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The Media Targets The Muslim Community

Any discussion on coexistence engaging communities imperatively branches out to a variety of related factors unique to each of them

by Mass L. Usuf

Coexistence is preceded by certain characteristics which conditions the minds of people in relation to perception. Every human being interacts with and interprets something based on his perception of that thing. Perception is not necessarily right all the time as it is subject to influence by a multitude of factors both relevant and irrelevant, fact and fiction and, prejudice.

Correlated to perception is the media. The media which can assert great influence on the minds of the people is being utilised with ulterior motives in many instances. The use of the cultivation theory (George Gerbner), which is one of the core theories on how the media affects the viewer’s world view and beliefs, is very clearly noticeable in the television channels and the print media. Through the use of the television people are being influenced not to think independently but to think the way the producer of the news or the particular TV content wants the people to think and act in the way the message is portrayed in the media. There is thus perceived social reality which is manipulated, far from independent thinking and the truth.

According to the cultivation theorists, the media generally presents an image of the world that does not reflect reality. It is very much so when it comes to matters relating to the Muslims or the religion of Islam.

Goebbels’ Media

A comparative example of this is Joseph Goebbels, the anti-Semitic propaganda machine of Adolf Hitler. Goebbels used all the available media of his time books, films, photography, fine art, newspapers and the radio fuelling anti-Semitism to such an extent that the finality witnessed the reported extermination of six million Jews. The extent of the negative portrayal of the Jews through the media was such that the people’s thinking was transformed into killing a Jew as being justified. History records several instances where the Germans were instigated to attack, kill and destroy properties of the Jews.

Sri Lanka witnessed the Goebbels’ model in a small scale during the Aluthgama riots in June 2014, Ampara riots on 26 February 2018 spreading to Digana by 10 March 2018 and the post 21/4 bombing riots on 12 May 2019. It had all the hallmarks of the German carnage. Way back in 2014, those researching the riots in Aluthgama stated, “… it is important to note that the signs of organization and orchestration were evident. The transportation provided for looted goods, the weapons that the attackers had at 6.30 pm, their access to glass bottles, petrol, and long sticks and iron rods and lengths of bicycle chains, the pieces of metal canisters that we saw and photographed, dispel any possibility of a spontaneous conflagration”. (Report on Aluthgama riots and its aftermath. Law & Society Trust, December 2014).

Very truly and most rightly, this same pattern has been observed in all the other riots that followed. One more evidential fact, according to the some of the victims is that the attacks in all of these places took place under the watch of curfew and, in some instances, in cohorts with elements of the security apparatus.

Exaggeration and Coexistence

In today’s world, television and movies have taken the centre stage. Images and stories are exaggerated or fantasised far from what actually exists. Indeed, a purposeful analysis of what is shown on television with regard to Islam and Muslims indicate a disproportionate exaggeration of violence identified with Islam. To drive the message home, such news or documentary subtly maligning Islam and/or Muslims is repeated several times. As a result, people end up perceiving the real world of Muslims in a distorted manner and viewing actuality through a ‘television perspective.’

Then there is a voluminous amount of hate that is spewed through the social media and that which comes out of the mouths of some of those donning the venerated robe. Ably and sheepishly and, sometime shamelessly, supported by some of the mainstream media. The public is beginning to understand the manipulative moves and ulterior motives of these media outlets, which they detest. Many respectable journalists decry the lack of professionalism in these institutions. They call it an affront on ethical journalism. These are those who have sold their souls to the devil.

One other main barrier for coexistence is misinformation, misinterpretation and distortion of facts by those motivated towards discrediting Islam and the Muslims. The innocent masses fall victim to these agendas and they take such misleading information as the truth. There are many misconceptions and blatant lies that are being promoted. Some of which are that in Islam women are being subjugated, the wrong thought that Quran states, “kill the disbelievers wherever you find them” and so on. Such deliberate distortion and decontextualizing of facts in ignorance of the etymology of the Arabic terms etc. are definite obstacles towards fostering coexistence.

In addition, one should not discount the reality of the existence of racist elements in our society. They breed and thrive on this misinformation. Some of these racist persons are serving in the media and are religiously aping Goebbels. By now, these pseudo journalists have already been identified by the fraternity of journalists who value professional integrity.

Celebrating Diversity

Any discussion on coexistence engaging communities imperatively branches out to a variety of related factors unique to each of them. To speak about coexistence in simple terms therefore, is not helpful unless the holistic picture is visualised and understood. The inherent identities and characteristics of communities are wide and varied and it is precisely because of these differentiations that coexistence becomes central. “Communities are not necessarily bound or evolved based on genealogical ties. It is more categorised as a social unit sharing common values”. (James, Paul; Nadarajah, Yaso; Haive, Karen; Stead, Victoria (2012)). Such values may be classified as being the religious persuasion of a community, its cultural and traditional peculiarities, the religious practices and rituals, the distinctive beliefs, myths, legends etc.

This categorisation of a social unit as sharing common values has two implications. Firstly, values which are homogenous to that community and, secondly, values which are universal. While in the first instance a particular community converges sharing same values, in the latter humanity as a whole can claim ownership to such universal values. Thus, in the second instance we can see a universal community – that is one community of mankind.

The universal moral order for the universal community is enshrined in the Quran in very clear and simple words:

“By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it. He has succeeded who purifies it, And he is indeed a failure who corrupts it”
(Surah Ash Shams, Chapter 91 Verses 8-10)

This Quranic injunction appeals to all human beings irrespective of any race, religion, colour, caste or creed. The simple message is that whoever purifies his self he shall succeed and whoever (sins) corrupts his self shall fail.

It is interesting to note in passing the comparative analysis by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi in his voluminous work, Tafsirul Quran Vol. IV, Page 515, where he distinguishes the concept of sin in relation to the above Quranic verse. He contrasts the Pauline doctrine of the original sin, hereditary sin and, on the other hand, the Hindu and Buddhist determinism known as Karma. “Sin is nothing more, nothing less and nothing more than man’s wrong use of his freewill, just as merits are its right use”.

Sensitivity to the Muslim community’s own cultural values and traditions and, in a broader sense the universal values in my view, is the touchstone of coexistence. To put it in simple words, “do not impose” your majority culture on another and vice versa. Allow without prejudice the diverse cultures to thrive. Learn to celebrate diversity.


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