Media coverage related to immigrants and its effects on public opinion

March 19, 2014


The reactions of German media towards the result of the Swiss referendum were immense. Most  comments by German media outcried their “shock” about the negative attitudes of parts of the Swiss population towards immigrants. Some journalists were caught off guard, without reflecting their own work, asking how biased media coverage on immigrants has become. While selecting topics for the news, majority of media representatives choose issues such as the “headscarf”, “migration into the welfare system” and “minarets” issues. Just as “bad news are good news”, contributions that mirror the economic, cultural and social vibrant lives of immigrants are hard to find. Immigrants and their issues are relatively represented at the local level, speaking out their claims in local media. They are clearly underrepresented in media at the national, which has a greater influence on the German public opinion.

Recent German media coverage on immigrants and Islam has been very negative. With regards to the upcoming elections for the European parliament, media representatives are responsible to report fair, balanced and comprehensive when covering stories about immigrants. This is said to be the only path for media to avoid the indirect support for right-wing populist parties, which scapegoat immigrants for their political interests.




Georgia Newspaper Column Calls On U.S. To Send Muslims ‘Back To Their Native Land’

A local newspaper in Georgia recently published a column ostensibly about U.S. Middle East policy but which took a hard right turn into birtherism and racism, highlighting the Islamophobia problem at the local-level.

In its June 19 edition, the Advance — local newspaper for Vidalia, GA — published a “Plain Talk” column from author Gerry Allen on the current atmosphere of turbulence in the Middle East. The full article, titled “An Arab Spring or an Arab Fall,” can be read in full here.

Allen opens the piece claiming that Rudyard Kipling — author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” essentially justifying Western imperialism — is one of his favorite authors, quoting the British writer as once saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.” Allen then immediately calls up some of the most repugnant stereotypes of Islam, saying that while denying women and girls educations, Muslims “really don’t favor educating anybody in anything but mayhem.”

From there, the column becomes a tour de force of racism and Islamophobia masquerading as a critique of U.S. foreign policy. On Iraq, Allen notes the folly of attempting to impose democracy on a “truly backward people who had been ruled by tyrants and the Koran for thousands of years.” He criticizes President Obama — whom he frequently refers to as “Obumer” — for wavering on Syria, claiming that the President lacks the “backbone” to impose a no-fly zone. The reason for this lack of decisiveness? “He is a Muslim himself or at least a Muslim sympathizer,” Allen claims of Obama, repeating claims that birthers have made for years.

The localized nature of Islamophobia in the United States lends itself to problems both on the policy front and in terms of hindering efforts to end discrimination. CAP expert Matt Duss recently co-authored a report in which the effect of laws seeking to ban “Sharia law” within states often have unintended legal consequences. “Although packaged as an effort to protect American values and democracy, the bans spring from a movement whose goal is the demonization of the Islamic faith,” Duss wrote, along with the Brennan Center’s Fazia Patel and Amos Toh. “Beyond that, however, many foreign law bans are so broadly phrased as to cast doubt on the validity of a whole host of personal and business arrangements.”

Attempts to correct the many misperceptions of Muslims at the state and local-level often finds itself in conflict with those who would prefer to continue to spread hatred. Just last month, protesters shouted down calls for tolerance at a Tennessee meeting, instead cheering references to an area mosque being set on fire during its construction.


French Muslims Unite Following Al Qaeda Threat

November 1, 2010

Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse argue that in his recently released audio recording targeting France, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was likely trying to further antagonize the tense relationship between the French state and the country’s Islamic population to further his goal of radicalizing European Muslims. But bin Laden demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the current French social landscape: Rather than exacerbating tensions, his clumsy intervention might actually help fix some of the damage done by the French government’s hot and cold relationship with Muslim communities.
The country’s record during the last two years has been mixed for Muslims in France. At the local level, integration is indeed taking place: Islam is increasingly accepted as part of the French landscape; Muslim chaplains have been appointed in the armed forces; and mosque construction is no longer controversial, as it was earlier this decade. On Oct. 27, the al Qaeda leader issued a two-minute declaration threatening the death of seven hostages taken six weeks ago in Niger by offshoot-group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and warning of attacks if France continues fighting alongside the United States in Afghanistan and proceeds with the burqa ban. By all appearances, it seems that bin Laden’s latest communiqué may have the effect of actually repairing the relationship between the French Muslim community and the wider electorate — and uniting them in a common cause: the battle over retirement benefits and budget cuts.

