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Islamic jihad has been on the forefront of media and increasing in coverage ever since the events of 9/11. Indeed stereotypes of Muslims and Islam people being violent terrorists resulted because stories appealed to common mass media by creating drama and conflict, to attract readers and viewers and generate profit (Revel, 2010). In a short period of time, the “War on Terrorism” in America spread messages on a global scale and Islamophobia, fear or hatred of Islam, increased. The Muslims living in America suffer from Islamophobia, regardless of whether they themselves are violent or not, because there was a change in attitude towards Muslims since then (Elghobashy, 2009). Muslims as a group are misrepresented as violent when religion is used as justification for violent actions of terrorist actions. The most prevalently stereotyped Muslims are radical Muslims wanting to wage jihad, or holy war, against America (Revel, 2010). As a student earning a degree in fashion, I would also like to address the way Muslim women are portrayed through a lens of Western ideals about gender, and also of religious dress in the stereotypical Muslim veil. I assumed the veils were rooted in Muslim religious values concerning modesty, until I saw a group of Muslim girls who looked about teenaged in my community wearing low-cut denim miniskirts and veils. I question the ways that Muslims living in Western cultures may have different attitudes regarding modesty than those living in countries with a Muslim majority. The veils are sometimes criticized in Western media as a reflection of oppression rather than an expression of religious modesty (Conte, 2009). Muslim women are also commonly stereotyped as the victims of male domination. According to media, Islam has a reputation for marginalizing women as segregated, even victimized by male violence in more extreme cases, but almost always submissive to males (Wagner & Howarth, 2012). Allow me to clarify my background because I think it played an important role on my prejudgments. I grew up in the suburbs of a predominately white community and attended a private Catholic school before high school. Only when I entered the public school system did I realize that Catholics are on the receiving end of stereotypes, and that my religion is accused of religious prejudices. Because these are traditions that I practice responsibly, I was never swayed by others’ opinions of holy orders, specifically the criticisms of priests’ scandals, of the authority figures being males, or the mistaken associations to the extremist Christians and their beliefs. However, I do admit that religious orders and traditions of Muslims are similarly used as justification for actions, so with all due respect to the human suffering that certain incidences may have caused, I try not to judge too harshly. In terms of experiences with Muslims, one vivid incident had a powerful effect on me, and perhaps more so than the 9/11 events, personally. Mohamed Osman Mohamud was a young Muslim man my age who went to the same high school and university as me, and lived across the street from my ex-boyfriend, but I had little personal contact with him. Then one morning in the news I was informed that he was arrested at the local Christmas tree-lighting ceremony for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction that could kill the children there, and that he had been plotting this attack for months. I made observations about how some messages were intended to be positive encouragement for those within the Muslim community, while others were directed towards non-Muslims in an attempt to counter Islamophobia. For example, on ABC series, Lost, Sayid Jarrah is the name of the Muslim character who works for the Iraqi Republican Guard and although there have been episodes showing him torturing prisoners so that they give him information, the portrayal of his character is framed with caution given so viewers understand that Jarrah is now a member of an anti-terrorism squad and that even though his actions are still violent, he is not labeled as a terrorist himself (Andrews, 2013). I also reread the newspaper articles from Christmas tree bombing and noticed the journalists frequently focused on themes of terrorism and jihad happening around the US, but investigators used caution when reporting evidence for or against any claims of direct terrorist organizational influence with Mohamed Osman Mohamud (Fought & Pickler, 2010). Other media stereotypes were as good as discrimination, especially internet memes. Both men and women are commanded by the Qur'an to maintain their modesty, or their hijab. My impression of these messages online is a one-sided opinion and I refer to these stereotypes as harmful, that perhaps the source is a mistaken, generalized understanding (Woodturtle, 2013). The way the Muslim standards of hijab are presented slander and shame women, and use guilt to reinforce standards (Wagner & Howarth, 2012). Given that stereotypes color our judgment of individuals and groups tend to be evaluated more positively, I think it is important to evaluate these observations from a social psychological approach and recognize potential bias without being overly critical of a religion or a group prejudice (p. 349). Three concepts in Social Psychology can be helpful in understanding the stereotypes regarding Muslim groups—outgroup homogeneity effect, vivid cases, and illusory correlations. The outgroup homogeneity effect happens when a group that is usually less powerful and smaller is stereotyped as being alike, creating a separate “they” distinct from the majority “us” who assigns those and who are unfamiliar into the homogenous group (p. 334). An example is the Western cultural ideals of gender equality are placed on Muslims with a more patriarchal