Sunday, November 16, 2008

Portrayal of Religion in the Media: Religion is Political

I was doing some research on the topic of this article on the Internet. There were many complaints about the Western media's presentation of Islam, lamenting thewrong image of Islam being portrayed in the media. I agree that the media is not true to the real issue and portrays a designed image of not only Islam but religion in general. However, I look at the problem from a different angle. After spending some time on web searches but I did not find any protests or complaints about how the media glorifies religion and religious institutions and hierarchy. As an atheist, secularist and one who sees many wrongs with religion, I was disappointed. I would like to state here my view of how the media help cover up the evils of religion and helps maintain this outdated value system as part and parcel of the dominant ideology.

Proponents of Islam complain that the Western media portray Islam as a source of aggression, that it stereotypes Muslims as terrorists. They maintain that this is a political agenda by the Western powers who feel threatened by Islam presenting itself as an alternative civilisation. There are some assumptions here, with some of which I agree and some with which I disagree.

Political Agenda

Religion is political. We are made to believe that religion is merely about faith, spirituality and morality, without which humanity will lack any sense of ethics, goodness and humanity. This is the dominant and official view of religion, espoused by the state and education system. A lot of work and money is used to make this image of religion the accepted dominant view. Religion is one of the main ingredients of the dominant ideology. Religion belongs to the political realm as the British monarchy, the Labour or Conservative parties do. Moreover there is a great deal of money involved. Religious institutions have a great deal of wealth at their disposal and constantly struggle to get their hands on more. Perhaps to some extent the Church has lost its power over public opinion in the West. But it is still an inseparable part of the political system, except in France. In Britain the Church and the monarchy are two important pillars of the political system. Religion plays a major part in the education system. Therefore, any presentation of religion in the media, including Islam, is a political act with a political agenda.

In my opinion there is a macro agenda behind religious portrayal. That is, whatever the agenda of every single programme, overall, the role and influence of religion and religious institutions must be maintained and upheld. Religion is not generally questioned nor criticised. A critical programme of religion will in general criticise a certain interpretation of a particular faith. This is true about all religions, including Islam. Therefore, all the complaints and laments about "injustices" done to Islam by the media, is nothing but political pressure to consume even more time and receive a less critical approach.

Wrong Image

Let's move to the complaint that the media portray a wrong image of Islam. I agree. But, I do not see it quite the same way as the proponents of Islam. In my opinion, the media does not come even close to exposing the vile teachings of the real Islam. The view we receive is that an extremist interpretation of Islam is to blame; otherwise, Islam is a nice and peaceful religion. This is total nonsense. There are definitely different interpretations of Islam, some softer and more peaceful than others. In the past three decades we have witnessed the rise of a very violent political force into power in the Middle East and North Africa, which is ideologically based on Islam and uses any measure of terror to gain power, i.e. political Islam, the so-called extremists. If we are only concerned about bombs in our trains, buses and neighbourhoods in the West, then we can blame political Islam and forget about what Islam and Islamists are capable of doing to the society upon which they rule.

Islam, like any other religion, is deeply misogynistic. Women are not considered whole human beings, they are the property of their male relations, and have no rights to move about, to work and to take part in society without their male owner's permission. Even with the man's permission, they are not allowed to occupy some professions; they cannot become judges or political leaders, for example. Gender apartheid is an important pillar of society under Islam.

The penal code in Islam is extremely harsh, violent and inhuman. Muslims are by their faith deprived of music, happiness and fun. To sum it up Islam is a very morbid, dull and violent religion. There are Muslims who live as per the tenets of modern society, but they cannot claim that this is another interpretation of Islam. Islam, as a religion, does not allow for these things, period.

Fairness and Balance

The complaints against the media address the issue of fairness and balance, as well. They claim that the media is neither fair nor balanced vis-à-vis Islam. I agree with the statement, but again from the opposite angle. We talked about presenting different interpretations of Islam. However, the question is whose interpretation? How do we decide whose interpretations must be voiced? At present, the media voices two groups: one, the self-appointed Muslim leaders; two, those who express a moderate and nice interpretation of Islam. This, to my opinion, is neither fair nor balanced. Hardly any harsh, critical views of Islam or any other religion for that matter are presented by the media. By carrying out this practice, the media plays an important role in the dynamics of power struggle in favour of the so-called religious leaders.

Abuse and hypocrisy are two basic ingredients of religion and religious establishments. Historically many people have been killed under the name of god and religion. The most violent abuses have been carried out by men of god. And
still in this day religion continues to kill, maim, abuse and terrorise. But the media is mainly concerned with presenting a game of holy and spiritual make-believe.

What is it about religion that makes it untouchable? Even when gruesome scandals are revealed, such as child abuse by the Catholic Church both in Ireland and the USA, the state and the mainstream media tend not to concern themselves as they should. We heard much more about the child abuse case against Michael Jackson, a case which was disproved in the court of law, than the Catholic Church with a few hundred cases of child abuse against the whole establishment which cost the church millions of dollars. Why is the media so reluctant to expose the religious hierarchy? Why do men of God get a free ride?

The public is becoming increasingly disenchanted with religion and religious establishments in the West. The media does not reflect this important fact. Atheists are becoming more outspoken but this, too, is ignored by the mainstream media.

Instead the media continues to aid the mystification of religion as an untouchable institution. The most banal and backward teachings are treated as the absolute truth, a given fact, hardly questioned and rarely criticised. The media is an important instrument in upholding the myth of God.

Azar Majedi is the chair of Organisation for Women's Liberation-Iran and a veteran campaigner for women's rights and against political Islam.

Republished from:

1 comment:

Hilath said...

Richard Dawkins in "The God Delusion" also raised the issue why religions are given a "privileged position." That is, why nobody analyses or criticises but gives "undue respect" by shying away whenever controversial religious issues arise. As "everything under the sun should be debatable" perhaps it's the cowardice of men (women should be delighted I've excluded them here) who are giving religions unjustified free reign over all aspects of our lives.