Muslim Australians are an ethnically diverse group of people, yet the tone of certain media reports implies that all Muslims are the same. A stereotype of hysteria, inherent violence and barbaric practices often seems to be deliberately perpetuated, either to marginalise Muslim people as the uncivilised “Other” in the dichotomy between Eastern and Western culture, or for purely commercial reasons—sensational stories guarantee higher newspaper sales The media plays a central role in how our society understands events and issues, and has the power to marginalise whole groups of Australians. With this power comes responsibility – the responsibility of informed, fair and critical reporting. Constant negative representation implies that all Muslims are fundamentalists and support terrorist actions. This in turn creates social and economic disadvantage and discrimination. The media’s focus on Islam and Muslims has increased significantly since September 2001. Although labeling of Islam and Muslim’s as the ‘Other’ was common in media before, since the September 2001 tragedy it has become persistent. It is easy to exploit people’s fear of terrorism by using unconnected images and headlines to confuse readers and suggest that all Muslim people approve of terrorist activities. By not placing pictures and articles in their correct context, the media encourages readers to draw their own (mistaken) conclusions. The anxiety and paranoia that this focus manipulates helps to maintain support for government policies of mandatory detention, surveillance, and its military actions such as the war in Iraq.
The motive for the association of Muslims and violence is explained in Edward Said’s discourse, Orientalism. Said argued that through a discursive conception of the Orient, the West was able to construct an image of its own identity – that is, that the West is the negative of “Oriental”, comprising of what the West as central to modern, enlightened thought and the Orient as the mysterious and often dangerous Other.
Some scholars also hold the perception of media bias against Muslims. Howard V Brasted conducted research on Muslim representation through images from 1950 to 2000. Analysis showed that Islam has received a less than fair and at times farcical press through the portrayal of images of Mosques, bearded mullahs, Muslim crowds and veiled women, which have collectively come to symbolise irrationality, fanaticism, intolerance and discrimination on an almost medieval scale. This trend worsened after September 11, 2001 with Muslims and Islam now being equated with terrorism.
Peter Manning’s research on Arabic and Muslim representation in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph found that almost 60 percent of the time reports in the two newspapers associate Muslim people with violence and terror and only 22 percent of the time see other cultural matters as being of interest. Manning goes on to state that analysis seems to indicate that the portrayals exhibited in the two Sydney newspapers are so broad-brush as to represent a new kind of racism. If such sweeping generalisations were made of Jews, black Americans, black Australians or Asians, they would be condemned out of hand as absurd.
Even smaller, independently owned newspapers use placement of images and headlines to promote an association between Muslims and violence. On its front page, Perth’s Voice News printed an article about an Australian who complained about letterbox bombings by local children. It’s heading read ‘Letterbox bombing spree hits Mt Lawley’ featuring a small image of the complainant. Also on the page a large image of two Muslim men with an article about a Mosque opening day, the small caption reading ‘Open Day: Muslims Sufyaan Khalifa and David Verney are keen to share their religion with the community. The mosque in William Street is having an open day this weekend so if you’ve...