hierarchy. “They” are all oppressed by male power. When Muslim women have roles in movies, their parts are often cut short by a man taking over and rarely do Muslim women get portrayed as a leading lady. When Americans categorize Muslim women actresses into a “them” category, it allows us to take pride in our ingroup because “we” value equal gender roles for actresses. In truth, Muslim women in America have the same freedom of religion as every civilian and some choose to be independent of men, while others hold firm to more traditional religious practices and live entirely different than modern Muslim populations. The outgroup homogeneity effect demonstrates how this type of marginalization is a flawed assumption and should not be used to form an opinion about a group as a whole. Then we examine how distinctiveness can cause our minds to judge groups based on vivid examples that have primed stereotypes (p. 338). Most noteworthy is the Islamphobia I mentioned, in which radicals, terrorists, jihad, extremist Muslims are not representative of all followers of Islam, but perhaps the way Islams were portrayed in events of 9/11 stick in our memory and can cause stereotypes to form (Elghobashy, 2009). After Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested, people wondered if the event was related to another terrorist act that took place across the country days before because those news reports were still fresh in their memories. That brings us to the third concept, illusory correlation, which happens when people assume an occurrence has a correlation to a distinctive detail that we would otherwise perhaps not notice (p. 339). For example, after Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested, the media created conflict by including interviews from people of Muslim mosques and mentioning investigations of interactions with other terrorist associations (Fought & Pickler, 2010). . This enables us to create illusory images because our attention is drawn to his religious affiliation and associations with violence and terrorism is formed in our memories. Prejudice assumptions that a correlation exists between Muslims and violence is because of noticeable distinctions in the media, that is one reason behind the stereotype, “Muslims are violent.” The media is not responsible for every illusory correlation I admit that when I notice veils on Muslims, I judge the immodesty of the rest of those women’s outfits more harshly, by pointing out when midriffs are showing when I probably would not otherwise notice. I made the mistake of illusory correlation, and to correct that mistake, took the time to study the ways fashion and pop-culture have influenced modern Muslim veils so modesty is not the only correlation I will make with Muslim veils from now on. By challenging myself to go deeper, I reduced a prejudice attitude and dismissed held stereotypes about Muslims. Given what I know about stereotypes, I read extensive interviews from groups of women from Muslim majority countries (Indonesia) and Muslim minority countries (India) to get a more accurate perspective of a group whose heterogeneity is not recognized by our culture when they adapt to a changing historical, cultural, and political practices (Wagner & Howarth, 2012). Dress means so much to me and the field in which I want to build my career puts huge emphasis on image and worldview. I feel confident that if I build relationships with individual Muslim women, as clientele in retail or in my everyday life, that I can use this accurate understanding of significance of veils as a social tool. The research was out there but I had to look for it, because I learned that the media is often not a very credible source of information which may be slightly more entertaining but it frequently breeds conflict instead of opening doors for relating to people who are different. I am not against all stereotypes because I think, when given and taken the right way, they appeal to my sense of humor and have been helpful in forming lighthearted interactions between diverse groups of people. There is something about the way pop-culture and Westernized media portrays stereotypes so narrow-mindedly, that any discriminating adult should be aware that some of the information is myth and some is reality. Sometimes all it takes is personal contact with real individuals to find this out. I encourage anyone who has a hard time understanding another culture to first question the social forces that cause prejudice, and then challenge those by researching beyond what they see in the media, or better yet, make an effort to get to know individual members of a group. There is a reason why people think more positively about individuals than their stereotyped group of affiliation. We can choose to believe what we hear or we can celebrate diversity and find out for ourselves and strive toward tolerance and acceptance. References: Andrews, Naveen (Actor). (2013). Lost. ABC, Seasons 1-6. Conte, D. (2009, September 23). Women: Strained stereotypes. Retrieved from www.resetdoc.org. Elghobashy, S. (2009, January 12). Muslim Stereotypes in Hollywood: Are they really fading? Retrieved from www.elanthemag.com. Revell, L. (2010). Religious education, conflict and diversity: an exploration of young people's perceptions of Islam. Educational Studies, 36(2), 207-215. Fought, T. & Pickler, N. (2010, November 27). Mohomed Osman Mohamud arrested in Portland car bomb plot. TheThe Huffington Post. Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com Wagner, W., Sen, R., Permanadeli, R., & Howarth, C. S. (2012). The veil and Muslim women’s Identity: Cultural pressures and resistance to stereotyping.Culture & Psychology, 18(4), 521-541. Woodturtle (Blogger). (2013, June 5). Beard memes and the proper hijab narrative. Retrieved from www.patheos.com
Contributed by Monica Kirnak