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!