Islamaphobia in Mainstream Media

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Ever since 9/11, the Western world has been living in a constant state of fear as they continue to wage their war on terrorism. While it has led to heightened security and ‘big-brother’ like surveillance, it has also arguably led to the persecution of the Muslim population. The media coverage of Islam and Muslim people post-9/11 has been largely negative, associating the religion and its’ people to criminality and most importantly, to terrorism. Such issues have remerged in the recent political climate with the growing prominence of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Iraq and Syria. Currently, race, ethnicity and religion around Muslims have become major issues for Australian media. Even though It appears that the media has adopted ‘dog whistle journalism’ blended with Islamophobic encoded messages which has fuelled hostility against Muslim Australians.

The blatant racist and islamaphobic commentrary was apparent during two key events which occurred in the year of 2014. In September last year, Australia experienced the largest ‘counter-terrorism raids’ operation in Sydney, with more than 600 police officers raiding homes across Sydney. The police force reacted immediately upon intercepting a call between two men, allegedly planning to implement a ‘terrorist attack‘ (this term was used across media outlets and political rehertoric). Media outlets had no problem in foregrounding the ethnicity and religion of the men involved. For example, The Daily Telegraph, did not hesitate to include descriptions of the accused’s physical appearance: ‘Azari who has dark hair, a beard and moustache, had displayed ‘an unusual level of fanaticism’ in the call…’, followed by ‘Azari, who had sat in the dock stroking his beard…smiled briefly…’. Such written descriptions racially profiles the man and perpetuates the stereotype of the appearance of a Muslim man, or I dare say, the appearance of a ‘terrorist’. The unnecessary inclusion of Azari ‘stroking his beard’ and ‘smil[ing]’ is another stereotypically ‘evil’ image. Finally, the inclusion of the ‘curved sword inscribed with black foreign lettering’ was one of the most frightening and powerful images to emerge from the raids. It was described as a ‘lethal sword terror cell’, with the quick assumption that the sword would be used for a terrorist act of beheading a civilian. Such claims were untrue as it was later found that the sword was a decorative piece.

However, while Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph reported the anti-terrorism raids under the headline of ‘terrorism’, the discovery of 50 kilograms of explosive materials in a Brisbane property along with maps hinting that these explosives were to be used in the areas of central Sydney and Newcastle, was simply labelled as a ‘bomb plot’. Behind this plot was a Newcastle local Daniel Fing, a criminal who was jailed in 2006. In particular,Sydney Morning Herald described it as a potential ‘mass attack’, while Daily Telegraph failed to even report that the same materials (DMDT) were used in the 2005 London bombings. The preceding news reports suggest that had the man behind this ‘bomb plot’ been Muslim, then there would have been greater media scrutiny, making unnecessary relations to the religion and the Islamic State. It would have conveniently added to the fear —created by the Australian government — of the growing terror threat from Australian Muslims who had become radicalised in Iraq and Syria. However, unlike the ‘anti-terrorism raids’ considering this was merely a ‘bomb plot’, it was only worthy of a third of page six of the Sydney Morning Herald (Rooke 2014). Thus, considering Mr Fing had 50 kilograms of explosives and Mr Azari was charged in relation to a phone conversation, it really is questionable whether 800 heavily armed NSW Police and AFP officers were needed for the latter.

The media treatment and the political circus surrounding these two events clearly illustrates the islamaphobic undertones that exists in these reports. Considering mainstream media and our political leaders have the power to reach mass audiences, it is scary to think how their messages may be translated for the ordinary layperson. However, thankfully, amidst all this tension last year, this video emerged which has instilled some faith for me in the Australian population. Even though we unfortunately still come across the videos capturing racist tirades on public transport, it’s nice to know these people exist in our society and have the capacity to promote acceptance, diversity and an equal treatment of all Australians regardless of your religious background, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and socio-economic status – we all deserve a fair go!

Non-Human Primates: Animals as the Hidden Victims

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Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals and the answer is: ‘Because animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’

Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.

  -Professor Charles R. Magel

Anyone who knows me would know that I absolutely love animals and hold them to the same regard as humans. In fact, animals are the greatest friends as they provide unconditional love to their human companions. However unfortunately, we live in a society where humans place themselves at the top of the animal hierarchy, with the belief that their Animal-Rightspower, strength and intellectual capacity supposedly lets them govern the treatment of animals. Such a cultural norm has induced the belief that we can love, abuse, exploit, ignore or simply prioritise animals as inferior at our leisure. I personally struggle with this because I believe as humans, we must be the voice for animals. It is our duty to protect them. However, human society has failed in this respect as we use animals for our own personal benefits, namely, for research and education.

