Countering Islamophobia Through The Media

Photo: women on the UC Davis Quad
Students try on a hijab at a past campus event to raise cultural awareness. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

With hate crimes against Muslim Americans on the rise—and Muslim women in headscarves a frequent target—a UC Davis professor is launching a program to better educate future U.S. journalists about Islamic cultures and Muslim women.

Anthropologist Suad Joseph, an expert on Middle East gender and family studies, received a $340,000 three-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to organize seminars by leading scholars and to provide mentoring by veteran reporters for journalism and communication graduate students.

The project will also produce a series of guidebooks and other media resources to promote evidence-based coverage of Muslims, Muslim Americans, Muslim women, and Islam.

Joseph, editor of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, has been studying how The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers have covered Arabs and Muslim Americans from the 1850s to the present.

“I think there are some reporters who understand the problem of misrepresentation and account for it,” Joseph said. “But in general, the media promote an assumption, there’s a terrorist attack, ‘Oh, it must be Muslim.’

“There is a popular image often reproduced in the media that Muslim women are all oppressed, that they are completely silenced, and that they have no voice. There’s an assumption that Europeans and Americans need to rescue Muslim women from Muslim men. In fact, Muslim women have always been highly active in all arenas of social life.”

The training will be offered for free to about 25 journalism and communication graduate students a year for three years beginning in 2018. Students accepted into the program will produce articles, videos and photos—sharing their work at an annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association and various media platforms.

Joseph, along with associate editors of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures and other leading scholars of Islam and women and Islamic cultures, will lead the seminars. Joseph has lined up journalists and journalism professors from around the world to give lectures and give students feedback on their work.

 Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science

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