After 9/11 has induced negative attitudes towards Muslim peoples who tend to be strongly associated with any act of terrorism. The media has played a colossal role in developing such negative association wherein it constantly portrays Muslim people in combination with violent terrorist acts. It does so in a way that they both go hand-and-hand. In other words, it has made it as though the Islamic religion is synonymous with terrorism. The media has perpetuated Muslim stereotypes over the years that followed the 9/11 incident. Because of this, society has developed, and still has developed, this prejudiced mindset about the Islamic religion and the Muslim communities around the world. People immediately assume that any violent act being depicted through the media is the direct result of Muslims. They automatically generate this idea that the act was performed by a Muslim terrorist even when they were not involved whatsoever. Regardless of whether it was true or not, Islamic religion and its Muslim adherents are at the top of societies’ agenda just waiting for the evidence to be generated so that they can then safely blame them for such world affairs. Again, this has led to the attack on the Islamic religion itself wherein people have come to postulate Islam as an act of oppression, violence and hatred towards non-Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiments and campaigns have resulted from such misinformation the media has been generating and feeding its viewers.
Islamophobia has become a new topic of interest among social sciences, political leaders and media commentators. People amongst society have developed this phobia towards Islamic religion and people. It has become a novel “form of racism in Europe and American based on discrimination towards Islam and Muslims” (Talal, n.d., p. 6). The term Islamophobia was coined by the Runnymede Trust that is based in the UK in order to describe two forms of racism (Talal, n.d.). On the one hand, it describes differences in the Muslims’ physical appearance in comparison to other religions, such as Christianity. The second form of racism it describes is based on their religious and cultural belief systems that have come to be viewed as intolerable by Western and European cultures. As previously mentioned, they are perceived as oppressive towards women and non-Muslims in general. This widespread of Islamophobia has resulted in political and religious leaders and media commentators to “engage in a form of hate speech, asserting with impunity what would have never appear in mainstream broadcast or print media about Jews, Christians and established ethnic and racial groups in America” (Talal, n.d., p. 9).
Therefore, Islamophobia is a serious problem that needs to be examined more carefully because it is a form of racism and discrimination not only towards the Islamic religion but also towards their cultural identity, their way of being. The host of The Savage Nation, Michael Savage, once articulated that
The largest percentage of Americans would like to see a nuclear weapon dropped on a major Arab capital. They don’t even care which one… I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity. It’s the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings (p. 10). We can see that Islamophobia has resulted in an invasion on Muslim Arabs in the Middle East who are all being put under the same umbrella—that of terrorists. The post 9/11 incident brought about a great deal of attention towards Muslim people; they became the center of social attention. However, such attention was not for the good but rather for the worse. This magnitude of attention that they had received created a fear in Western and European cultures, which too, resulted in hate groups and anti-Muslim campaigns.
To see how influential the media is in framing societies’ current attitudes towards Muslims as terrorists, one must examine peoples’ outlook towards the Islamic faith prior to the 9/11 attacks. Westerners were not quite familiar with the Muslim religion and Islamic people in that they did not perceive them as terrorists or dangerous citizens, at least their perception was not as prevalent as it currently is. The connection between Islam and terrorism was not intensified until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center that pushed the Islamic faith into the national and international spotlight (Smith, 2013). As Smith (2013) articulated, “Many Americans who had never given Islam a second thought before 9/11 now had to figure out how to make sense of these events and relate to the faith tradition that ostensibly inspired them” (p. 1). One way in which people made sense of these events was through the media channels that influenced their overall opinions by shaping a framework of censored ideas (Yusof, Hassan, Hassan & Osman, 2013). In a survey conducted by Pew Forum (2012), 32% of people reported that their opinions of Muslims were greatly influenced by the media’s portrayal of Islam that depicted violent pictorials and fundamentalist Muslims. Such constant negative depiction is likely to lead to the inevitable—prejudice and hate crime. For instance, in 2002 alone there were approximately 481 hate crimes that were carried out against Muslims (Smith, 2013). Ever since the 9/11 attacks Muslim people have been the target of “suspicion, harassment and discrimination” (Talal, n.d., p. 9).
On the other end of the scale, people who are more familiar with the Islamic faith tend to report more favorable attitudes towards Muslim people in comparison to those who are not well-educated about Muslims and their religious faith (Smith, 2013). This is why education-based approaches need to be established that aim to teach people about the positive aspects of Islam, rather than focusing only on the negative elements that the media tends to do. Education-based approaches can perhaps shift peoples’ current attitudes from that of being discriminative towards Muslims and their religion to that of a more tolerable one. Furthermore, such education-based approaches can also eliminate, or at least reduce, the associations made between Muslims and terrorism. If Muslim Arabs continue to be negatively put under the social radar then religious groups and nations will not be able to live in harmony and will not be able to tolerate one another’s differences. Moreover, Western cultures, as well as European, need to overlook the media’s false propaganda as it is only spreading the Islamophobia phenomenon. Again, if nothing is being done to mend the current social stance on Islam and Muslims as terrorists then subsequent generations will likely to experience similar discriminative attitudes in the prospective future.
Put in other words, future generations will be the target of social attention similar to the current generation that is being misperceived as terrorists engaging in violent acts in the name of their religion. This false propaganda needs to be put to an end before matters worsen and before innocent children are attacked merely because of their religious affiliation, and being perceived as terrorists before they reach adulthood. With that in mind, we aim to examine the current attitudes towards Muslims and their religious faith and their viewpoints on terrorism amongst Halifax University students that includes a pool sample from Saint Mary’s University, Mount Saint Vincent University and Dalhousie University. We will examine current attitudes associated with the Islamic religion which will give us an idea as to whether or not there is a connection between those who are familiar with the Islamic religion and those who hold favorable attitudes. Our hypothesis is that those who are familiar with the Islamic religion will likely hold more favorable attitudes or at least will not hold discriminative outlooks towards such religious group. We also hypothesize that first year undergraduate students will carry more prejudice and discriminative attitudes towards Muslims in comparison to fourth year students who will have more favorable attitudes.