Sunday, February 04, 2007

UK Gov't Urged to Clamp Down on Muslim Stereotyping in Media, Arts

London ( - Charging that movies and TV are filled with stereotypical images of Muslims, an Islamic rights group in Britain is calling for more government intervention in the media.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission, the non-profit group, said in a report there was a systematic bias shown against Muslims throughout the arts.

Beginning centuries ago with classic literature such as the Song of Roland and the works of Dante, where the prophet Mohammed was shown to be trapped in hell, the report charged that prejudice has filtered down to today.

This was seen in newspaper and television journalism, but also in popular movies and fiction, the report said.

Muslims were either shown to be terrorists - for example in action thrillers such as Executive Action or The Siege - or as exotic but inferior, as in movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, the commission said.

In spy novels, "evil and barbaric Muslims" often wanted to overthrow the United States, while the writing of popular novelist James Clavell depicted Iranians as filthy and irrational, it reported.

The commission said the stereotypes affect how non-Muslim British citizens regard Islam, and at the same time alienate Muslims from the rest of society.

The report was accompanied by results of an opinion poll of British Muslims, in which 62 percent of respondents found the media to be "Islamophobic."

The authors of the report concluded that it was apparent the British media's efforts to self-regulate were not working, and that it was time for the government to step in.

The government should monitor media representation of Muslims, and "watchdogs with teeth" should punish news institutions that allow prejudice, through deliberate action or negligence, the commission said.

It also argued that censors need more power to curtail or decline certification of movies with questionable material.

Arzu Merali, one of the report's authors, told Cybercast News Service the measures were needed to combat the barrage of negative images.

"It's not something we're advocating lightly or even happily but it's a solution that must be considered," she said.

However, the report drew some critical reaction, including a scornful response by a prominent Pakistani columnist, Kamran Shafi.

Writing in the Lahore-based Daily Times, Shafi said the commission seemed to want to depict Muslims everywhere as perfect. It's criticism of the cartoon film "Aladdin" as stereotyping Arabs was "ridiculous," he added.

"Can we lighten up please, folks?" Shafi wrote. "Especially those of us who live in the West by choice?"

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