Media coverage on terror includes specific framing methods that emphasized the relation between Islam and terror incidents. Since media has a crucial role to shape society’s understanding, the method of framing in such a way conduces disintegration among society in terms of Muslim and non-Muslim by focusing on the “us” “them” distinction and emphasize a connection between Islam and terrorism.
Terror itself is a controversial issue that many states try to deal with and the media has the ability to influence counterterror endeavors as well as society’s perspective. “Communication and media are as important to the terrorist and the government as the actual act of violence itself. Therefore analysis of news coverage and its implications are crucial for counterterrorism efforts” (Brinson & Stohl, 2009, 227). That’s why it is significant to cover the subject especially for the United Kingdom who has experienced organised violence by the extra-state, interstate, and intrastate actors. However, since this paper focuses on framing that specifies a relationship between Islam and terror in the UK, the 7/7 (2005) attack on civilians in London is the most relevant one to study, especially after the 9/11 (2001) attack in the United States. -Both terror attacks caused hundreds of deaths were conducted by al-Qaeda that contains Muslims around the world (UCDP, n.d.)-
A great number of media coverage is done related to these attacks in the UK as well as around the world. Since media audiences are influenced by a vast number of portrayal, the effects of the media among society is more significant for many actors including governments, audiences, scholars, and practitioners themselves. As Mcquail argues, media provide materials for ‘reality’ construction and selectively produce certain meanings according to social constructivist view (McQuail, 2010, 92). Framing techniques (e.g issue filtering, narrative structure, and so on) can be used to highlight specific parts of incidents and it affects how mass media construct representations of social reality. (Hier, 2019, 4) In that sense, it is important to find out how identity and social (dis)integration are constructed by framing to cover terror incidents and discuss the effects of media coverage on the public, especially for Muslims.
In this paper, the framing and representation of Muslims while covering terror issues in the UK media are examined. The impact on the Muslim community, their responses, and Islamophobia are explained. A comparison is made between the UK and US framing and lastly, contradictory findings in several research studies are discussed.
Framing terror with Islam in the United Kingdom
In the UK media coverage, terror-related issues are attributed to Islam especially after the al-Qaeda attacks on civilians in London in 2005. This framing is done in a way that triggers discrimination for Muslims in the UK. Not only for terror incidents but also in general, Muslims are portrayed in the British press as ‘other' like an outgroup of the society rather than as an accepted part of society and it is related to orientalist view (Rane et al., 2014, 33). For the acts of violence, “Islamists are more often framed as a criminal and violent sub-set of a community, and far-right actors are more likely to be framed as mentally ill or evil” (Parker et al., 2018, 125). In sum, Muslims are framed as distinct and related to terrorist violence in media reports.
Particular press groups that contribute to the ‘us' and ‘them' framework. For example, “The Daily Mail and The Sun published the most number of stories related to the issue (90 percent), and were the most discriminatory, and more than often jingoistic, in their framing, imagery and language” (Sian et al., 2012, 244). To illustrate, in the Daily Mail (16/10/11, page 24), there is an explicit Islamophobic expression ‘Muslims of all walks of life could potentially be a threat' (Sian et al., 2012). Islamophobic reporting leads to construct Muslim as outsider and as a domestic threat to the streets of Britain. Furthermore, the BBC broadcast illustrates the level of distortion by reinforcing Islamophobia with the stories analysed as hostile, discriminatory, and derogatory in the negative framing of Muslims in the British press (Sian et al., 2012). A significant amount of stories related to Muslims is consisting of the one that specifically linked to the threat of terrorism, or Islam as dangerous, backward religion rather than Islam as part of multiculturalism or diversity topics. Negative stories about the clash of civilization between Islam and the west, and Muslims as threats outweigh the positive stories (Sian et al., 2012). Briefly, the UK media emphasizes the relation between violent acts especially terror with Islam, and leads disintegration with Islamophobia among the society by framing Muslims as ‘outsiders' and domestic threats who can potentially give harm by living in the British streets.
The Effects on Muslims and Islamophobia
The representation of Muslims in the media affects the interpretation & behavior of society towards Muslims negatively and reinforces Islamophobia which is an indiscriminate prejudice that tarnishes every Muslim regardless of social, ethnic, or cultural orientation. Effects of Islamophobia on the motives and attitudes of millions of people shape behaviors and beliefs about Muslims (Allen, 2001, 9). This effect is more significant and it leads the multiculturalism outdated by preventing the Muslim right to identity especially after the al-Qaeda attacks in the UK and US. “The tragic events of 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005 have placed a heavy burden on British Muslims: in the approaches adopted both in the media and often in political rhetoric, Muslims find their loyalties tested and are made to renounce violence and terrorism more than any other minority group” (Rehman, 2007, 856). The burden can be exemplified by physical or psychological attacks on Muslim communities, discriminative discourses, excluding from society because of stereotyping. To explain, the responses to the media coverage related to 9/11 are examined by interviewing British Muslims and the results demonstrate that Western bias and negative stereotyping significantly contributed to the increase in anti-Muslim attacks and infringements upon civil liberties (Ahmad, 2006, 961).
