Negative image of Arabs tied to rising Islamophobia in the West
The lingering perception problem with regard to Arabs in the Western media is very much connected to rising Islamophobia in Europe and in the US, experts at the 10th Arab Media Forum held in Dubai last week said. “Islam has become the new perceived enemy of the West after the fall of the Soviet Union,” said Philip Seib, professor of journalism and public diplomacy at the University of Southern California, during a panel discussion at the forum, which attracted over 2,400 media professionals from 40 countries.
Seib stressed that more continual and balanced news coverage from the region was needed to overcome challenges of stereotyping of Arab citizens. “People want to know about the region, which was reflected when Al Jazeera’s English news website registered a phenomenal increase in the number of hits after Egypt’s revolution,” he added.
Abdullah Bozkurt, Today’s Zaman Ankara bureau chief, also shared Seib’s concerns in his speech and said the anti-Muslim platform in Europe has developed itself from being the agenda of fringe, far-right parties into a mainstream political debate.
“With the minaret ban in Switzerland and the Burqa ban in France, the anti-Muslim rhetoric became part of the law of the land. Islamophobia even became institutionalized with the gains of far-right parties in some European countries, and they are now set to become part of the coalitional governments. This is an alarming development,” he explained.
During the 10th Arab Media Forum there were also discussions on whether or not the recent protest movements that swept the countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa have changed the image of Arabs. It explored whether there were signs of change from references in the Western media of Arabs being “violent, betraying, backward-thinking and women’s rights-snubbing” to that of people who have the same aspirations and expectations as everybody else.