Animals are vulnerable to pharmaceutical and chemical industries, as well as university and government bodies, who use animals for the pursuit of scientific progress. These animals are used for experiments such as: genetic engineering, cosmetic testing, psychological research, and medical research. These experiments and the confinement in unnatural enclosed spaces usually subject animals to pain and mental distress. For example, the Draize Rabbit Eye test involved substance being inserted into the eyes of rabbits. The result is evident in the image below.

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Animals are sadly used for such experiments because they are considered to be ‘like’ humans. However ironically, we would never experiment upon humans without their informed consent. Furthermore, as Animals Australia claims, ‘if animals are like us…then surely those animals have the very human attributes’ of conscious awareness and the ability to feel physical and psychological pain, which means they too, deserve to be respected and protected from harm.

According to Animals Australia, more than six million animals are used annually in research in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, while animal testing is legal, all States and Territories have adopted requirements that animal research be conducted in accordance with the ‘Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes’. This aims to reduce the use of animals in research by ensuring that all proposals abide by three main principles:

  • Reduction: reduce the number of animals used.
  • Replacement: use alternative non-animal methods.
  • Refinement: refine procedures to ensure minimal pain and stress.

However, despite these protections, according to Humane Research Australia, as a result of animal testing in 2012, almost 350 000 animals became unconscious without recovery; almost 130 000 animals needed surgery; almost 143 500 experienced major physiological challenge; 144 331 animals were genetically modified; and sadly, 36 070 animals died. These statistics illustrate how the law is failing to protect animals from pain and suffering.

Many organisations such as Animals Australia are lobbying for changes in the law such as prohibiting animal testing as well as banning the importation of products that have been tested on animals.

Advocates urge further steps are needed to protect animals. These include:

  • Placing the onus on the researcher to rebut the presumption that non-animal testing alternatives exist.
  • Eradicating pain and suffering.
  • Conducting and investing in research and development of non-animal testing techniques, resulting in the compulsory adoption of these procedures.
  • Establishing a National Code at the Federal Level, which will ensure a uniform application of the law.

It is clear that public perception towards animal research is changing, with 64% of Australians surveyed in a 2013 opinion poll, agreeing that humans do not have the moral right to experiment on animals.

What can YOU do?

You can educate yourself and others about animal testing and find out whether the products you use at home have been tested on animals. You can also take a pledge to not buy such products and only use products which are not tested on animals. In relation to cosmetic testing involving rabbits, you can help ‘take the cruelty out of beauty’ by only buying cosmetic products with the leaping bunny symbol! Finally, we need to ensure our elected leaders hear our concerns and take Federal action.

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Check out this video for more information on animal testing:

The Hierarchy of Human Suffering

What is news? What makes news? Such questions are constantly under debate in both the public and formal spheres. Ideally, news media institutions have an obligation to report everything that occurs, locally, nationally and internationally in an objective manner. However in reality, news is not transparent and is in fact, a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity. In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. This is particularly apparent in the reporting on stories of atrocities and human suffering.

While on the surface, it may seem like an ordinary course of business for news organisations to report on stories of atrocities and human suffering, it is quite apparent the coverage of such events is hierarchal as they are inherently influenced by cultural, ideological, political and social undertones. Ultimately, certain events of human suffering will be considered more important, relevant and politically advantageous than other events. Such coverage can have the potential undermine events of atrocities and lead to an exploitation of the victims involved.

This was apparent in the media and politicians’ treatment of Malala Yousafzai — a 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban — and Nabila Rehman — an eight-year-old girl who was attacked by the CIA-operated drones in her family home in North Waziristan. Everyone knows who Malala and what Malala’s story is. Malala has received so much media and political attention – she has practically transformed into a celebrity as she has become a symbol of support for American foreign policy. Indeed, it goes without saying as to why Malala’s story has been privileged. Malala was a victim of the Taliban and has been used as a tool for political propaganda by war advocates. Thus the only people who supposedly deserve recognition for their suffering are those who fall victim to the enemy. As Max Fisher wrote from the Washington Post:

‘Western fawning over Malala has become less about her efforts to improve conditions for girls in Pakistan, or certainly about the struggles of millions of girls in Pakistan, and more about our own desire to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy with a celebrity and an easy message. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook, convincing ourselves that it’s simple matter of good guys vs bad guys, that we’re on the right side and that everything is okay.’

