Negative stereotypes of Muslim people exist in contemporary Australia
|Topics:||Islamophobia, Islam, Western Civilization, 🥻 Tradition|
Incidences of terrorist attacks across the world and images portrayed in the mass media concerning the Islamic culture as well as the Muslim people have greatly influenced the way Muslims are perceived and stereotyped in contemporary Australia. Moreover, most of these negative stereotypes are culturally gendered thus making it hard for the Muslim people to go about their normal daily activities like other people in Australia. Most of the stereotypes include ‘terrorist,’ and ‘victim.’ These negative media beliefs play a major part in shaping the prejudice and stereotypes against the Muslim nationals in Australia as well as the asylum seekers. The paper will look at how these stereotypes are gendered in the contemporary Australia.
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According to Arthur (2004), the Muslim Australians have always been marginalized and misrepresented for more than a hundred years, with the policymakers of the ninth century referring to them as undesirable immigrants which led to the Muslims being categorized as the ‘other.’ After the Gulf War in 1991, negative representations of the Muslims by the media led to a spring of racial attacks against Australians of Arabic origin as well as Muslims being treated with suspicions by the non-Muslim Australians. Negative stereotypes towards Muslim people in Australia intensified after the events of September 11, 2001, which involved the coordinated attacks of the World Trade Center in the US by Islamic terrorists who had hijacked four passenger airliners. Most of the resentments towards Muslims was fueled by the media through portraying the values and beliefs of Islamic region to be in contrast with those of the western cultures (Pedersen et al. 2009). Following the attack was an increase in assaults against Muslim women with some having their headscarves being violently pilled off. Moreover, most Muslim men started having unwarranted police attention and experiencing public and police brutality to (Arthur, 2004). The western media promotes the negative stereotypes of ‘terrorists’ and ‘victims’ through their continued display of images containing women in burqas, Islamic terrorists, and bearded jihads, thereby supporting the narrative that Muslims are agents of savagery, deprivation, and torture (Fahd, 2017).
Kabir (2006) argues that the media has created a negative image of Muslims as fundamentalists thereby generalizing all Muslims as terrorists who want to destroy everything that is not Islamic. Lack of positive images that would otherwise balance the negativity created leads to the cultural prejudice and stereotypes against the Muslim People. Most of the reporters who cover news and incidences that occur in the Muslim world are ignorant of the culture and beliefs of the Islamic religion. Therefore, they report distorted images that other cultures perceive to be true. For instance, after the attacks of September 11, there was a media representation of Muslims as barbaric people who condone terrorism. Images of delighted Palestinians were displayed in major newspapers. Since Palestinians, a predominately Muslims, most viewers were under the assumptions that Muslims approve acts of terrorism. There were neither reports of the Muslim Americans that died in the attack nor the fact that Islam is a peace-loving religion that majority of the Muslims are not extremists. According to Kabir, most Muslims blame the media for the negative treatment that they receive from the society as well as in their workplaces. Moreover, the rate of unemployment amongst the Muslim Australians is 25% while compared to the 9% of the unemployed non-Muslims. Kabirs blames this religious discrimination for the frustrations, anger, and sadness that is experienced by the Muslim youths.
Kabir’s claims are supported by Khadem (2017) in her report on Muslim women discrimination in the workplace. According to the report, stereotypes towards Muslim women result in them being denied leadership positions because employers think that the women are submissive, passive and subjugated and therefore not fit to be a leader. Moreover, only twelve percent of the women surveyed from diverse cultures felt that they had equal opportunities as everyone else with the same level of skills and experience in the workplace. Sarah Idris reported another incidence that portrays the negative stereotype towards Muslim women in the workplace, a radiographer and a master’s student, who was told by her classmates that she only got her job because her employers need to appear tolerant to Muslims but not because she is qualified. According to her, many Muslims do good deeds that are inspired by the Islamic faith on a daily basis, but their efforts go unnoticed and unreported. Instead, the news coverage only focuses on the negative aspects that are associated with Muslims (Hanifie, 2017).
