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Islam as News by Edward Said.

Said, Edward (1981). “Islam as News,” In Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine
How we See the Rest of the World. New York: Vintage Books.

Here is an overview of the chapter by Said:

Edward Said: Islam as News


Thursday May 2nd 2013 by abagond

Cover of Time magazine, April 16th 1979 – using an Orientalist French painting from 1866 that
has nothing to do with the title except for the label “Islam”.

“Islam as News” (1981) was Edward Said’s introduction to “Covering Islam”, his book about
America’s terrible news reporting on the Muslim world. The American press was shockingly
ignorant and nakedly prejudiced. But it gets worse: the press was merely repeating what it heard
in government and scholarly circles!

Said in 1981:

It is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed,
apprehended, either as oil suppliers or as potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human
density, the passion of Arab-Muslims life has entered the awareness of even those people whose
profession it is to report the Islamic world. What we have instead is a limited series of crude,
essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as, among other things, to
make that world vulnerable to military aggression.

By the second edition in 1995 it was even worse:

Sensationalism, crude xenophobia, and insensitive belligerence are the order of the day, with
results on both sides of the imaginary line between “us” and “them” that are extremely
unedifying.

And all this was before 9/11!

Causes:

• Orientalism – the stock stereotypes, half-truths and dichotomous thinking that makes the
East the great Other of the West, especially the Arab Muslim part. It makes the Muslim
world into an exotic place held back by religion which threatens the West. It is an image
that goes back over a thousand years. Western scholarship supports that image as
objective truth.
• Modernization theory – the idea that the world should copy the West, that countries in
Africa and Asia should become mini Americas under “good” leaders – that is, leaders
who obey America. Despite its epic fail in the 1970s – Vietnam, Lebanon, Iran – it has
remained the received wisdom in America, even in scholarly and foreign policy circles.
• Misuse of the word “Islamic” – used where no one would use “Christian” for the
Western counterpart.
• General ignorance – the Muslim world is only covered when there is a foreign crisis –
the fall of shah of Iran, sky-high oil prices, etc. The American public is not provided a
good, solid knowledge of the Muslim world, either by the press or by noted American
scholars.
• Failure of scholarship – American scholars are supposed to study the Muslim world to
death, in part to provide dependable, objective knowledge. They do not. So the American
government is repeatedly blind-sided by what goes on there. Only one scholar, for
example, foresaw the the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. Two years before the civil war in
Lebanon, blood in the streets was still seen as “remote”. Scholars have:
o been blinded by the money – coming from foreign policy circles that supports
their work. This makes scholars unwilling to disagree with American foreign
policy or received wisdom (Orientalism, modernization theory).
o lacked general knowledge of the Muslim world – everyone studies their own
little piece – few have a solid, general overview.
o lacked a knowledge of relevant languages – making them dependent on the
press, who in turn depends in part on them, leading to recycled half-truths.