Islamophobia and Sexism: Muslim Women in the Western Mass Media

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

By claiming to champion objectivity and report "real" news, the informative discourse of the mass media conceals their important role as "builders of realities (1)" and, consequently, their key role in the processes of imagination-and social construction-of the communities to which they belong (either national (2) or transnational (3)). This article analyses knowledge of these processes, the discursive strategies that reveal ethnic differences and, in particular, the different representations of Muslims in the Western mass media.

While depending on the ideological color of the government in power it is possible to observe changes in the way the media construct certain events related with Islam and the Arab world (4), there exist a continuum in the media representations about "what is taking place in the world" that transcend the interests of any political party in power. This situation may be defined-to quote Deputy Commander Marcos-as "a monologue with various voices." This paper analyses this dominant monologue, without addressing other minority or "minoritorised" discourses that undoubtedly exist, and that constitute a less distorted and stereotyped vision than that examined in this article.

Different authors have studied the media discourse in news on Arabs and Muslims (5), including most notably Saddek Rabah (1998), Vincent Geisser (2003) and Thomas Deltombe (2005) in France. In Spain, pioneering studies have been carried out on this subject, such as El Mundo Arabe y su Imagen en los Medios ("The Arab World and its Image in the Media" (6)), and more recently the work by Eloy Martin Corrales (2002) , Laura Navarro (2007, 2008b) and Pablo Lopez et al. (2010), the articles by Gema Martin Munoz (1994, 2000) and Teun A. Dijk (2008) and, finally, doctoral theses such as the one by Mohamed El Maataoui (2005). However, the most studies on this subject have been published in English. Noteworthy examples include the work by Edward W. Said (1997), Mohammad A. Siddiqi (1997), Karim H. Karim (2000), Elisabeth Poole (2002) and John E. Richardson (2004).

Practically all these studies highlight the "otherisation" caused by establishing "us and them" oppositions, assigning positive elements to "us" and negative elements to "them," as well as treatment in the media that instead of facilitating better knowledge of "others," exacerbates feelings of rejection and incomprehension. Many of the abovementioned authors have also studied in depth the relationship between discourse and power. For example, Edward W. Said examined how and why the mass media (especially in the US, Great Britain and Israel) constantly reduce Islam and Muslims to a series of stereotypes and generalisations that merely portray this religion as monolithic, as a threat and danger to the West, as a violent and irrational religion. Gema Martin Munoz has highlighted the persistence of an "agreed cultural paradigm" that western societies have forged on the Arab and Muslim "orient" "based on a culturalist interpretation of Islamic societies explained from an essentialist and ethnocentric perspective, thus preventing the comprehension of much more plural and changing political and social realities than what normally seems to be the case" (2005: 206). In two of my studies (2007, 2008b), I have also underlined the important role played by this orientalist discourse in the legitimisation of hegemonic military policies (applied for many years in the Middle East), as well as in the legitimisation of police and military immigration policies, which have largely been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people on geostrategic borders, such as the southern uS border and the southern European border.

Nevertheless, although these studies have contributed to research on the social reproduction of racism, most of these studies also have the same shortcoming: the space dedicated to the image of the "other woman." Virtually all these studies focus on the image of Muslim men and ignore the specific representations of Muslim women. …