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When media distracts from the bigger issues

  • Published at 01:18 pm February 15th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:01 pm February 16th, 2017
When media distracts from the bigger issues

It has been truly refreshing to see the world come together to protest the recent Muslim ban by the Trump administration on social media in the past few weeks. It was another instance where the internet was used as a tool to unite people and take a stand against everything that is wrong.

From the Shahbagh movement to the Arab Spring, and then to Occupy Wall Street before moving on to squares in Istanbul, Kiev, and Hong Kong -- a lot of these protests happened as much on social media as on the streets.

As someone working in the media, I find it really interesting to see what issues make the headlines, and what don’t. Every protest is political, but the lack of one is even more so. The nature of how these protests are conducted can also shed a lot of light on what ideologies and motivations are fuelling the protests.

While applauding the protests, we must also be aware of what it takes focus away from. For instance, Trump signed off on a new series of bombings on Yemen (killing civilians, including children) -- something that completely flew under the radar of social media netizens.

In fact, even when this bombing was mentioned in international media, the focus was on the fact that an American-Yemeni child died in the bombing. This makes one wonder, would it even be news if it didn’t involve an American?

Another unintentional impact of the protests was the exotification of Islam. While there have been many well-intentioned expressions of solidarity with the Muslim population coming into the US and residing in the US in response to Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, many of these gestures are framed in Western versions of what Islam should or should not be.

For example, many women in the US wore hijab to show their solidarity with their Muslim sisters -- but what does that do in terms of representation of Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab?

Muslim women who don’t tend to cover themselves in the orthodox religious attire have all but disappeared from the public eye.

You can also increasingly see more Muslims being included in debates on different forms of media, but commentators have also warned against using “token Muslim” representation in such national debates, while blatantly ignoring other parts of their identity.

The fact that religion is being used as the key identity of over 1.6 billion people in the world is worrying, to say the least. This generalised white-washing puts all the Muslims in the world in one box, completely ignoring their national, cultural, and personal contexts.

While it is amazing that people are actively protesting for civil rights, we must all be careful of how these protests are framed. Let’s not fall for the viciousness of Western media hysteria, when there are many other political problems at hand to be solved

Interestingly enough, while Trump’s ban on seven Muslim-majority countries is being called a blanket Muslim ban, Saudi Arabia has not been included in the list, despite the fact that 15 out of the 19 9/11 attackers were citizens of said country.

Once again, this omission is as political as the inclusions -- Saudi Arabia is now and has always been a valuable economic partner to the US, or more specifically to the big businesses in the US -- and banning their citizens from the US would ruffle the feathers of many friends of the Trump administration.

At the risk of sounding cynical, the widespread protests against the Muslim ban also makes one wonder why some protests get more coverage than others.

While the sheer audacity and downright prejudice of Trump’s ban has led to understandable levels of outrage, at the same time, it shifts focus away from many other movements in the US which have been fighting for their rights for a much longer time.

The Black Lives Matter movement comes to mind, as does the decades of protests of the indigenous population in the US. In fact, many activists have also suggested that calling the US a “nation of immigrants” in support for allowing greater immigration into the country is offensive for the original inhabitants of the land, who have already had so much taken away from them.

Additionally, it is also ironic that so many people have protested against a Muslim ban, but protests on such scale did not happen in the face of Trump’s continued racism against Mexicans.

Finally, Trump’s Muslim ban has also created a lot of solidarity among Muslims across the world, and many people in Bangladesh have also vehemently protested on social media.

This again shows how important Western media is in directing and controlling our attention.

On our very own borders, there is a large Rohingya population who are also Muslims, but more importantly, are also human beings facing genocide as we speak.

It is the lack of international media outrage that has shifted our attention away from Myanmar’s campaign of extermination.

At the end of the day, while it is amazing that people are actively protesting for civil rights, we must all be careful of how these protests are framed.

Let’s not fall for the viciousness of Western media hysteria, when there are many other political problems at hand to be solved.

Baizid Haque Joarder is a Staff Feature Writer at the Dhaka Tribune.

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