Essay: Perceptions of Muslims and Islam in the Media

On September 11, 2001 two planes deliberately crashed into and destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City, and an additional plane was flown into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., with a fourth plane being forced into crashing into a field, thus missing its intended target (Anderson, Danis, & Stohl, 2009). On July 7, 2005, three separate London subways were attacked at the same time (Danis & Stohl, 2009). Both these acts of terrorism rocked these countries to their core; both acts and the resulting arrests from investigations were highly publicized, both in the news media and popular culture media. Additionally both acts were performed by extremist Muslim groups. Incidents such as these, which receive such a high volume of public attention, frame what people in the U.S. and the U.K. think about modern Muslims and Islam.

The majority of people, 54% of those polled; do not personally know anyone who practices Islam (Howe, 2009). This leaves more than a few gaps in the knowledge and understanding of the average person when it comes to the culture of Muslim people. Only about 41% of those polled knew that Allah means God and the Koran is the holy book for Muslims. The rest of that culture is a mystery, and many find it easy to believe what they see on television, read in papers, and hear on the radio. While most news sources stick strictly to the fact, many other sources exaggerate the situation or portray what is rare as the normal standard, such as extremist thoughts and actions.

Terrorism has two sources, domestic and international, and depending on which description is used the perception of the people changes. When people are presented with reports of domestic terrorism, they frame the unknown suspect to be like Timothy McVeigh, a known domestic terrorist, or a vague perception that one of their neighbors could be involved (Danis & Stohl, 2009). When terrorism is described as international, most people in the U.S. and the U.K. automatically assume that the people responsible are of Middle Eastern origin and are Muslim and part of Al Qaida. This leads easier to public support of restricted civil liberties for all Muslims or all Middle Eastern people, regardless of their actual nationality.

In both the U.S. and the U.K., media formats are found to be biased, even in situations where bias is unintentional. This unintentional bias is formed since most of the news media sources are political leaders and military personnel (Anderson, Danis, & Stohl, 2009). This leads the news story to be one sided, even when the guilty parties are part of a larger religious, cultural, or racial group. Even when the news media is being fair, and the actual guilty party is Muslim, they are also being biased, since the actual Muslim culture is not fairly represented by stories of terrorism and violence.

Since the majority of people living in the U.S. and the U.K. do not personally know a Muslim person, and even less knows the bare basics about Muslim and Islam cultures, it is easy for the pictures painted by modern media to be the basis of how Muslims are viewed in these countries. Even the small language differences paint completely different pictures of who is behind terrorist attacks, which can be misleading at best and outright dangerous at worst. When language is clear, the media still holds a bias since those interviewed or used as sources are political and military leaders, giving an unbalanced picture and an unfair view of the average Muslim.


Anderson, N., Danis, M., & Stohl, M. (2009) Onscreen Muslims: Media, identity, terrorism, and public policy. Conference papers: International communication association; 2009 annual conference. Retrieved January 5, 2010, from

Danis, M. & Stohl, M. (2009) Media framing of terrorism in the U.S. and U.K.: Implications for public opinion and civil liberties. Conference papers: International communication association; 2009 annual conference. Retrieved January 5, 2010 from

Howe, J. (2009, October 19). Media coverage of Muslims and Islam still open to criticism. UPIU. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from

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