Media Muslim depictions foster intolerance


Back during our first year of posting here at esnl, we took an in-depth look at the demonization of Muslims in America’s films and television shows, the subject of the insightful documentary Reel Bad Arabs.

Back when esnl was a kid in the days just after World War II, screens large and small were dominated by villains who either spoke with German accents [“Vas ist das, dumbkopf?!“], pseudo-Japanese accents [You know very rittle, Amelican!”] or in Hollywood’s version of how Native Americans spoke [“How,” being the greeting, often followed by “Me big chief.”]

But these days, thanks to the massive blowback from the armed petro politics of Bush I-Clinton-Bush II-Obama/Clinton era, screens large and small are dominated by villains who pray toward Mecca and say things like “Time for you to die, infidel!

If you suspect that all those negative portrayals of Muslims might be having an adverse impact, you’d be correct.

From Texas A&M University:

What if most or all you know about Muslims is from what you see in the media — terrorists depicted in movies and TV shows, news reports on suicide bombings and mass shootings. What would your perception of Muslims be? Would you have stereotypical beliefs and negative emotions about them, and would you support policies that are harmful to them? Very likely, according to research co-authored by a Texas A&M University professor.

In “Reliance on Direct and Mediated Contact and Public Policies Supporting Outgroup Harm” [$6 read-only for 48 hours, $38 to read and print out], published in the Journal of Communication, Srividya Ramasubramanian, associate dean of liberal arts and professor of communication at Texas A&M, and her co-authors, used multiple studies, surveying non-Muslims on how much they relied on direct contact with Muslims versus media-based contact. Then they measured participants’ negative emotions toward Muslims, perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, support for civil restrictions against Muslims, and support for military action against Muslim countries.

“We observed that almost on a daily basis, media depictions of Muslims are extremely negative,” Ramasubramanian says. “Almost without exception, they are portrayed in stereotypical ways as violent, criminal and extreme. Islamophobia is on the rise and even some American political leaders have expressed hateful sentiments towards Muslims.”

The researchers found a correlation between people who rely on media depictions of Muslims and having negative attitudes, versus those with direct interactions who were less likely to view Muslims negatively.

“Our findings show that individuals who rely on the media for information on Muslims have greater negative emotions toward Muslims and increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, which in turn leads to support for civil restrictions against Muslims and military actions against Muslim countries,” says Ramasubramanian, who studies media psychology and cultural diversity, especially the effects of media stereotypes on users’ attitudes, emotions, and policy support towards marginalized groups.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

“Direct contact with Muslims had an opposite effect,” she continues. “In other words, reliance on media portrayals of Muslims as compared to direct contact through friends and acquaintances leads to several negative outcomes.”Some participants with negative attitudes toward Muslims expressed what Ramasubramanian describes as domestic and foreign policies harmful to Muslims. “Domestic policies included statements such as support for secretly monitoring Muslims without their consent or awareness, or restricting the ability of Muslim-Americans to vote. Foreign policy included several statements such as support for the use of military action and drones against Muslim countries.”

How can so many non-Muslims have so little interaction with Muslims?

Ramasubramanian says social interactions often revolve around religious, racial and gender identities in our societies. “There is often a lack of motivation to step outside one’s comfort zone to learn about other sub-cultures,” she notes. “Even when there is exposure through direct contact, such interactions are often brief, rather than long-term, meaningful friendships.”

She says she hopes the research findings suggest the importance of more direct contact between Muslims and non-Muslims in communities. “Building friendships in this manner may buffer the negative effects of media portrayals of Muslims,” she notes, adding she also hopes the media work to improve the portrayals of Muslims by having more positive depictions.

Ramasubramanian’s co-authors on the study are Muniba Saleem and Grace S. Yang at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

13 responses to “Media Muslim depictions foster intolerance

  1. If you don’t address the issue of Islamic doctrine of terror and aggression, you aren’t getting to the root of this issue. Islamic holy writ calls for complete worldwide Islamic domination. Even the most kind Muslims who know anything about Islam and are not Muslims in name only, know this. There is no freedom of choice in religion in Islam. Islam is intolerant in doctrine and will always be at odds with democracy.

    • Nothing you say about Islam [and you are talking about radical fundamentalist Islam, and not the tolerant Islam of so many folks I’ve known] is equally true of fundamentalist Christianity, something I suspect you adhere to. Islamic writ specifically calls for tolerance, and non-Muslims were welcome in Islamic lands, though they had to pay a token tax. If you want to read an intolerant scripture, start with the Bible [excepting the Sermon on the Mount].

      • Fundamentalist? Okay. Then maybe you can tell me what the most fundamental truth is in Islam and also in Christianity?

      • This is key to helping free 1.7 billion slaves.

      • I presume you mean those who are held in thrall to fundamentalist Christianity?

      • Then let me quote Kevin Giles, the widely published scholar and then Rector of St. Matthew’s Church, in Kensington, Adelaide, Australia, writing in Evangelical Quarterly in 1994:

        The Gospels do not record a single word by Jesus which could be read as explicitly endorsing slavery, a point abolitionists were quick to note. But the evangelicals who adamantly held that the Bible sanctioned slavery had a reply. They noted that in the Gospels the specific word for a slave (doulos) is found over 70 times. In some of the best known parables slaves are prominent characters (see Matt 13:24-30, 18:23-35, 22:1-14, Lk 12;35-40, 14:15-24 etc), and Jesus often encountered slavery (eg Lk 7;2-10, 22:50 etc). But not one word of criticism did the Lord ever utter against slavery. He was quick to attack moral evil but not slavery.

        If Jesus did not comment directly on bondage it was different with the apostles. In no less than seven passages they speak directly in support of slavery, usually demanding that slaves accept their lot in life and telling masters to treat their slaves kindly (see 1 Cor 7:20-21, Eph 6:5-9, Col 3:22-25, 1 Tim 6:1-2, Tit 2:~10, Phlm 10-18, 1 Peter 2:18-19). For many evangelicals who felt their conscience was bound by the letter of Scripture it was clear that the apostles endorsed slavery. In most instances their instructions to slaves were given in parallel to instructions to wives to be subordinate and children to be obedient.

      • You only showed how people can rationalize. The rector as well. So?

      • Rationalize?

        That’s what the freakin’ Bible says.

        You’re only after converts, and so we’ll end the discussion here, since you have your own website to do just that.

      • Okay then. What is the single most important principle, the most fundamental truth of Islam?

      • Submission to the will of God [the very meaning of the word Islam].

      • BTW,I have a close friend who was raised in Islam in a Islamic nation.
        He told me he is offended when people say he is Muslim. He knows Muhammad killed thousands, married a baby, consummated that marriage when the girl was only a 6 year old child. All of this is in Islamic Hadiths for anyone to read.

      • In the same era, Christian kings, nobles, and wealthy merchants were marrying off their daughters at the same age. And Mohammed’s forces killed far fewer than the numbers chalked up by the Crusadersthree centuries, who slaughtered tens of thousands, including women and infants as well as every Jew they could find, while armed with the assurance from the highest official in Christendom that their own deaths meant an instant free pass at the Pearly Gates.

        Give it a rest.

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