Additionally, even if a Muslim has a sociable life with ‘good’ integration to the UK, they can be still stereotyped as terrorists. In the media portrayal, radical Muslims are not always represented as lonely, crazy or so extreme rather they are more likely to be seen as ‘us’ so it means they become a bigger threat. This kind of media representation adversely affects thousands of Muslims in the UK as well as around the world by exacerbating Islamophobia. It affects directly the integration of Muslim communities, their lifestyle, and opportunities in the multicultural world. For example, student visa rules in the UK are criticized in a way that allows terrorist threats inside of the country. It was noted that Farouk was privileged and well-mannered, thus evoking the notion that potentially any Muslim could be a terrorist, even the well-mannered‘ and privileged‘ (Daily Mail, 13/10/11, page 31) after recurring words included Al-Qaeda, terrorism, and radical Muslim (Sian et al., 2012).
It is also noteworthy to indicate the Muslims’ reaction to the issue. A vast majority of Muslims consider attacks against civilians as well as other acts of violence as unjustifiable even in the name of Islam by considering the Islamic approach as a guideline (Rane et al., 2014, 22). These incidents affect both non-Muslim and Muslims. Non-Muslims have little/no idea about Islam, both Muslims and non-Muslims has little familiarity Al-Qaeda until the 9/11 attack (Rane et al., 2014, 167) It means that many non-Muslims shaped their ideas towards Islam by attributing to terror attack with news coverage. Furthermore, the psychological and emotional initial responses of Muslims and non-Muslims to 9/11 demonstrate the sharp difference among them. “In contrast to the non-Muslim participants, whose initial reactions to the coverage of 9/11 were marked by shock and disbelief, our Muslim participants responded to the news with fear and anxiety” (Rane et al., 2014, 167). Briefly, framing terror with Islam has a negative influence on Muslim communities and it conduces disintegration among society by emphasizing the “us” “them” distinction.
Comparison with the United States
As it is indicated in many research studies, there is a wide consensus that the media play an instrumental role in stimulating Islamophobia, it is also the case for the US especially after the 9/11 attack within the context of the ‘war on terror'. Media represent terrorism victims as inherently good while constructing the terrorists as the evil ‘other' in order to provide public support of benevolent and legitimate national government and elites. The dominant discourse of antiterrorism can serve to justify extreme acts against the constructed ‘other' and legitimize selecting ideologies (Roy & Ross, 2011, 289). In the evil representation of ‘other' in terror news, it is necessary to note that there is a specific framing that is used differently for Muslims and non-Muslims in the US media coverage. There exists a thematic framing based on the difference between acts of terror conducted by Muslims and non-Muslims in a way that connects terrorism to Islam (Powell, 2018, 257), thus contribute to the fear of the ‘other' among society especially for those who includes Muslims as a minority. In the model of media coverage of terrorist events from 2011-2016, after the event is labeled as terrorism and victims are portrayed as heroes and innocent, for non-Muslim terrorists the reason for the action is associated with being an angry loner with mental illness.
On the contrary, if the terrorist is Muslim, then the reason for the act is investigated in a way that finds ties to international Islamic terrorist groups. Thus, the continuation of fear of Muslim terrorist threats on the US has underlined if the terrorist is a Muslim, while no future global threat from normalized gun violence in the case that the terrorist is not Muslim according to the model stated by Powell.
In addition to similarities between the UK and the US media to associate terror acts with Islam and stimulate Islamophobia, there are also differences in the media coverage of the UK and US as the countries who are one of the most affected by the mortally attacks of al-Qaeda. In the US media regardless of different categories of coverage, al-Qaeda remains effective on the contrary to British coverage that excludes al-Qaeda. “The most significant indicator of indexing found in the US and UK press is that al-Qaeda remains a constant influential term in all of the US maps. However, in the British maps it is non-existent” (Brinson & Stohl, 2009, 241). Furthermore, it is indicated that the US has more episodic coverage rather than thematic coverage of terrorism compared to the UK (Papacharissi & Oliveira, 2008, 52).
Moreover, there are also differences in the sense of scope whether it is international or local. The US has a more international scope than the UK and an emphasis on external causes. However, in this context the situation for the UK is different in a negative sense for the Muslims who live in the UK such as the Pakistani community because “Having identified the source of the problem as coming from within the Pakistani community in London, UK counterterrorism efforts have emphasized building ties between the immigrant community and the local police...” (Brinson & Stohl, 2009, 243). Namely, the difference in framing in the UK with a local scope can be more influential to have a negative portrayal of Muslims especially immigrants among the UK society.
Some findings indicate that there is no portrayal of Muslims as terrorists or a change of representations of Muslims in the media in terms of coverage of terror-related issues. It is contradictory with what is argued and supported above. For instance, there is no portrayal of Muslims as terrorists and little focus on religion and the war on terror in the talk show of CNN and BBC after 10 years past 9/11 (Hayat & Wahab, 2016, 268). Moreover, another research from a different country has also interesting findings. There is no reference to Islam in terms of the responsibility of the 9/11 attacks although there are many news stories related to al-Qaeda Australia TV news after a decade. “Muslims, in general, were not conflated with such groups nor is the ideology of such groups -such as al-Qaeda- presented as a mainstream interpretation of Islam... the few references to the religion and its adherents appeared in the context of bridge-building, moving on and reconciliation” (Rane & Ewart, 2012, 321). As Hayat and Wahab argue there can be a change of representation of Muslims in a positive way and the emphasis on the war on terror can be decreased after a decade.
However, the effects of a decade cannot be non-negligible although this shift contributes to Islam's portrayal in a positive direction. Moreover, the shift in representation may result from strategic changes and dynamic political relations between the US and Muslim countries after Arab Spring, not mainly because of the will to decrease the adverse effects of media portrayal on Muslim communities. Further research can be done to analyse the shifts and the causes of changes in recent years by considering the political dimensions.