The 9/11 Incident: the West Views on Islam and Muslims

Introduction

Throughout history, nations all over the world have been engaged in conflicts that at times lead to warfare. This has been attributed to cultural differences exhibited by various societies. Different cultures vary in political, religious, social and economic ideologies. Attempts made by nations to harmonize these differences have led to conflicts between nations along cultural and religious lines. As global communication and transport systems become cheaper and easily accessible, the world is rapidly transforming into a global village characterized by major integrations of religious, economic, political and social trends between different civilizations. This trend has been fueled by a philosophy held by many nations, which infers that a harmonized world devoid of cultural differences is not only desirable, but also attainable. As such, globalization has over the years proven to be of great benefits to many nations and is viewed as a munificent phenomenon. However, opponents of globalization view it as a challenge to society due to its effect on culture.

With this in mind, it may be argued that globalization has been the main driving force to international conflicts experienced all over the world over the past centuries to date. This paper shall evaluate the validity of this claim by reviewing terrorism as one of the significant effect resulting from globalization. To achieve this aim, the discussion presented herein shall focus on how the west viewed Islam and Muslims before and after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Ways in which globalization has affected the relationship between Islam and the west shall be highlighted by reviewing literature that seek to analyze the events leading to the 9/11 incident and how the incident affected the west’s perception towards Islam and Muslims.

How the west viewed Islam and Muslims before September 11th terrorist attacks

To a large extent, Islam as a religion has been subject to criticism throughout history. Historical accounts show that Islam has been viewed as a religious heresy by Christians in the west and in Europe. While there may be a people who view Islamism under the same light as other religions, little has been done to form convincing arguments in their favor. Bennett et al (2007) and Nacos (2007), state that the media has played a pivotal role in determining how people view Islam and Muslims. Conflict between Christianity and Islam can be traced as far back as the period between the 8th and 10th century when Baghdad and Syria engaged in constant rivalry pertaining to philosophical, logical and theological differences. During this period, Islam posed a serious threat to Christianity due to its rapid expansion in areas that were previously marked as Christian territory.

According to Pintak (2006), after the conquest of Mecca, the number of people who converted into Islam grew rapidly within the century and this rapid expansion was viewed as a threat to Christendom. Pintak (2006) asserts that despite efforts by Christian theologians to expose Islam as a religion of the sword and Mohammed as a violent person during the Middle Ages, Islam continued to gained prominence and the number of followers increased at an alarming pace. This would lead to the launch of numerous crusades against Muslims in centuries to come. As such, it could be argued that the establishment of Islam as a religion with its own theological foundation combined with the rapid rate at which it grew within a short period of time was among the core factors leading to the development of anti-Islamic views during the Middle Ages. Considering that Islam was a new religion, access to reliable sources of knowledge was limited leading to widespread fears that it would contaminate Christianity.

Long before the September 11th attack in New York, Muslims had aired their views regarding their image as portrayed by western media. Since the 1980’s western media has been associating Arabs with terrorism, WMD, primitive torture, dictatorial tendencies and perverseness among other negative attitudes. Shaheen (1980) observes that since the 70’s, there have been numerous programs that portray Arabs in a negative way. As examples, the author directs the reader’s attention to movies such as Charlie’s Angels and Fantasy Island among others. In addition, the author also includes news shows such as 60 minutes, 20/20, which in most cases associate Arabs and Muslims with terrorist activities.

However, Abdulla (2007) states that there is a need to understand and differentiate Muslims and Arabs. The author begins by stating that the misconceptions held by most westerners regarding Islam and Muslims are as a result of misunderstanding and stereotyping propagated by western media, which use these terms interchangeably. As such, the author defines Arabs as people of an ethnic group residing in Northern Africa and the Arabic Penisula and Muslims as people whose preferred religion is Islam (Abdulla, 2007). In addition, a large percentage of Arabs are Muslims and that majority of Muslims are not Arabs since they come from India, Indonesia and most parts of the Middle East. In a poll analyzing the perception and attitudes of Americans towards Islam and Muslims, the results indicated that most Americans had little knowledge regarding the cultural, historical, religious and socio-economical underpinnings of Muslims and Islam (Shaheen, 1984). The results further revealed that most Americans view Arabs as terrorists, Anti-Christian and extremists. Shaheen (1984) concluded that these views have fostered Islamophobia in western countries.

