Reports by Western media on the violent protests in the Muslim world against the film “The Innocence of Muslims” have delivered a one-sided and over-simplified picture of the Muslims and the complex reality in which they live. By Hoda Salah
Since the start of the protests against the provocative and blasphemous film about Muhammad, I have often been contacted by European media as an “expert with Arab or Muslim background”. In interviews, the first question usually is, “Ms Salah, why are the Muslims storming Western embassies?” or “Why are the Muslims so angry with the West?”
This kind of question reveals a worrying phenomenon: it suggests that many Western opinion-formers are subject to the same ways of thinking as the radical Islamists and Salafists who are responsible for the violence and for the attacks on the Western institutions. They probably don’t mean to be.
All the same, this does not alter the fact that reporting by Western mainstream media on the protests against the film which have taken place in many Muslim-influenced countries has drawn a one-sided and over-simplified picture of the Muslims and the complex reality of their lives. Above all, many reports have made out that radical and violent Islamists are the same as Muslims in general.
One-dimensional point of view
The media here in Europe present Islam as is it were one single irrational, aggressive entity. This short-sighted view has little in common with the varieties of Muslim faith, with their supporters, languages, population groups and cultures.
The Western media have a one-sided focus on radical minorities. The political scientist Hoda Salah says they often ignore the fact that the large majority of Muslims rejects this violence and does not take part in “mass demonstrations”This is the same as the radical Islamists do on the other side. These Muslim bigots also see “The West” as a single cultural and political entity which is united in despising Islam and treating it with disrespect.
In addition, radical Islamists can’t (or won’t) distinguish between the various Western states, governments, peoples and the fundamentalist film-makers. Both the Western mainstream media and the radical Islamists generalise where they should differentiate – and thus contribute towards the escalation.
Unfortunately, the German public television channels ARD and ZDF are no exception. The main German news bulletin on 14. September captioned the attacks on Western embassies with the words: “Muslims storm US embassies”. The main Swiss television news announced that “Muslim anger now knows no bounds”. The headlines in the print media across the board were similar.
Generalisation and a lack of context