The co-editors of Islam for Journalists hosted a panel at the Excellence In Journalism conference in New Orleans (Sept. 2016). EIJ is organized by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio-TV Digital News Association and the Native American Journalists Association.
Salam Al-Marayati, president, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Jihad Turk, president, Bayan Claremont (graduate Islamic university)
Shaheen Pasha, associate professor of journalism, UMass-Amherst
Stephen Franklin, former Chicago Tribune Middle East bureau chief
Lawrence Pintak, former CBS News Middle East correspondent
PANEL PRESS RELEASE
MEDIA COVERAGE MAKES MUSLIMS “VICTIMS” OR “VILLIANS,” JOURNALISTS TOLD
NEW ORLEANS – American Muslims are being “ghettoized” by the media’s failure to report on stories beyond terrorism and hate crimes, the head of an influential U.S. Muslim organization told reporters and editors gathered for a national journalism conference.
“We are either in the victim or the villain frame,” Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, explained at a session on “Covering Islam,” held just hours after the police arrested an Afghan-born American Muslim for setting off bombs in New York. Al-Marayati said extremists have hijacked terms such as “jihad” and “sharia” and American Muslims are “not given a platform” by the media to define those terms for themselves.
“For me, my sharia is the U.S. constitution. It is the constitution that gives me rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which I find in my faith,” Al-Marayati told the session, which was organized by Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, which brought together members of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio-TV Digital News Association and the Native American Journalists Association.
“The Islam story is complicated but it’s one that reporters in even the smallest town might suddenly find themselves covering, so the panel was part of an effort to give them the tools to better do their job,” explained Lawrence Pintak, who was founding dean of Murrow College, and was co-editor of Islam for Journalists, a primer for reporters. The book and podcast of the event are available for free download at IslamforJournalists.org.
The most common media stereotypes about American Muslims are that they are foreign, have failed to denounce terrorism and are hyper-religious, Jihad Turk, president of BayanClaremont, the nation’s only accredited graduate program for American imams, told the reporters. The facts are that 25 percent of the American Muslim population is African-American, American Muslim leaders have consistently denounced terrorism, and only about 20 percent of American Muslims regularly attend mosques, he said.
Journalist and educator Shaheen Pasha said media coverage of Muslim women is “stereotyped and gendered.” Pasha, a former CNN and Thompson Reuters reporter who is currently a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has firsthand experience with such stereotyping. After a recent media interview about the so-called “burkini” story in France, she was asked for a photo of her wearing the hijab head covering, to run with the story. But Pasha does not cover her hair and the news organization tried to get permission to use a shot of her it found online in which she happened to be wearing a scarf to shield her head from the sun.
“It fit the narrative because they wanted to discuss Muslim Americans and how we feel about being Muslim in America but refused to acknowledge that is not one monolithic picture,” Pasha told the group.
“We journalists have to be very careful about the stereotypes we put out. If we emphasize how strange people are, how different they are, we’re separating them,” warned Stephen Franklin, a former Chicago Tribune Middle East correspondent and co-editor of Islam for Journalists.
Jihad Turk, who refers to himself as “an American kid from Oklahoma,” said his organization is training a new generation of American-born imams because many American Muslims fail to connect culturally with today’s imams, who are frequently recent immigrants.
The goal is to create “a pipeline of American Muslim religious leaders who are well-adjusted in their identity as Americans who can help transform those institutions, be relevant for the youth, be inclusive of women and be civically-engaged,” he said.
The Islam for Journalists initiative has been supported by the Ford Foundation, Proteus Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Social Science Research Council.
MEDIA CONTACT: LAWRENCE PINTAK, LPINTAK@WSU.EDU.