Tuesday, September 7, 2010

9/11 Media Terror Tactics and the "Victory Mosque" Controversy

With the ninth anniversary of the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks approaching this Saturday, the ongoing controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero is creating more apprehension among Americans and has unleashed a new bout of anti-Muslim uproar. A recent article from the New York Times relates growing concern among Muslim Americans who feel exceptionally discriminated against, and rightfully so, considering a slew of recent vandalism acts against mosques across the U.S. Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, a Muslim chaplain at Duke University who was quoted in the piece, compared the current situation to “what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s.” Certainly broadcast television news, which is best at efficiently relaying brief, to-the-point news, fails to capture the intricate nuances of Islam—and thus distinguish the distinct differences between the radical group of terrorists and the vast majority of Muslims—while simultaneously providing a sense of immediacy and immense fear to distantly located Americans. As Douglas Kellner explains in his article “9/11, Spectacles of Terror, and Media Manipulation,” the September 11 attacks were some of the most heavily televised events in the history of the medium, creating an intensely personal “’you are there’ drama.”

In addition to vivid images of a smoke-filled NYC sky, the “we vs. them” rhetoric heavily used by former President George W. Bush during his television appearances created a clear idea of Americans as the unquestionably good force and the ambiguous “Other” (presumably, all Muslims, although this is certainly not the case) as the evil force to conquer. As Kellner explains, “such discourse legitimates any action undertaken in the name of good, no matter how desctructive, on the grounds that it is attacking evil.” Bush, as C. Welton Gaddy recounts in “God Talk in the Public Square” (from Quoting God), further defined “we vs. them” as “Christians vs. Muslims,” by comparing the U.S.’s retaliation to the terrorist attacks as a crusade against terrorism. Ultimately, such repeated usage of strongly divisive rhetoric, when broadcast to millions of citizens, “suggests that people who hold a different theological point of view do not matter to him as much as those who share his particular religious point of view.” This, in turn, only further legitimizes the hate crimes and harsh words spoken against the American Muslim population as a whole by other Christians, such as Internet evangelist Bill Keller’s proposal to construct a Christian center near what he calls “the victory mosque” as a means to counteract “the lies of Islam” with “the truth of the Gospel.”

In light of the recent debate over the mosque, it has become clear that television media must especially monitor the ways in which it presents major world religions. While it is difficult to ensure an audience interprets and comprehends given information correctly, the first step to amend misunderstandings is to cautiously examine the rhetoric and tone created by media coverage of a particular subject. However, American mainstream journalists are not entirely to blame. At least according to Tarek A. Ghanem of IslamOnline.net, Muslims could have done a better part of referencing terror as “an internal problem within the media—with the long history of its social, political, economic, intellectual, theological and historical contexts,” rather than simply distancing themselves as a people away from terrorism. It can be concluded that is the responsibility of both the producers and consumers of mass media to evaluate (and perhaps even more importantly, to voice criticisms of) its accuracy and fairness, particularly in regard to delicate topics such as religion.

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