While the media has been a major contributor to the development of the negative image the west has regarding Muslims and Islam, Christensen (2006) states that it may be used to correct this situation. The author asserts that Muslims are among the fastest growing ethnic groups in America and that Islam is rapidly gaining prominence in the United States of America as well as other western nations in Europe. As such, Muslims living in these regions face harsh living conditions characterized by prejudice, discrimination, stigmatization and ethnic stereotyping. However, the media fails to acknowledge that this ethnic faction produces lawyers, teachers, doctors and other professionals who contribute positively to national building. As such, the media can be used to inform the masses on this positive image of Muslims duly ignored.

To elaborate the negative effects of the media, Lynch (2006) states that most movies produced before 1980 presented soviets and their allies as villains. By the end of the cold war, a new villain was needed in the industry. At that time, Iran was at war with Israel, which faced numerous challenges in its bid to regain its rightful place. The conflict between these two nations attracted international attention due to the numerous human right violations recorded during that period. Since then, Hollywood movies continually used “Islamic terrorists” as their villains. This goes to show how western media outlets have played a pivotal role in the promotion of prejudiced views regarding Islam and Muslims. While little progress has been made in the mitigation of this ruinous trend of the western media, terrorism acts carried out by Islam affiliates, which leave many innocent (especially westerners) people hurt or dead have equipped the media with the necessary proof needed to justify the fact that western societies should blame people who share this religion and culture for everything that is wrong with the world.

How the west view Islam and Muslims after September 11th terrorist attacks

The September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks coverage was arguably the best presentations of media spectacles in history (Lynch, 2006). The events took over live global media showing the vulnerable state the world is in at the hands of extremists. After the 9/11 incidences, Islam and Muslims became the center of attention and discussion across all media outlets and not for good reason. Considering that Osama Bin Laden cited religious reasons for the attacks, most western countries started debating the nature of Islam as a religion and whether it advocated for violence against non-Muslims (CBS news, 2002). Statistics indicate that most media outlets referred to the terrorists as Muslims. This fueled the prejudice and stereotype directed towards Islam, as well as the retaliations (verbal and physical) against Muslims that followed after the event.

Christensen (2006) asserts that Islamophobia has increased due to media coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to the author, the media’s main responsibility is to relay information to the public in a serious and truthful manner (Christensen, 2006). As such, information relayed through the media after the terrorist attacks worsened the image western countries have on Islam and Muslims. However, Said (1997) argues that the image of Islam as propagated by the media is riddled with political and other hidden interests. As such, it is not only influenced by patent inaccuracies, but also expressions of ethnocentrism, racism and religious disparities. Bearing this in mind, the image is highly exaggerated leading to the generalization of Islam and Muslims by western societies. Pintak (2006) stated that the notion of generalizing Muslims had become an acceptable norm, which had actively been used to denigrate foreign cultures by western societies. This is especially true considering that currently; Muslims are feared more than their Oriental, African or Asian counterparts.

Despite the fact that all Arab countries showed their dismay in regard to the incidence, the difference between Muslims and terrorists was not well communicated over the media. The point that came across was that Muslims were responsible for the attacks and anyone practicing Islam should be viewed as a terrorist (Zayani, 2005). This made life unbearable for Muslims living within the western countries. In as much as they did not participate in the act, they were subjected to harsh living conditions as a result of new anti-terrorism laws that limited their rights to freedom, as well as aggressive and retaliatory actions directed towards them by the masses.

Nacos and Torres-Reyna (2007) observe that while the acts of 9/11 were in no way acceptable, none of the media outlets focused on the inadequacies of the American policies and arrogance as a possible reason for the attacks. Instead, a few of the media outlets advocated for international solidarity and sympathized with Americans. However, reports and articles written after the September 11th attacks focused on retaliation and according to numerous sources, journalists were cited as key proponents to the destruction of Islam nations. For example, FAIR (2001) observed that most media houses focused on retaliation. For example, Steve Dunleavy wrote that “The response to this unimaginable 21st-century Pearl Harbor should be as simple as it is swift—kill the bastards. A gunshot between the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts (FAIR, 2001, n.p).” this is among numerous comments and reports availed to the masses. Such remarks worsened how the west views Islam and Muslims.

