In the United States, many students are taught to believe that the media is very biased and intentionally discards “happy” news that originates from the Middle East and South Asia. Although the media is selective in its coverage of certain issues pertaining to foreign affairs, I do not believe that the media is currently attempting to portray the Middle East and South Asia as an undesirable region in the world. I have found that while reading Edward Said’s book Covering Islam, there were many instances in the section addressing the media and the Middle East that Said believes that the media is intentionally trying to portray the Middle East as a “devil region.” I do not believe that this is the case.
Within Said’s book, he cites many instances where he claims that the U.S. media is attempting to represent Middle Eastern citizens and members of the Islamic religion as terroristic nationals. On paragraph two of page 16, he mentions a Time magazine article about Islam. The following is an excerpt from Said’s book:
When Time magazine devoted its major story to Islam on April 16, 1979, the cover was adorned with a Gerome Painting of a bearded muezzin standing in a minaret, calmly summoning the faithful to prayer; it was as florid and overstated a nineteenth-century period piece of Orientalist art as one could imagine. Anachronistically, however, this quiet scene was emblazoned with a caption that had nothing to do with it: “The Militant Revival.” There could be no better way of symbolizing the difference between Europe and America on the subject of Islam. A placid and decorative painting done almost routinely in Europe as an aspect of the general culture had been transformed by three words into a general American obsession.
There is an obvious flaw with Said’s critique of this article. The most obvious flaw is that the magazine article is dated to 1979. After checking the copyright date of Said’s book, I found that it was copyrighted in 1997. I do not understand why Said would use an 18 year old article to express what he feels is the current American viewpoint on the Middle East and Islam. I believe that times have changed since this article was written. I do not dispute that fact that at the time of this article, Time may have been attempting to give a jaded message to the American public about Islam as a whole. However, at the time Americans feared Islamic beliefs because these beliefs were new and “outrageous.” The media had previously stereotyped Islamic followers as radicals and terrorists. Time, because it is a business, felt that it had to write an article expressing the danger of Islam for it’s magazine to be purchased. I understand that the media has portrayed the Middle East as nationalistic and as terrorists, but that is not the case today. Said should realize this and stop citing articles that are so outdated.
Another section of Said’s book, also on page 16, contains the following:
It is extremely rare to see informative articles on Islamic culture in the New York Review of Books, say, or in Harper’s. Only when there is a bomb in Saudi Arabia or the threat of violence against the United States in Iran has “Islam” seemed worthy of general comment.
I find this section of the book to be troublesome as well. America is known as a melting pot for many different races and ethnic backgrounds. Due to this fact, the American media is obligated to prioritize its news in order of importance, because mass media has so many different types of people that it must attempt to accommodate. The most important piece of news would be news that effects or is of importance to the greatest amount of people. For example, this could be news about the President, about a new nationwide tax law, or about a major national event, such as the Democratic National Convention. This means that less important news, such as an article about a Middle Eastern poet, gets pushed out of the news. The only news that does make the papers is that which effects or is of some concern to most Americans. This news, unfortunately, is that which involves a bombing or an anti-American demonstration.
Said also mentions an epidemic of Americans making false associations about the Middle East and Islam on page 55.
A very serious consequence is that Americans have scant opportunity to view the Islamic world except reductively, coercively, oppositionally. The tragedy of this is that it has spawned a set of counterreductions here and in the Islamic world itself. “Islam” can now have only two possible general meanings, both of them unacceptable and impoverishing. “Islam” can now have only two possible general meanings, both of them unacceptable and impoverishing. To Westerners and Americans, “Islam” represents a resurgent atavism, which suggests not only the threat of a return to the Middle Ages but the destruction of what is regularly referred to as the democratic order in the Western world. For a great many Muslims, on the other hand, “Islam” stands for a reactive couterresponse to this first image of Islam as a threat. Anything said about “Islam” gets more or less forced into the apologetic form of a statement about Islam’s humanism, its contribution to civilization, development, and moral righteousness.
Today there are many more opportunities for citizens in a Western society to discover more information about Middle Eastern culture. There are many new sources where information about the Middle East can be found. For example, with the advent of newer cable services, Americans have more channels to choose from. It is not uncommon to find several companies with multiple television stations, such as CNN2, MSNBC, and many others. These stations dedicate themselves to 24 hours of news, which translates to more coverage of world events. The Middle East is often reported on in a sense that does not portray the region as violent but instead as a cultured environment.
The most widespread news media today however is the Internet. Virtually all newspapers, communications companies, and other media components have developed Internet websites to get their news out to consumers. I visited the USA Today website, and searched for information about the Middle East. I searched the USA Today archives for “Middle East,” and the search returned 9650 documents. Although not all of the documents pertained to the Middle East as a region, those stories that were about the Middle East were almost never about violence in the region. This proves that with the extended amount of information available today on many different mediums, Americans have more access to all types of news. The media is no longer limited to what information it can give to the public. The daily 30-minute newscast or daily newspaper is no longer the only way that consumers can get their news. Because of this, more information about the Middle East is available, which means that “bad” news will not be the only news that Americans hear about the region.
During troubled times in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I feel that the media puposely portrayed the Middle East as a violent anti-American region for various institutional, ideological, and governmental reasons. With the growing American tolerance for other races and civilizations, these reasons have diminished. I feel that Said’s views on American society are outdated, and that his feelings are no longer founded in the current American culture. There is too much information available and too many mediums to find this information on for Said to rightfully say that the media is purposely leaving the Middle East and Islam out of the news. The Middle East and the Islamic religion have made many news articles, and many of those articles do not portray the region as “bad.” Although the good news about the Middle East may still not make the daily broadcasts or front page of the newspaper, there are still many other ways that Americans get their news today. The media is selective in what it puts on its major broadcasts, but it can no longer be said that the Middle East and Islam is not getting any coverage of their achievements rather than their terrorists.
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