Representations of Islam, Muslims, and Middle Eastern people in popular media often distort the lived experiences of these communities. Although these negative representations have a centuries-long history, many of them resurfaced and came to dominate popular understandings of Islam and the Middle East after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This resource guide showcases how these stereotypes operate in media, discusses their impact upon Muslim and Middle Eastern communities, and demonstrates how to combat these biases in pursuit of inclusive & diverse learning environments.
- Ali S. Asani, "Exploring Muslim Understandings of Islam," (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University)
- John Green, "Crash Course World History: Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar," PBS Learning Media
The following four articles discuss the work of Nour Kteily and his colleagues on the psychology behind stereotyping, dehumanization, and Islamophobia:
- The dark psychology of dehumanization, explainted [Vox Media]
- All Muslims are often blamed for single acts of terror. Psychology explains how to stop it. [Vox Media]
- Psychologists surveyed hundreds of alt-right supporters. The results are unsettling. [Vox Media]
- The Best Way to Combat Anti-Muslim Bias [Pacific Standard]
Three articles by social scientists writing for the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog:
- How fringe attacks on American Muslims became mainstream [PDF]
- Muslims are the least popular religious group in the U.S. They're disliked even more than atheists. [PDF]
- The news media offer slanted coverage of Muslim countries treatment of women [PDF]
Reporting from the The Guardian (UK) on anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States:
- Sharia threat bandwagon just keeps rolling on [The Guardian] - This article is useful for identifying the five basic premises of the anti-Sharia conspiracy theory in the United States. Some or all of these premises routinely re-appear in public attacks and denunciations of Islam and Muslims, regardless of context.
- The fight for the right to be a Muslim in Ameica [The Guardian]
- Anti-sharia laws proliferate as Trump strikes hostile tone toward Muslims [The Guardian]
- Dearborn, Michigan [Guardian Documentaries] - "In the last 12 months the city of Dearborn, Michigan, has been thrown into conflict. At its heart, the conflict is about fear, ideology and identity politics – and what it means to be an American. Dearborn, home to the largest mosque in North America, is a place of apparent contradictions: simultaneously a sleepy, affluent suburb and yet also the subject of rumours about Isis terror cells and sharia law." Released on August 17, 2017.
The following two articles were published by The Atlantic. The first article, by Caner K. Dagli, a professor of Islamic studies, is titled "The Phony Islam of ISIS." It is a response to The Atlantic's March 2015 cover story, "What ISIS Really Wants," by Graeme Wood. Educators can read and assign these articles in any order. One approach would be to read Graeme's lengthier article first and then analyze Dagli's response. To save time, educators could also have their students read Dagli's response first and then review only the portions of the Graeme article that Dagli quotes, paraphrases, or references. Reading and analyzing these articles affords students the opportunity to examine, engage, and question the idea that ISIS' -- or other extremists' -- interpretation of Islam stands at the core of Islamic history, experience, and tradition:
- The Phony Islam of ISIS by Caner K. Dagli [The Atlantic]
- What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood [The Atlantic]
Lesson Plan: Using Multiple Sources to Understand Media Representations of Muslims and related readings:
- Snake and Stranger - Media Coverage of Muslims and Refugee Policy [PDF] - Published by the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. This report is also published online and accompanied by a podcast in which the author summarizes the context and findings of her research.
- We're not Islamophobic, Mr. Obama, we just don't want to get blown up [PDF] - Fox News
- Syrian refugee screening process reveals progress and pitfalls [PDF] - Fox News
- While other countries turn Syrian refugees away, Canadians are taking them home [PDF] - Washington Post Magazine
- Breaking News Consumer's Handbook: Islamophobia Edition [On the Media, WNYC] - This report from WNYC Radio's "On the Media" provides 10 tips for processing media output; these tips can be incorporated into the lesson above.
Historical Newspaper Articles for Analysis and Decoding
- The Mohammedan Revival - New York Times, February 20, 1882
- The Revival of Islam - New York Times, June 13, 1897
Lesson Plans, Teaching Frameworks and Guidelines
- Lesson Plan: Exploring Stereotypes with Aladdin
- Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States [American Academy of Religion]
- Religious Identity Formation - The 3B Framework: Belief, Behavior, Belonging [Religious Freedom Center]
- Six Guidelines for Teaching About Religion [Education Week]
- College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards [PDF] - This framework, published by the National Council for the Social Studies, includes a new supplement added in June 2017 titled "Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework."
Modules from Teaching the Middle East: A Resource for Educators
Teaching the Middle East: A Resource for Educators is comprised of 14 modules written by some of the best scholars in the field of Middle East and Islamic studies. It was created in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities and three University of Chicago units: the Oriental Institute, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the eCUIP Digital Library Project.
Note: Most of the content on this website has not been updated since its initial launch in 2010. There are a lot of broken links.
- The Middle East as Net Exporter of Religion - Investigate the religious ideas of the ancient people of the Middle East, some of which became core elements of four major religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- The Golden Age of Islam - Trace the background and areas of achievement of classical Islamic civilization from 610 to 1258 CE.