In most cases, the media showcases the Muslim males to be aggressive or associated with terrorism while the Muslim females are portrayed as the oppressed victims. Consequently, the negative stereotypes towards the Muslim men are more than Muslim women since most people view the Muslim men as the oppressors while the Muslim women as regarded as the oppressed (Aly & Walker, 2007). According to Pedersen and Hartley (2012), people have a general fear towards people from the Middle East and associate them with terrorism and the oppression of women. A further association of the Islamic religion with the Middle East largely contribute to the negative stereotype and prejudice towards the Muslim men and sympathy towards the women due to their perceived oppression. In their study to evaluate the gender differences in people attitudes towards Muslims, prejudice against female Muslims was more positive that prejudice against male Muslims, thereby supporting the stereotypes of the victimized woman and the terrorist man.
According to Ho (2007), there has been a lot of gendered discourse associating Muslim men with the alleged oppression of Muslim women. Such discourse forms the basis on which the Muslim misogyny is associated with terrorism and female mistreatment. Moreover, Muslim men as stereotyped as a threat to national security and associated with gang rapes in Australia as well as acts of global terrorism. The stereotypes and negative attitude towards Muslims are further enhanced by some of the sentiments made by key political figures and leaders in Australia. In 2006, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, referred to Muslim’s treatment of women as out of line with that of the mainstream society and claimed that Muslims could only be integrated with the Australian community if they learned to speak English and embraced Australian values such as equity between men and women. The poor form of knowledge about Islam and Muslims among politicians led to increased public discussions regarding the right for Muslim girls and women to cover their head by other members of Howard’s administration. These discussions contributed to the increase in people stereotyping Muslim women as victims and subjects of male oppression. These generalizations and stereotypes of the oppressed woman that are represented by both the media and political leaders have flow-on effects such as Muslim women being uncomfortable while speaking about issues relating to gender in their communities.
Dunn, Klocker, and Salabay (2007) state that the stereotypes associated with Muslims have resulted in anti-Muslim sentiments and racist acts in contemporary Australia. For instance, people in most cities oppose the construction of mosques in their area with some of the mayors and residents citing concerns over the safety of women and young girls in the society. The raised concerns imply that women will be unsafe if there are Muslim men in the community. In Sydney, most of the stereotypes that influenced resistance against the construction of mosques include those of Muslim men being misogynist and intolerant militants. Also, residents of most cities view Muslims as aliens who do not belong to the local communities, and some of them express verbal sentiments against the Muslims, with Islamic women wearing hijabs reporting higher rates of racial attacks than men. Moreover, the Federal Government’s negative statements towards the asylum seekers after the terror attack in the US greatly influenced the negative attitudes that non-Muslim Australians hold against the Muslims. Only 3 out of the 56 statement released by the government were positive towards the asylum seekers. Most of the statements were stereotypes referring to the asylum seekers as terrorists and claims that the terrorist group of Taliban was smuggling terrorists into the country in the disguise of asylum seekers.
According to Dozo (2015), all Muslim men are categorized according to the negative stereotype of being a terrorist. Even when a Muslim man engages in positive behavior, the good behavior is not attributed to the Islamic religion but treated as an exception to the rule. The generalization and stereotype can result in prejudice and discrimination. Ewart, Cherny, and Murphy (2017) carried out a research to access the reaction of Muslim people towards the negative media coverage and the stereotypes promoted by the mainstream news. The findings were that most Muslims have negative responses as a result of lack of Muslim news sources, the representation of Muslims as enemies of the communities and terrorists, as well as other stereotypical representations such as victimized and oppressed women. Bensaidi (2016) states that the stereotypes against Muslim men have painful and damaging consequences. He narrates that as a young Muslim man, he is always subject of suspicion by other people, with some viewing him as a thug, others as a rapist or a terrorist. Everyone defines him by the negative stereotypes that people have against Muslim men. Consequently, residents of certain neighborhoods alert the police if they see young Muslim men around. Therefore, young Muslim men keep being questioned by police roe explain the reasons for being on some streets even if they are doing nothing wrong.
