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 (And if your goal be truth, Is this the right road—

Europe’s faults all glossed, and all Islam’s held to so strict an audit?)

-Sir Muhammad Iqbal

Too often in the news, Islam is only associated with terrorism and extremism. An uninformed viewer may think: How could anyone in their right minds find inspiration and solace from such a faith? However, to billions of people across the world, Islam is the avenue for seeking liberation and peace.

A lot of ink, an infinite number of film reels, and a frantic churn of news stories bristling with violent tones on Islam have fixated the Muslims as a stereotyped homogeneity. There is a cottage industry of authors who keep the midnight oil burning to ensure that the flashlights on bad Muslims keep beaming. These are churned out by a well-oiled Islamophobia machine with financial backers, think-tanks, and misinformation experts who are constantly manipulating the already flawed image of what a Muslim is, of what Islam is.  They are attacking the identity of Muslims, which is so diverse that it cannot possibly fit into a box.  Islam has been projected as a misogynistic religion and Muslims the most barbaric community, especially when it comes to dealing with women.

From terrorists to dictators, provocative literature to fabricated threats, Muslim identity is marred by almost every imaginable negative stereotype and menacing trope. Amidst these, the images of good Muslims, in every medium, are few and far between.

In an ideal world, journalism is a profession of incredible integrity and Journalists, among the most dexterous and skilled people in the world. We have all benefited from the work of persistent journalists who put life, limb, family and even sanity on the line in their pursuit of truth. There is no sane, decent, and democratic polity possible without journalists who challenge power, relentlessly pursue and disseminate the truth and always find the next story to tell.

Sadly, journalism is failing to perform its fundamental role of objective reporting and analysis and continues its job by rehashing tired old narratives of “radical Islam” or a “fight within Islam”. The truth is much more convoluted than that and the entire world has a direct role in creating the dangerous reality which so many Muslims have to live with every single day.

The press once seemed to have a conscience, thanks to history’s painful social conflicts and questions of war and peace. The world, however, has changed, and many of us may be in the time warp of old values. Like all institutions, the media has also suffered in terms of its reputation.

The media shows remarkable consistency in employing an arsenal of semantic games and incendiary phrases to link most of the violence around the world with some form of Islamic ideology or some Islamic group.

It is much easier for the media to limit the complex debate on various issues confronting Muslims to a series of clichés, slogans and sound bites, rather than examining root causes. It is easier still to champion the most extreme and prejudiced critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists. There is a strong voice of moderates from within the Muslim ranks that could be channelized properly by the media to give a rounded assessment of Islamic issues.

Societal understandings of “good Muslims” are just as narrow as its conception of “bad Muslims”. Both of these characterisations are rooted in a common baseline, which gives rise to linear caricatures that overshadow representations of “good Muslims” as Olympians or scholars, and even mayors of world-class cities.

Indeed, the hegemony of “bad Muslims” has entirely eclipsed representations of “good Muslims”. Like the “bad Muslim”, the identity of “good Muslims” is also linked to terrorism with the accusation that they failed to stop it. Muslims are tagged with the affirmation of collective guilt that obliges them to condemn or apologise for entirely unrelated actors and unconnected actions. Terrorism is not only conflated with Islam but tied exclusively to it and nothing else.

Muslim bashing is in several cases a by-product of the new brand of journalism which sees value in the “social weight” of the message. The media keeps beaming recurring images of the deep-seated communal ruptures that already exist in the walls of our society and are too well known.

By reinforcing them wittingly and unwittingly contributes to further deepening their impact. The new media not only reflects the mood but is responsible for building it as well. Media oxygen is provided only to those who say something communally inflammable and in such an environment, the efforts of pacifists and even of the moderated segments suffer great damage.

Religion has been simply reduced to a social or political construct, although for millions of people, it is a daily practice and the very framework for understanding, that connects their lives to a spiritual reality. Their faith is the prism through which they view the world, and their religious communities are their central environments.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the lives of so many. Yet, often the only religious voices on the front page are those speaking the language of hatred or violence, especially in stories about conflict or social tensions. The media can carefully balance and moderate the coverage by injecting more reasoned and saner voices.

Good journalism requires an understanding of reliable and rigorous academic studies, attentive listening to diverse sources, dogged examination of data and other records and close observation of policies and institutions, especially when their messages deal with human faith.

It takes time, skill and the support of editors and other prominent news leaders who live in the community to truly follow the fundamental principles of journalism. These principles do not guarantee publishers a return in eye-popping audience numbers, but they guide and monitor the community truthfully.

M Scanlon’s classic essay, “The Difficulty of Tolerance“, offers an attractive affirmative answer: Tolerance is valuable for its own sake because of the attitude it allows us to bear towards our fellow citizens, an attitude of fraternity and solidarity that is deeper than the intractable disagreements that divide us.

The solution is not difficult. What is needed is a meaningful engagement between the media and authentic caretakers of the Muslim faith. The media has to learn to seek out the saner voices and not just line up opinions that suit its own narrative. Most importantly, it should reports facts faithfully.

The distorted images of Islam stem partly from a lack of understanding of Islam among non-Muslims and partly from the failure of Muslims to explain themselves. The results are predictable: hatred feeds on hatred. Ignorance of Islam exists both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims misunderstand Islam in their ignorance and in turn, they fear it. This way, fantasy, conjecture and stereotypes replace fact and reality.

Similarly, Muslims have their own misconceptions. They react to the hate and fear of non-Muslims by creating a defensive posture within their societies and sometimes, a combative environment built on militant rhetoric.

John Pilger advises in his book “Hidden Agendas” that, “It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it.

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com

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