Following the official launch of The Platform on 7th June 2011
By The Platform Editorial Team
The insatiable appetite for sensational news has once again been in full effect during the last few days, with media outlets expressing a collective gasp at the story of a Muslim girl stoned to death for allegedly attending a beauty contest in the Ukraine. At only 19 years of age, no doubt many who read the initial account believed her tragedy represented a perfect microcosm of the struggles of many modern young Muslims; ‘oppressed’ by ancient customs, striving against the shackles of faith, and surely, ever-mindful of the spectre of Sharia law. The immediate alienating affect on an entire faith and community is inevitable.
That the story turned out to be completely false, the young girl likely being a Christian and tragic victim of rape and murder by a psychologically troubled classmate, is a disturbingly telling symptom of a far deeper problem. The example of modern Western Muslims is of a community that has been moulded and defined through a series of carefully manipulated terms, indispensible to the modern diagnostic needs of a weary society – ‘terrorists’, ‘Sharia Law’, ‘burka’ and ‘oppression’, serving as some of the more prominent labels. And the shocking exploitation of terminology and events is made ever more shocking by their acceptability. Not only did The Daily Mail see fit to print such a fabrication, but in spite of a further article grudgingly admitting the potentially flawed coverage, the former article remains stubbornly live and unretracted. That such potent falsehoods are permitted, propagated and often left unchallenged is a worrying trend.
Muslims possess huge currency in the contemporary press; they dominate headlines from The Sun to the Spectator, are the subject of copious articles, features and ‘extravaganzas’, and serve as a fail-proof feature in countless column inches. Yet this context has, paradoxically, served to distance many people from the discourse, particularly young Muslims. The media’s role in the creation of a new social ‘reality’ regarding Muslims has been achieved, pointedly, through the exclusion of this community from the analyses to which they are subjected. Rather than facilitating an avenue through which they are able to actively participate and frame the narratives which define them, Muslims are instead relegated to the peripheries, isolated and alienated from discussion.
Worryingly, the ‘Muslim as spectacle’ formulation has gained social currency, readily identifying the community through pejorative inferences about their ‘alien’ beliefs, and their ‘problematic’ nature. Such unease with a particular social group has many historical precedents – and no doubt many future ones – with sections of the media acutely, and successfully, painting a community as ‘the other’ in society; cause for unease, worthy of suspicion, and justifiably monitored. The journalism surrounding this conceptualisation and its wider social implications is typically discriminatory, unfounded and sensationalist, as in the Daily Express’ ‘Muslim Plot To Kill Pope’, or the Daily Star’s ‘Muslim Sickos’ Maddie Kidnap Shock’. The ‘Muslim girl, 19, stoned to death after taking part in a beauty contest’ story, represents just another link in the ignoble modern tradition of Muslim demonisation, comfortably resting within the political tapestry informing much of society’s conscious imagination of this community.
The Muslim case is, unfortunately, not exceptional and worryingly extendable. That same pattern may easily be applied to any member of society; that they be discussed, defined and socially alienated in absentia. To deny the flaws of a community is naturally illogical. It is important to acknowledge that members of the Muslim community have made faults, and at times contributed to the evolving social problems. Yet to accuse and target without adequate evidence or chance of defence – without the provision of a platform for the subject to speak and join the debate – is an injustice and indeed a threat to society.
Society has reached an important moment, and it is pertinent to demand a counter-narrative to the pervasive misrepresentations propagated so often, of so many, across many sections of the media. This is a task that can only be achieved through challenging the machinations of ‘disinformation’, whereby collective assumptions are eagerly consumed as ‘truth’. The difficult issues of contemporary society will only be resolved through a sustained engagement with the politics, and through an involvement that enfranchises and values the opinions of all. If the media is not reclaimed from those guilty of its misleading leanings, we are indeed left with a dangerous situation in society, where any news could spark far more serious, wide-ranging, and devastating consequences.
The Platform is an online space designed to facilitate debate that is positive, proactive and Britain-centric. The site is led by a diverse and dynamic team of young editors.
Photograph by Rukia Begum, exclusively for The Platform
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