A report by the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria (2008) shows that 93% of the residents in Victoria have had little or no contact with Muslims. However, their views are influenced by the information they received from the media. 60 of the respondents agreed that the media had an unfair representation of the Muslims with 84 % of the respondents indicating that the media is directly to blame for the way that non-Muslims in Australia treat the Muslim people. The respondents indicated that they had negative views towards the Muslims because they disagreed with the Muslim culture, accepted the negative stereotypes towards the Muslims by the media, perceived the link between Muslims and terrorism, and believed that the Muslim men mistreated Muslim women. 48% of the respondents viewed Muslim women as victims of oppression poor treatment, and submissiveness. On the other hand, the Victorians who held no stereotypes against Muslims were neutral because of their belief in justice and equity. Very few of them had any contact with Muslims with those having direct contact having very positive perceptions of the Muslim people.
There have been various evidence that proves these stereotypes wrong. According to Huq (2017), Muslim women are portrayed as dominated since they obey certain aspects of Islam that the West perceive to be regressive or oppressive. These depictions take the Western notion of a free woman and use it as a standard to judge what should apply to women from other cultures regardless of their beliefs or values. Carland (2017) argues that contrary to what many non-Muslims believe, Muslim women are independent, have freedom, and are rarely a subject of oppression in their families and communities. In fact, many Muslim women are in the forefront in the fight against sexism in the full knowledge of their husband, fathers, or Imam but there is little publication on the topic, thereby leading to the stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed.
Several other Muslims have come to the defense of their Islamic faith and attempted to prove that Islam promotes peace and acts of charity. For instance, Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old student, was discussing with one of her classmates. Her colleague implied that even though all the Muslims are not terrorists, all acts of terrorism are committed by Muslims. To prove that Muslims are constantly condemning acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, she researched Muslims condemning terrorism with sources and compiled a list which she shared in social media. The list contained 712 incidences of Muslim people condemning acts of domestic violence from September 11, 2001 (Mahdawi, 2017).
Another Muslim that is in constant ridicule of the Islamic religion being linked with terrorism is Omar Alnatour. According to him, most Muslims live in constant fear that there will be an increase in unjustified hatred towards Muslims if an act of terror involves a Muslim. Alnatour claims that the attackers who commit these crimes in the name of Islam are terrorists who hijack the Islamic religion. Moreover, most terrorists’ attacks are carried out by non-Muslims. He further points out that whenever a terrorist attack is conducted by a Caucasian, the police always use the same excuse of the person being mentally ill but will never link a Caucasian man with terrorism. If there is a black shooter, the incidence is described as gang-related violence. A professional shooter will be interpreted as a national hero or that the victim was collateral damage while a white shooter will be perceived as a lone wolf or thought to be having some emotional issues. However, if the shooter is a Muslim, the 1.3 billion Muslims across the world will be held responsible and stereotyped as terrorists. Therefore, the association of Muslims with the word ‘terrorists’ because a few Muslim individuals were involved in acts of terrorism is biased and completely unjustified (Alnatour, 2017).
According to Rev. Mclnerney (2016), most of the acts of terrorism are committed by misguided Muslims are against the Islamic principles. Moreover, data from the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, shows that out of the 746 terrorist acts committed between 2011 and 2014, only eight were religiously inspired which is less than one percent. Also, most of the perpetrators of those acts were not Muslims thereby leading to the conclusion that the ‘terrorist’ stereotype of Muslim men is not only wrong but biased. Furthermore, most Muslims condemn acts of terrorism. According to Grant (2017), a report study was carried out on people representing 90% of the Muslim population on their reactions towards terrorism. 93% of the respondents condemned the attack that happened on September 11 and deemed it as unjustified.
In conclusion, most of the negative stereotypes against the Muslim people in Australia result from misinformation and misguidance by the media. The media associates Muslim men with acts of terrorism while the Muslim women are believed to be victims of a male dominating culture and religion. Consequently, the Muslim men become subject to suspicion and negative treatment with most women being profiled from their scarves and veils and victimized. Direct contact with the Muslim people influences none of this gendered stereotypes. Therefore, there is a need for Australians to learn the values and beliefs of the Islamic regions and interact with the Muslim people so that there can be a cultural understanding and respect between the Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia. Also, the media’s representation of the Muslim people should be evidence-based without bias to avoid the negative influence that it has on the general public towards Islamic religion and culture.
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