CAIR-LA: Media coverage of Islam unbalanced

ANAHEIM — The Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) held a media breakfast at its offices Tuesday morning with reporters and editors from various Southern California news outlets to discuss how the American media portrays Islam and Muslims.

The regional office of the Muslim American advocacy and civil liberties group organized the event mainly to give media representatives information, resources and ideas on how to cover Muslims in a more positive light, as they are often typecast.

"Present Muslims like common people," said Ahlam Muhtaseb, assistant professor of communications studies at Cal State San Bernardino.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Muslims' loyalty to the United States has been questioned, and they have been scrutinized and lumped into one group that is seen as untrustworthy and not American enough, said Munira Syeda, CAIR-LA spokeswoman.

Lately, the coverage of the proposed building of an Islamic center, Park51, near the former World Trade Center site in New York City; the abandoned plan by a Florida church to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11; and the upcoming midterm elections has thrust Muslims into the national spotlight.

Typically when there is coverage of Islam or Muslims, it is done in a negative frame of mind, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA.

For example, coverage of Muslims or Islam occurs mainly when a group who uses Islam to advance its agenda commits a suicide bombing in Iraq or elsewhere, or when someone, who also uses Islam to fulfill his goal, is suspected of committing a terrorist act, he said.

But ordinary, everyday Muslims, who make up most of the nearly 1.5 billion followers of Islam worldwide — 6 to 8 million of them in the United States — are not seen or heard, Ayloush said.

As a result, certain words trigger fear or negative perceptions of Muslims among Americans.

Ayloush said people have told him they equate the word "Islam" with terrorism, violence, and intolerance toward women, among other negative perceptions, none of which Islam represents.

On the other hand, positive stories about Muslim doctors who travel overseas to provide medical assistance to the poor, Muslim nurses who tend to the sick, Muslim public school teachers who work in inner cities and neighborhoods, and Muslims volunteers who raise funds for Haiti and other disaster-stricken areas are nowhere to be found on TV, radio or in newspapers, Ayloush said.

The idea is not to refrain from telling the negative stories, but to include the majority of Muslims in daily coverage, in the human interest stories that are heard and read everywhere, Ayloush said.

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