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In contrast, Nabila’s story has sadly been marginalised as her suffering was the result of America’s act and thus supposedly, did not deserve recognitionabila-rehman-drone-testimonyn. For example, Nabila travelled to Washington DC with her father to share their story and seek answers about the events of that day. However, at the congressional hearing where they have testimony, only five out of 430 representatives showed up to hear her story. Thus Nabila was practically ignored and those who should have listened, were disinterested in her story. As Murtaza Hussain explains, the marginalisation of Nabila’s story comes down to the perpetrator of her suffering:

‘While Malala was feted by Western media figures, politicians and civic leaders for her heroism, Nabila has become simply another one of the millions of nameless, faceless people who have had their lives destroyed over the past decade of American wars.’

Thus it is quite evident that human suffering is hierarchal as well as political. The media and governments select certain stories of human suffering as a tool for political propaganda. Certain events of human suffering are merely used as puppets to construct a story with an agenda. Please share Nabila’s story and anyone else’s story which gets marginalised by media outlets and the government. Everyone deserves to be heard. No one is more important or less important in our society.

Welcome to the Age of the #Selfie

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The advent of the 21st century has inspired a new digital age, where individuals conduct majority of their daily activities through screens. Indeed this new era has led to a shift in social behaviours and interaction, which now focus on immediacy, connectivity and the ‘self’. One activity that has evolved from this period is the practice of ‘selfie-taking’. A ‘selfie’ has its own structural autonomy and is defined as a ‘photograph one has taken of oneself, typically…taken with a smartphone…and shared via social media’. Thus it is an unmediated, authentic and causal ‘self-portrait’ taken with a smartphone, which is immediately distributed and inscribed into an online network, with the aim of visually communicating of where we are, what we are doing and who we think we are (Saltz 2014). Arguably, the #selfie is a vehicle of self-exploration and self-expression as it provides individuals with the means to mould their authentic selves. (Kwon & Kwon, 2014).

According to Jerry Saltz, this exploration of self-portraiture has existed throughout history, dating back to Roman civilisations and the 1800’s where sculptures and self-portraits were the classic means of exhibiting the ‘self’. For example, Van Eyck’s painting is considered to be the first ever self portrait that is still in existence. Similarly, Robert Cornelius is known as the man who took the world’s first photographic selfie in 1839! Thus the ‘selfie’ is not a new phenomenon. Just as the 21st century selfie trend has appeared in the wake of the social media and Smartphone revolution, the vintage version was also the result of technical innovation.

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Left: Van Eyck’s self portrait; Right: Robert Cornelius’s digital photograph

However, despite the historic roots attached to the #selfie, this popular 21st century activity has been criticised by many as narcissistic. However, in my opinion, selfie-taking alone has not generated a narcissistic society. A new age of narcissism has developed from the emergence of Social Networking Sites (SNSs) and their relationship with the digital practice of selfie-taking. Unlike the 1800’s where Robert Cornelius had to wait between three and 15 minutes for the selfie to be taken; in the 21st century, a mere click of the button enables you to capture a digital photo in seconds. Thus selfie-taking has become more instantaneous, immediate and accessible.

Furthermore, 21st century selfies have become more public and pervasive in the era of Web 2.0 and social media. With SNSs such as Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, selfie-taking has become inevitable. SNSs arguably groom narcissistic tendencies as they provide online users the platform to self-regulate and control self-presentation (Buffardi and Campbell, 2008). In particular, SNSs encourage online users to participate in the art of selfie-taking by providing users with the opportunity to  respond, comment and ‘like’ such photos.

Unfortunately however, such activity has resulted in individuals measuring their self-worth against the number of ‘likes’ or approving ‘comments’ they receive for their selfies. I personally know girls who have deleted photos because they have not received enough ‘likes’. Thus selfie-obsessed individuals, clearly want the digital tick of approval from their 600 or so online ‘friends’ or followers.  While humans have always strived to seek recognition, the #selfie and SNSs have transformed this behaviour through their ability to publicise, measure and compare the person’s online popularity with others. Now, our validations are public; everyone can see you have received positive recognition through the acceptance and approval of 50 ‘likes’ on your digital photo. Understandably, such activities would lead to compulsive disorders and even contribute to self-esteem issues. According to psychiatrist Dr David Veal:

“Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.”

In closing, selfies are evidently eveywhere and have existed throughout history. While they enable greater self-expression, their relationship with 21st century social media can detrimentally impact the self-esteem of individuals who participate in such activities.

Reference List:

Buffardi, L, Campbell, K 2008, ‘Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol.34, No.10, pp1303-1314.

Yoo Jin, K 2014, ‘Consuming the Objectified Self: The Quest for Authentic Self’,  Asia Social Science, vol 11, No 2, pp301-312.