Demonization of Islam and Orientalism in Western media

by Jasmina Eminic

In the late seventies, Edward Said published his prominent work Orientalism, in which he, among other things, exposed and criticized western inaccurate attitudes and portrayals of Orient cultures. More than thirty years later, his work fits in current media and society frenzy perfectly, as we are witnessing intensive process of demonizing Islam and its followers throughout western hemisphere.

Biased attitude toward unfamiliar has always been a part of our societies, but hatred and misunderstanding of Islam has worsened substantially following 9/11 attacks. Worldwide war on terror, led by US, has brought many moral issues to the forefront. In a very dark decade for human rights and fundamental freedoms it seems that clash of civilizations has indeed come to our doorsteps.

Recent events and their portrayal serve as a perfect example. Two hideous attacks have happened this year. In first, twelve French people, who worked for provocative satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, were killed in cold blood. In second attack three people were gunned down in their home in USA. Portrayed like this, they do not seem to substantially differ; yet, western media perceived them as two very different stories, first being depicted as an act of terror, receiving wide coverage, while the second one was committed by ‘lone wolf’ and, in opinion of mainstream media, did not deserve special exposure.

Language is a powerful tool for manipulation of masses and media is crucial in the formation of public opinion. It is thus not trivial how above mentioned events have been depicted, quite contrary; it illustrates the state of which western societies are currently in regarding intercultural understanding and acceptance. While the attack on Charlie Hebdo received worldwide attention, substantial reporting and even special hashtag, the deaths of three Muslims were not deemed as important, even though the evidence showed it was almost certainly a hate crime.

This does not illustrate just the ignorance and bias of media, but has a deeper meaning. It is a mirror of a society we currently live in; a society in which Muslim lives are apparently not as important as lives of other Europeans, Americans etc.; which sees Muslims as uncivilized and inherently violent; where there is a difference between crimes committed by Muslims on one hand and non-Muslims on the other. This is a result of how societies in West are being socialized believing that Islam is inferior, savage and irrational system of beliefs, with extremist followers more then ready to kill in the name of their God. Obviously, those kind of people do not fit in our modern, civilized societies based on democracy and rule of law. These stereotypical depictions of Islam and Muslims are disseminated and reinforced by media channels, which manipulate and strengthen the views and beliefs of society.

Postcolonialism explains demonization of Islam with concepts of orientalism, imperialism and (neo)colonialism. West needed justification for subordination of East, thus depictions of Orient as inferior, undeveloped and uncivilized. These inaccurate and Eurocentric cultural representations have persisted and developed into stereotypes we are very familiar with today and represent an important foundation of current conflicts in western societies as well as around the world. In the terms of postcolonialism we can argue that Islam being demonized is in interest of imperialism and colonial practices of West, which are still very much present in contemporary world despite being more subtle than in the colonial era. East is still subject of colonial forces and imperialistic interests, orientalism being one of the foundations of these practices. Demonization of Islam serves the imperialistic ambitions of political elites in West, which act on behalf of capitalist greed and multinational businesses.

Not a single event can be depicted in simply black and white color; there are many shades of grey in between, which have to be analyzed in order to actually understand what is happening around us. Charlie Hebdo attack and Chapel Hill shooting are just two of the most recent cases that show how the media is actively involved in the practices of orientalism, which subsequently reinforce imperialistic practices of western governments. Colonialism of East continues, albeit subtly and with different means, media manipulation being one of the most powerful among them.

Demonization of Islam and Orientalism in Western media

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