- Writing and Literature - Explore the development of the Qur’an and Qasida, the rise of Arabic verbal arts, the renaissance of Persian and Turkic languages, and literary engagement with the challenges of colonialism and modernity.
- The Middle East as Seen Through Foreign Eyes - Learn about America’s continued imagining and stereotyping of the Middle East in the context of the political machinations of the cold war and with advances in telecommunications, which changed the ways people observed and perceived the post-war world.
Teaching Tolerance: PBS Films on Muslims and Islam for the High School and College Classroom
The role of Islam and Muslims in American society has been at the forefront of public attention for several years. Many teachers are eager to generate informed discussion on this issue, tying it to larger themes such as constitutional freedoms and current events. The core mission of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is to share stories of different faiths and cultures, particularly Muslims, in a wider societal context. What are the histories and motivations of this diverse group? How have other cultures impacted it and what influence has it had on the world? These are some of the critical questions UPF explores through its films.
UPF is eager to expand its offerings to more teachers at the high school and college level. Having been broadcast on PBS stations nationwide, UPF's aim is to make history and social studies topics accessible, engaging, and entertaining, while consulting with scholars to keep them authentic. For more information and resources on using UPF films in the K-12 or post-secondary classroom -- including lesson plans and discussion guides -- visit: https://www.upf.tv/teachers/
Additional Reading and Resources
- Mapping Islamophobia: Visualizing Islamophobia and Its Effects - This project uses maps to provide data in a way that empowers viewers to develop their own understanding of Islamophobia in the United States, how American Muslims seek to counter Islamophobia, and how anti-Muslim hate effects the nature of those efforts.
- Islamophobia is Racism: Resource for Teaching & Learning about anti-Muslim Racism in the United States - An interdisciplinary syllabus constructed by college and university faculty that reframes Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism and invites educators to examine it as a structural and systemic problem as opposed to one of individual bias. This resource reflects how the problem of Islamophobia is analyzed and addressed in the post-secondary classroom.
- What is the Truth about American Muslims? Questions and Answers [PDF] - Organized and produced by the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center, this publication provides answers to some of the frequently asked questions about religious freedom and American Muslims.
- Short list of recommended resourecs on media representations and negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims [PDF]. This bibliography was developed in conjunction with the CMES-Oak Park Public Library 2017-18 lecture series Understanding the World of Islam. The first lecture in this series was titled "Media Representations and Negative Stereotypes of Islam, Muslims, and the Middle East" and presented on October 4, 2017.
Articles from Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals
Darker Demons of our Nature: The need to (Re)Focus Attention on Blatant Forms of Dehumanitzation (Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2017)
Abstract: Although dehumanization research first emerged following the overt and conscious denials of humanity present during war and genocide, modern dehumanization research largely examines more subtle and implicit forms of dehumanization in more everyday settings. We argue for the need to reorient the research agenda toward understanding when and why individuals blatantly dehumanize others. We review recent research in a range of contexts suggesting that blatant dehumanization is surprisingly prevalent and potent, uniquely predicting aggressive intergroup attitudes and behavior beyond subtle forms of dehumanization and outgroup dislike, and promoting vicious cycles of conflict.
Backlash: The Politics and Real-World Consequences of Minority Group Dehumanization (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017)
Abstract: Research suggests that members of advantaged groups who feel dehumanized by other groups respond aggressively. But little is known about how meta-dehumanization affects disadvantaged minority group members, historically the primary targets of dehumanization. We examine this important question in the context of the 2016 U.S. Republican Primaries, which have witnessed the widespread derogation and dehumanization of Mexican immigrants and Muslims. Two initial studies document that Americans blatantly dehumanize Mexican immigrants and Muslims; this dehumanization uniquely predicts support for aggressive policies proposed by Republican nominees, and dehumanization is highly associated with supporting Republican candidates (especially Donald Trump). Two further studies show that, in this climate, Latinos and Muslims in the United States feel heavily dehumanized, which predicts hostile responses including support for violent versus non-violent collective action and unwillingness to assist counterterrorism efforts. Our results extend theorizing on dehumanization, and suggest that it may have cyclical and self-fulfilling consequences.
The Fringe Effect: Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse about Islam since the September 11th Attacks (American Sociological Review, 2013)
Abstract: Numerous studies indicate that civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream messages that resonate with prevailing discursive themes. Yet these case studies of highly influential organizations obscure the much larger population that have little or no impact. It is therefore unclear whether civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream discourses or if they become part of the mainstream because of their success. [The author] presents an evolutionary theory of how discursive fields settle after major historical ruptures that highlights framing, social networks, and emotional energy. To illustrate this theory, [the author] uses plagiarism detection software to compare 1,084 press releases about Muslims produced by 120 civil society organizations to 50,407 newspaper articles and television transcripts produced between 2001 and 2008. Although most organizations deployed pro-Muslim discourses after the September 11th attacks, [the author] shows that anti-Muslim fringe organizations dominated the mass media via displays of fear and anger. Institutional amplification of this emotional energy, [the author] argues, created a gravitational pull or “fringe effect” that realigned inter-organizational networks and altered the contours of mainstream discourse itself.