Bush’s declaration on the ‘war on terror’ was the final nail to how Americans viewed Islam and Muslims. Anyone who inquired what the war on terror entailed was branded as unpatriotic. In some cases, prominent political and media figures suffered serious career consequences because they did not support the move to infiltrate Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, fear and passivity led to the media complying with the new policies (Bennett et al, 2007). This led to shameful incidences whereby the media in numerous occasions failed to pursue or report stories pertaining to the unfair treatment of Muslims in western countries. The media became a willing accomplice in the propagation and promotion of negative imagery regarding Islam and Muslims after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil.

Discussion

According to Pludowski (2007) different cultures should be tolerant of each others differences. However, the September 11th 2001 attacks were proof that the negative image western countries have towards Islam and Muslims is justifiable. Islam as a religion has practices doctrines and beliefs that seem to promote violence against non-Muslims. While there may be a large number of Muslims who advocate for peace, recent events show that if pushed, they will result to violence. The media played a key role in revealing the weaknesses of Islam and Muslims. While it may be argued that there was misinterpretation, exaggeration and propaganda regarding the attacks, the fact still remains that the perpetrators were Muslims.

Similarly, even before the advent of media technology, conflict brew between Muslims and Christians. One may argue that Christianity and other religions have their share of weaknesses and challenges. However, no other religion has had more controversies as Islam. Most of the controversies surround the theology, culture and logic behind this world religion. So far, evidence indicates that if not controlled, Islamic teachings may easily be misinterpreted by the followers leading to global unrest (Finnegan, 2007). In numerous cases, countries in the west have effortlessly tried to forge peace alliances with and between Muslim countries most of these efforts have been responded to by bloodshed. This goes to show that the negative image held by the west regarding Islam and Muslims is to a large extent valid.

Conclusion

Despite our differences, we must always look for peaceful resolutions to our problems. In light of terrorist acts carried around the world by Muslims terror groups (Al Shabab, Al Qaeda among others) it is evident that Muslims are more prone to committing terrorist acts against other religious groups. As such, the negative image the west has towards Islam and Muslims is justifiable. This paper set out to evaluate the image western countries had before and after the 9/11 incident. As a result, a review of literature regarding this topic has been provided. The media has been cited as the propagator of prejudice and stereotyping directed towards Islam and Muslims. Correspondingly, acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims around the world have also contributed to this negative attitude.

References

Abdulla, R. (2007). The Internet in the Arab World: Egypt and Beyond. New York: Peter Lang, Inc.

Bennett, L. et al. (2007). When the Press Fails Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina: Studies in Communication, Media and Public Opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

CBS news. (2002). Falwell brands Mohammed a ‘terrorist.’ Web.

Christensen, C. (2006). God save us from the Islam clichés. British Journalism Review, 17(1), 65-70.

FAIR. (2001). Media march to war. Web.

Finnegan, L. (2007). No Questions Asked. News Coverage since 9/11. Westport, Conn. and London: Praeger.

Lynch, M. (2006). Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nacos, L. (2007). Mass-Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield.

Nacos, L., & Torres-Reyna, O. (2007). Fueling Our Fears. Stereotyping, Media Coverage, and Public Opinion of Muslim Americans. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield.

Pintak, L. (2006). Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye: America, Islam, and the War of Ideas. London: Pluto Press.

Pludowski, T. (2007). How the World’s News Media reacted to 9/11: Essays from Around the Globe. Spokane, Washington: Marquette Books.

Said, E. (1997). Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (Rev. ed.). New York: Vintage Books.

Shaheen, J. (1980). The Arab stereotype on television. The Link, 13 (2). Web.

Shaheen, J. (1984). The TV Arab. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press.

Zayani, Z. (2005). The Al Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media. Boulder: Paradigm Press.