The niqab and burqa debate continues in the Spanish Town Councils.

The ban of wearing burqa and niqab continues at local level in the Spanish Town Councils. On the one side the Town Council of Tàrrega has decided not to ban the
wearing of burqa and niqab in the public spaces and on the other side the city hall of Lleida has decided to ban it. In the meantime some Muslims organizations and
associations like Watani in LLeida are preparing legal actions to stop this type of initiatives.

Demands for muslim cemeteries stirs debate

The president of the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, Farhad Afshar, has called for a legal solution on the federal level with respect to the question of separate burial grounds for Muslims. This comes following the rejection by authorities in Köniz, a suburb of Bern, to create separate cemetery plots for Muslims. Afshar has said goes against freedom of religion, and is now supporting the creation of separate Muslim cemeteries throughout the country

However, his initiative has met with criticism from both scholars and representatives from the Swiss Muslim community. Stéphane Lathion, head of a research group on Islam in Switzerland at the University of Lausanne, stated that in almost all cases where discussions concerning Islamic cemeteries had taken place, solutions had been found at the local level. Lathion also raised the point that a large number of Muslims are also repatriated, while Afshar was more generally criticised by experts for not being representative of Switzerland’s mostly Turkish and Bosnian Muslim community.

Some Muslim leaders such as Abdel Lamhanger, a Socialist councillor in the canton of Fribourg, agree that the issue is relevant; however, it should be the object of negotiation and consensus, rather than federally-imposed legal rulings. In an interview with the French-speaking national radio show Forum, Lamhanger said: “when things are imposed by the judicial system it’s the rule of law, but when they are imposed by negotiation it’s adhesion and the building of a future.”

In some special cases, such as in Geneva, Muslim and Jewish communities have fought together for separate plots. However, according to Nicole Poëll, deputy president of the Platform of Liberal Jews in Switzerland, “the issue of religious cemeteries is not an issue – it’s been resolved.”

Muslims treated better in Switzerland than in Europe

In an interview with two German-language newspapers (“Tages-Anzeiger” and “Bund”), Muslim intellectual and Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan stated that “most Muslims in Switzerland come from the Balkans, have been here for quite some time, and have integrated well into society.” According to him, despite the minaret ban the situation of Muslims in Switzerland is significantly better than in most European countries, especially at the local level; however, the national level will take more time.

Ramadan does not believe there to be any opposition between being a practicing Muslim and a European citizen, and he considers that through the integration of Muslims in Switzerland, Islam has now become a Swiss religion as well. He also noted the prudent responses of Swiss Muslims in reaction to the minaret ban, and said that the relatively modest religious significance of the minaret may explain why there was not a more general outcry from the Muslim world, as had been expected.

Finally with regard to the Libyan affair, he believes that the arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi was justified, as this demonstrated that in Switzerland the law applies to everyone. On the other hand, according to him the apologies of Federal Councilor Metz were a sign of weakness.

Swiss debate over a national representative body for Muslims

In the past few years, many European states have seen the establishment of a national body to represent their respective Muslim population.

Unlike Christianity, Islam does not have a representative and organizational body like the church, which makes it difficult for political institutions to have a contact person for dialogue. Such national representative bodies are now at work in, for instance, France and Germany.

The idea of a single body representing the country’s diverse Muslim groups is one of a number of hot topics now doing the rounds in Switzerland, which is still reeling from the surprise anti-minaret vote two weeks ago. For Stéphane Lathion, head of a research group on Islam in Switzerland at Lausanne University, focusing on a national Muslim umbrella organization right now would be like “putting the cart before the horse”.

“The priority is building ties on a daily basis between Muslim associations and the Swiss population at the local level; not just annual open-door events or inter-religious dialogue, but getting people to talk together more and for associations to take position on specific Muslim issues as well as on social issues regarding the whole of society,” says Lathion.