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Islamophobia in the Media

Islamophobia in the Media

The media and television today are some of the main causes of islamophobia amongst the general public. The biased coverage and negative portrayal of Muslims and Muslim countries and other topics related to Islam play a large part in shaping the general beliefs regarding Islam and Muslims in broader civil society. The negative beliefs held by the general population then in turn fuel more biased viewpoints towards Islam and Islam related events; this aids in more unfavorable media coverage. Below we take a look at some aspects of this insular sequence of islamophobia in the media and the general public.

What warrants newsworthy material?

The news agencies and the media have a tendency to focus their coverage strictly on the ethnicities of the perpetrators of crimes when they are related to Islamic backgrounds, neglecting other aspects of stories such as other possible motivators to the crime. Some examples of this are the New York attempted Times Square bombing, the attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the Pulse Night Club massacre in Miami. What is interesting is that in both former examples, Muslims also played a part in notifying authorities (or in the case of Paris were killed responding to the crime scene) but this was largely left out of the story. The end effect was the implication that the crimes were committed by Muslims because of Islam, conveniently leaving out the fact that in many instances the crimes were against Muslim victims and were prevented by Muslims and Islam. The majority of victims of terrorism today are Muslims.

It seems Muslims being victimized is not newsworthy but Muslims allegedly committing crimes is, at least from the media’s point of view. In the case of the Miami shooting, the perpetrator’s ethnicity and affiliation to Islam were focused on and held responsible, but the story largely died once it was discovered the killer had psychological issues and was HIV positive, and suffered from a sexual identity crisis. The media today does not follow facts but follows where the story goes, and today the stories go to places of islamophobia. Today only crimes by Muslims is newsworthy, not the Muslim victims of these crimes or the Muslims who stop these crimes.

Negative Depiction


Many news agencies today cover terrorism and crimes allegedly committed by Muslims in an excessive and statistically uneven manner. This on the one hand inflates the actual overall threatening feeling of a looming and incoming terrorist attack to unrealistic proportions. On the other hand it creates an alarmist reaction from people that can become islamophobic. News agencies like Fox, The Sun, and famous columnists from The Independent and The Guardian have been known to spew islamophobic spins on stories. The Cardiff School Journalism examined 974 stories regarding Muslims in the UK and found that two-thirds of hooks for Muslim stories used either terrorism (36% of stories), cultural differences between Muslims and others (22%) or Muslims extremism. Only 5% of stories focused on issues facing Muslims in Britain. Elsewhere there have been many false stories of crimes committed by Muslims for which retractions have been made (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/nov/15/laurasmithforthursday). Fox News is one such agency (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/world/europe/fox-news-apologizes-for-false-claims-of-muslim-only-areas-in-england-and-france.html).

Problematic Lexicon

Terms such as radical Islam, Islamic Muslims, and moderate Muslims, are thrown around casually in the media. The terms hold Islam as being inherently problematic. Muslim writer Yasmin Mogahed writes:

“Are all Muslims ‘Islamic’? Well, the truth is-no. Not the good ones, at least… More and more the underlying assumption seems to be that Islam is the problem. If Islam, as a faith, is in essence radical, the less “Islamic” something is the better. And thus a ‘moderate Muslim’-the much coveted title-is only moderately Muslim and therefore only moderately bad. Saying this would be like telling someone to only be ‘moderately black’ so as not to be too violent… Mona Mayfield understood these rules well when she defended her husband – wrongfully accused of participating in the Spain bombing.  ‘We have a Bible in the house. He’s not a fundamentalist — he thought it was something different and very unique,’ Mayfield told the associated press of her husband’s conversion to Islam.  To prove his innocence, Mayfield tried to downplay her husband’s commitment to Islam. She even felt the need to justify his conversion-as if that were his crime.  Mosque administrator Shahriar Ahmed took a similar approach to defend Mayfield. ‘He was seen as a moderate,’ Ahmed told reporters. ‘Mayfield showed up for the Friday ritual of shedding his shoes, washing his bare feet and sitting on the carpets to hear services. He did not, as some devout Muslims do, pray five times a day at the mosque.’  The implication here is that Brandon Mayfield’s guilt or innocence was in some way related to how many times he prayed at the mosque. Ahmed even went on to assert, ‘He was on the less religious side if anything.’”


These terms are used only when describing Muslims, and not other non-Muslim criminals or extremist Christian organizations.  These two sets of rules for terminology (one for Muslims and one for all others) helps develop more prejudice.


Some media personalities brandish a strong islamophobic brand. These include Pamela Geller, Frank Gaffney, Rupert Murdoch, David Horowitz, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Sean Hannity.

Focus Keyword: Islamophobia in the Media

Umer Mahmood
Umer Mahmood obtained his B.A. in Mass Communication from The Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University in Indiana. He currently is the head of marketing at IRDP and oversees project management on the IRDP medical initiative, islamophobia video series, website blog contributions, marketing, and journal publishing.