Muslim journalists combating Islamophobia
Ramped-up negative rhetoric adds new perspective to reporting
Rhetoric demonizing Muslims heard during the U.S. presidential campaign is difficult to avoid. And Muslim journalists must face a growing sense of Islamophobia from it.
Zainab Khan is a Muslim Afghani who works for Al Jazeera Plus, and she is trying to change the conversation by blogging about Islam. She hopes to demystify the religion and the perceptions that surround it.
“I came into journalism as a way to combat a wider media narrative that exists in the West, and specifically the U.S.,” Khan said.
Instead of being reactionary to what people think of Muslims, especially after 9/11, Khan believes Muslims should make an increased effort to control more of the conversation.
“A lot of Muslims were saying, ‘I’m not a terrorist. I’m not this; I’m not that,’” Khan said. “My entire perspective, motivation and focus is that we need to build our own identity from the ground up so that we stop thinking about what we are not and start thinking about who we are.”
Khan has addressed daily Muslim life with her website Mozzified.com. She wrote a blog explaining the 12 thoughts every Muslim has while doing Wudu — the act of washing the arms, feet and face before praying — in a public restroom.
“I wrote the article and obviously a lot of people don’t even know that you have to perform Wudu before you pray, or what prayer is in Islam,” Khan said. “Two different colleagues of mine came up to me and said that now they know what Wudu means.”
“What I did was I switched up the conversation so that the burden of understanding and explaining wasn’t on the Muslim but on the non-Muslim,” Khan said.
The suspicion and outright hatred of Muslims has grown as the terrorist group ISIS has waged and inspired a bloody global conflict.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Similar rhetoric in Britain about the fear of Muslim immigrants was a main theme as the nation voted to exit the European Union.
Even in the face of negative speech, Muslim journalists believe that objectivity is paramount.
Nadia Belbeisi, bureau chief of Al Arabiya news channel, stressed that as a journalist her job is to cover the news the way it is.
“The presidential election is an important news story for the Middle East because any decision that the U.S president makes will affect people’s lives in the region,” Belbeisi, who covers politics in Washington, D.C. said.
Belbeisi pointed out Trump’s inexperience in international politics and his apparent lack of tact.
“Trump doesn’t seem to divert from controversy too much in the last fight between him and the (Khizr) Khan family. … Their son served this country with great honor,” she said. “Yet Trump couldn’t help himself to attack the family and say that the mother couldn’t speak and he thinks it’s because she is a Muslim. And he went on to say that Muslim women are oppressed and are not allowed to speak.”
Tania Rashid, field correspondent at National Geographic Channel, reported from Bangladesh for two years and has to deal with perceptions and preconceived ideas of Muslims.
“I was reporting on stories from India so I was going to be branded as a South Asia reporter,” Rashid said. “I had to tell my editor I’m not just a Bangladeshi Muslim reporter I’m also an American.”
Rashid has made a film about the Bureau of American Islamic Relations (BAIR) — an anti-Muslim group that staged an armed protest outside of a Dallas-area mosque in April. Group members carry weapons loaded with bullets dipped in pig blood (unholy in Islamic faith).
“I think it’s really important to shed light on issues that have not been covered I think,” Rashid said. “It’s important to show marginalized communities and how they are impacted by hate and trauma and violent protesters.”
“These guys who take their guns to protest, imagine how ready they are to shoot. As a reporter I thought it is my job to speak with Muslims who are victimized by the BAIR group and also speak to a hate group like BAIR as well to reveal how they think the way they think.”