11 September 2001 was a turning point in world history. But it was mainly the day that Islam became a victim of the media. I was a teenager when I got home from school one day and saw the footage of the aeroplane flying directing into the World Trade Centre in New York City. Immediately the demonisation of Islam started.
I remember watching CNN. However, I don’t remember what exactly was being said, but I do recall sitting on the couch watching intently, horrified not only at the situation unfolding, but also that the media was mentioning terrorism and Islam in the same breath. I remember thinking that every bad thing they were saying about Islam was not what I was taught being raised in a Muslim household. It was not what I was being taught in madrassah (Islamic classes). It was not in the Quran. It just was not true – none of it.
One of the first things you are taught at journalism school is that you have the power to shape public opinion. And slowly but surely over the years since 9/11 people have allowed Western media to infiltrate their minds and their logic.
When we read the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch the news on television, we sub-consciously formulate our perceptions. For example, yesterday a story on the attacks in Iraq on Al Jazeera’s website started with “Suspected Al-Qaeda fighters”, yet the accompanying video clip clearly stated that nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks and it wasn’t known who was behind it. But as soon as the public reads those three words the (inaccurate?) picture has already been painted.
Since 9/11 the term Islamaphobia was popularised, a term I strongly believe has no meaning whatsoever. People aren’t SCARED of Muslims, they’re just ignorant. “Islamaphobes” are always spewing hate speech as if they’re the experts on religion when, in fact, they haven’t even touched a Bible or Quran. They’re like all other racists out there.
Since 9/11 Islam was blamed for extremism displayed by non-Muslims such as Norwegian Anders Breivik. It seemed ok to the world out there that Breivik’s excuse for killing 77 people in Oslo last year was that he wanted to “free Europe from the clutches of Islam”. He was sentenced to 21 years in jail for his act of terrorism, which had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. Many suspected – most likely innocent – Muslim terrorist suspects are being held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp without trial and without even being charged, brutally tortured year in and year out. Dr Aafia Siddiqui was also targeted by US authorities.
Since 9/11 terms such as “Islamist” and “Islamification” were also popularised and overused, words so loosely used and always with a negative connotation to it and in a negative context. When a white American starts shooting innocent people at a college or cinema, it just happens to be a sad case of affairs. But if it’s a Muslim American the media goes out of its way to emphasise the shooter’s ethnicity and religion, and with the word “Islamist” attached to the headline, what is the automatic sub-conscious perception being created in the mind of the person who believes everything and questions nothing?
Since 9/11 everyone became an “expert” on Islam, especially those who never opened a Quran, interacted with Muslims or made an effort to learn from a Muslim scholar what Islam teaches. All opinions derived from biased Western media and internet discussion forums.
Since 9/11 Islam has grown tremendously in the US and globally. The inquisitive minds are determined to have their questions answered. And once answered, they see the beauty of the religion. So thank you, American media, for strengthening the ummah (Muslim populace).
This article was originally published here.