On Thursday night the brilliant and talented Wajahat Ali spoke about overcoming Islamophobia and his own personal experiences as a Muslim-American of Pakistan decent. Ali touched on many subjects including the recent election, the roots of Islamophobia throughout history, and how we can fight this issue as aware citizens. The talk brought something to my attention that I had never realized was such a problem, and that is just how much the media has shaped the negative stereotypes that many have about Muslims. It also made me realize that now more than ever it is important for mass media outlets to take precaution before reporting information that could potentially affect the safety of an entire culture.
The SPJ code of ethics says, “Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting”. Many Americans are very unfamiliar with Muslims and the Islamic religion; therefore what they see and hear in the media makes up the majority of their preconceptions of this culture. The media many times only reports on things about Muslims having to do with threats to the US. This is very unfortunate because it has caused Americans to put all Muslims into a category filled with threat and terrorism. This can even result in Muslims being falsely accused of terrorist attacks.
It is our duty as journalists to try to change this horrible hole that we have dug ourselves into. We must never jump to conclusions or group people into a particular category based on their looks or the religion that they practice. It is extremely important that the voices of all Muslims are heard, not just the ones who have done wrong actions. The SPJ code of ethics says, “Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear”. We must understand that with the recent election, many innocent people of this culture are feeling scared and now threatened by America. As journalists, we must release true and accurate information to this country and be the voices for those who need to be heard the most. At the end of Ali’s speech, he said that we “must be participants and no longer spectators”. He challenged the audience to “write a new story for America”.
This challenge means that journalists need to broaden their
knowledge on cultures that they are unfamiliar with to be sure that they are
not making any stereotypical references. This may mean that journalists need to
go out of their comfort zones to gain the point of view of others including
those who practice Islam. Ali made the profound statement that we need to be
telling stories that are “by us, for everyone”. To me this means that we need
to be as neutral as possible in our reporting to avoid offending or
misrepresenting people. If we make more of an effort to follow these ethical actions
I believe we can be voices of reason for Muslims and hopefully work towards a
more informed and accepting society.