PROTESTS OVER the vile racist filmInnocence of Muslims that began outside U.S. diplomatic institutions in Egypt and Libya have spread across the world, from Bangladesh and India to Iran, Iraq and Morocco.
The mainstream media in the U.S., from Fox News to National Public Radio, have framed these protests through the simplistic lens of “anti-American violence in the Muslim world.” This framing communicates an entire world view that is taken for granted.
First, it discredits protest against the U.S. by painting the demonstrators as violent. This focus on the violence and on the sensational allows the media to conveniently skip over the complex reasons why people in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa might be angry with the U.S.
This particular racist film–which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, a pedophile, a bumbling idiot, and a bloodthirsty fanatic and anti-Semite–is the tip of the iceberg. It has become a symbol of the disrespect with which the U.S. holds people in Muslim-majority countries, and it has brought to the fore deep-seated grievances over how the U.S. conducts itself in the Middle East and elsewhere. Yet this complexity is left out in favor of simplistic explanations and caricatures.
Second, by using the term “Muslim world,” the media invite us to look at people in Muslim-majority societies primarily through the lens of religion. While sections of the demonstrators are there to express outrage at the film, the focus on Islamist involvement in the protests to the exclusion of other voices casts this as a religious rather than a political confrontation. Thus, the protesters are presented not as political actors, but religious zealots.
Third, what follows from this is that the U.S. is an innocent victim–a misunderstood champion of democratic rights, secularism and free speech under attack from the irrational fanaticism that we have come to expect from “those Muslims.”
In short, what is a political clash is turned instead into a cultural conflict and the “clash of civilizations” between the secular West and the religious and backward “Muslim world.” Read more