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Islamophobia in society

Dr Munnik highlights the pervasiveness of Islamophobia in British society
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The news media are closely connected to discussions about Islamophobia. Perhaps you get your news from the television at set points of the day, from the radio as your commute to work or from a newspaper that you bought at the shops, though this is increasingly less likely. More likely you get it through social media channels, feeds on Twitter or Facebook, apps on your phone or text alerts that bring your headlines, digests and breaking news. However it comes, it is relentless. There is a 24 hour news cycle that social life is always responding to. This massive presence can be overwhelming, and some media scholars and psychologists wonder whether the continuing role of news is itself harmful for our mental health.
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They point to studies that show how a greater exposure to news about traumatic events or increased news consumption during times of risk and uncertainty lead to psychological distress. For example, a study from the US demonstrated a relationship between consuming news about COVID 19 perceived threats to people’s health and finances and psychological distress. The authors propose a feedback loop in which consuming more news leads to greater uncertainty and anxiety, which can then lead people to consume more news in an attempt to find out more about what is going on and perhaps prepare or manage their decisions. Media scholarship is cautious about what has been called media effects. The idea that news coverage causes certain effects on its audience.
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This could be influencing our political attitudes, reducing our attention spans, or making us more anxious. But we do know that media are a growing part of our lives and they are a significant source of the information we have about the world. Therefore, the content of news about Muslims in Britain has an impact on what people know, or think they know, about Muslims and Islam, and that can help shape their attitudes as well as their behaviour. Many Muslims complain that the news tells overwhelmingly negative stories about them, and scholars tend to agree. Since the mid 1990 scholars have conducted many studies looking at what the news in Britain says about Muslims.
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They pay attention to things like word choice, who gets to speak and how the religion is framed in the stories. And the findings are consistent. Islam is represented as a threat to Western society. The religion and its followers are linked with terrorism, extremism and Muslims are described as having values contrary to British values. So the news in general is often about things going wrong. There is something exceptional going on when the subject is Muslims. Reports about Muslims demonstrably include more words associated with conflict For Muslims, this consistent. Media framing can harm their mental health. Anxiety about the repercussions of negative coverage as well as the cognitive effect of being cast as the other will have an effect.
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International students in the UK who are Muslim reported being distressed because of media misrepresentations and feeling vulnerable to attack. Meanwhile, Rusi Jaspal and Marcus Cinnirella suggest that consistent negative coverage of Muslims can inspire feelings of fear, insecurity and hostility among the group of non-Muslim news audiences. This can create another feedback loop where uncertainty is reinforced in the news stories people consume, which in turn makes them more uncertain about Muslims. How do you feel when you read news stories about Muslims and Islam? Do you share the sense that they are overly negative?

In this video, Dr Munnik highlights the pervasiveness of Islamophobia in British society.

Focusing on media narratives around Muslims in Britain, he considers some of the impacts that negative representations might have on mental health. Findings from research on media narratives shows that Islam and Muslims are often represented in negative ways, typically as a “threat to British society”.

Over to you

Dr Munnik asks us to consider the following:

“How do you feel when you read news stories about Muslims and Islam? Do you share the sense that they are overly negative?”

Consider Dr Munnik’s question and share your thoughts and ideas below.

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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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