reflection, considering how personal views of the media, popular culture and especially influence our own perceptions.

"For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are." - C. S. Lewis in The Magician's Nephew

According to this quote it is important to be aware of who you are and what you believe... as it affect how you interact with the rest of the world. This is especially important when dealing with issues related to religion and mass media. In order to help you begin on this process of self-reflection, to become aware of how your own beliefs effect how you see other, start by taking the Belief-o-matic quiz. How do your responses match those who may subscribe to Islam or the Jewish faith?