Stereotypical Voice - by Ume Habiba

In recent years, representation in movies and TV shows has become a controversial

topic. Many people feel that the majority of visual media used to lack

representation due to the selectively mainstream mindset, the creative people

behind the media, and the racial & gendered infrastructures of Hollywood. While

diverse representation has increased over the years in response to audience

backlash, the question is: has this shift been positive for minorities?

Take Muslim characters in TV shows and movies—they have often been

exclusively portrayed as terrorists, despite millions of Muslim citizens occupying

positions in every sector of society without any terrorist inclinations. This

relentless misrepresentation has quite a dangerous effect on the human mind and

the development of our psyche. One wonders if the Caucasian Canadian terrorist

who recently drove his truck into a Muslim-presenting family had been shown that

Muslims were humans just like himself, would he have attacked them? If he had

been shown that his country isn’t just for Caucasian people to enjoy, would he have

attacked them?

The West thinks that the difference in culture and norms can only be a pathway

towards terrorism. They see their culture as the only 'normal' way to be, and

anyone deviating from that narrow spectrum stands as an implicit threat to them.

Muslims as mad, bad, angry, uncivilized, irrational, dangerous, and more recently,

a security threat is an image that is embedded within most media misrepresentation

and mischaracterization of Islam and Muslims. Islam as the religion of “violence”,

and Muslims as the monolithic “other” is used by several politicians and hate

mongers alike to create prejudice and fear. As anti-Muslim sentiment grows, it is

clear that media coverage of Islam has an extensive role to play in building

increased feelings of suspicion, insecurity, and anxiety among non-Muslims and

alienation among Muslims. All facts and figures presented to Western media will

never be able to compete with the social stigma against Islam and the geopolitical

investment in it.

One distorted representation of Muslims in TV shows I want to highlight is the

portrayal of Islam as a force “restricting” characters from being who they truly

want to be. Popular TV shows like “Elite” have done this not only by portraying

the hijab as a tool of oppression but by having their Muslim characters drink and

have sex as a sign of their freedom. The most accurate portrayal of Nadia, the

show’s most notable Muslim character, was only in the first episode when she said,

“my hijab is not an accessory.” There are Muslims across the world who drink,

have sex before marriage, are gay, and more, without compromising their faith or

religious practices. We all commit sins, I do too, and there is nothing wrong in

showing Muslims that deviate from conservative lifestyles. However, it is wrong

when they are the only Muslims depicted, and thus, the only Muslims exposed to a

Western audience.

Western media has hence been best at manipulating the words of Islam in aims to

attain their best interests. Their main assertion that Muslims largely support

extremist violence is groundless based on there is evident lack of

comparative research, neglect of visuals, and a dearth of research on online media.

No one is born with hatred in their blood; while we can’t account for personal

negative experiences and how they impact people’s decision-making, we can

change what is seen on TV. Terrorism has no religion. Even Muslims who decide

to commit to a track of terrorism, I would like to argue, cite not their religion, but

their personal experiences as their reasoning.

As modern-day media has become a dominant source of knowledge of Islam and

Muslims it has also been a means to selectively decide what the West should know

about Islam and what should be hidden.

We must hence ask ourselves, what effect does this negative and inappropriate

representation or, rather, misrepresentation, to be precise, of Muslims have on the

human mind? A non-Muslim seeing Muslims exclusively play the villain would

only foster hatred towards them; seeing Islam as something that restricts us would

lead to misunderstandings and microaggressions towards their Muslim friends,

coworkers, baristas, bartenders, and more. A Muslim child seeing such

representation might internalize an unfair destiny, and feel lost navigating their


This is not necessarily subjected to Muslims alone, rather tends to expand to other

culturally, ethnically, or racially distinct groups that coexist with but are

subordinate to a more dominant group. It is, therefore, necessary that we raise our

voice in solidarity against representations that portray one-dimensional,

stereotypical, and negative views. This portrayal contributes to explicit and implicit

individual biases, therefore, increasing the need for the provision of accurate

representation in media.

About the Author:

A pompous bookworm, avid writer, a passionate feminist, with a keen interest in photography/videography are some of the ways to describe me. Writing has given a home to all the random, disconnected thoughts which run through my mind keeping me awake at night. Through it, I have been able to create something cohesive and beautiful and to touch others with my words in the process. To sum it up, it has been always been the way to voice the whisper inside me in a loud world and I hope I was able to o that with this article.

Cover image credits: The Guardian

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