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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Effects of Fox News' Muslim Bashing

Media Matters has an interview with John L. Esposito, Georgetown University, about the deleterious effects on public opinion of the Muslim bashing on Fox News. In an email to Media Matters, Esposito wrote:
The cumulative effect of the confrontational rhetoric of Fox commentators like Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity who hammer away at portraying Islam and Muslims as fundamentally different contributes to a popular culture in which seeing 1.5 billion Muslims as potential enemies has become embedded. Too many Americans are developing an intolerant, irrational fears and even hatred not simply of extremists but of Islam and Muslims which has led to discrimination, harassment, and violence.
In particular, he focuses on the space and sympathetic treatment given to anti-Islamic crusaders like Brigitte Gabriel, on Fox, whom I have blogged about recently. Esposito describes a Gabriel as:
an entrepreneur, a professional Muslim basher. She, like [Pamela] Geller, [Robert] Spencer and company have no expert credentials in Islam or Muslim history and cultures, the very topics that they speak about. She is a fear monger pure, an Islamophobic culture warrior, and plays fast and loose to get the limelight and a career. What she and others excel at are simplistic generalizations and assertions, often choosing selective texts, individuals or events as if they were representative of the entire community.
Instead of focusing on extremism in America or Muslim extremists as a dangerous but very small percentage, she chooses to target the
Muslim American community, the vast majority of whom, as Gallup and PEW data have demonstrated, are as American as other Americans, educationally, economically and politically integrated. She ignores statements by the heads of the FBI, Homeland Security, Justice Dept. and the deputy national security advisor that also see American Muslims as partners in the fight against extremists.
In the same story, Media Matters also reports a recent survey on views of Muslims in America, by the Public Religion Institute. The survey examined views of the King Hearings on Radicalization of American Muslims among other things, and found
a significant correlation between trust in Fox News and negative attitudes about Muslims. Americans who most trust Fox News are more likely to believe that Muslims want to establish Shari'a law, have not done enough to oppose extremism, and believe investigating Muslim extremism is a good idea. There are even differences among Republicans and white evangelicals who trust Fox news most and those who trust other media.

Republicans who say Fox News is their most trusted news source are more likely than Republicans who trust a different news source to say they are well-informed about Islam (53% to 34%). They are also more likely than Republicans who most trust other news sources to say the hearings are a good thing (82% to 60%).

White evangelicals who most trust Fox News are much more likely than those who trust a different news source to say they feel informed about Islam than those who trust other sources of news (70% to 37%). This same group of evangelicals is also more likely than their counterparts who most trust other news sources to say the hearings are a good thing (84% to 60%).
As someone who does research on the media, I know how difficult it is to accurately measure media effects. The above results could conceivably be due to what social scientists call "selection effects" - that Republicans hostile to Islam simply tune in to Fox because they are more comfortable with the anti-Islamic rhetoric there - rather than evidence that watching Fox "causes" people to be more Islamophobic. But with those caveats, the findings are interesting (or disturbing). There is little doubt in my mind that we are seing a hardening of the public discourse on Islam, both in Europe and the U.S., and this is something we should all be very concerned about.

But where there is bad news, there is also often some good. And among those who have realized that this is a point of concern are many American Jews. So I found this appeal against Islamophobia by a group of American Rabbis yesterday: Rabbis for Human Rights. While Jews are not the target this time around, the signs of societal intolerance and the increasing vulnerability of a religious minority ring warning bells to this group of Rabbis:
Jewish historical experience remembers that not too long ago, we too were the victims of suspicion and hatred based on our religion and ethnicity. The actions of the few should not condemn the many, and every religion has its teachings both of violence and of peace. Jewish tradition demands that we remember the heart of the stranger, because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. If one minority can be singled out for congressional hearings or restrictions on places of worship, anyone can be.

These are not American values. These are not Jewish values. It is time to Stand Together and speak out against Islamophobia.
In light of these remarks and the survey results above, it is worth recalling the findings of a recent German survey of attitudes towards Islam that I blogged about last month. According to this survey, 58.4% of Germans agree with the statement that the religious practices of Muslims in Germany ought to be severely restricted in the future. In the former East Germany, the figure was over 75%. It is, indeed, time to stand up against the rising tide of intolerance in the U.S. and Europe.

UPDATE: Yes, I changed the title of this post. The old one "Effects of Muslim Bashing on Fox News" could have been interpreted as saying that the post was about the effects that "Muslim bashing" was having on Fox News, which is an interesting topic but not the one discussed in this post.

Mideast Expert: Fox News Panders To Muslim-Bashers

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