News Framing & Xenophobia: How Can a Hijab be a Threat?

by Fatemeh Shahkolahi

I take issue with what the media in the United States decide to cover. I have a problem with what the media term to be “newsworthy.” I don’t appreciate the framing of some news stories, especially when it comes to Muslims (and minorities) in the news. Now, I know the framing of stories and the coverage of particular issues in the media is not as simple as I may like it to be. As a student of media, I understand the complexities of media corporations, and the rules and regulations that guide them. But as a human being, I know how easily the use of particular words and adjectives can change the framing of a story.

I say this because of the recent stories involving Muslims and minorities in the media. On March 21, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi mother of five, was left severely beaten in her Southern California home. Along side Alawadi was a xenophobic note her daughter explained (in this Youtube video) as saying, “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” While her story has been picked up by CNN and TIME, it has had limited national exposure.

I cannot imagine how this story would have been reported had a Muslim murdered a person of another faith. In such a case, the media would likely find it easy to label the criminal as an “Islamic extremist” and “fundamentalist” or possibly even a “terrorist.”  (For a comparable example, please see:  “Sarkozy Blames the Internet for Jihadist Violence.”) Yet when it comes to an innocent Muslim woman being murdered, and the evidence of the motive of the crime pointing to her religion and ethnicity, the police have yet to classify this as a hate crime. What scares me even more is the idea that the woman murdered could have been my mother; I could have been killed because of my hijab. Even in that extreme case, likely my death would not be a topic of national discussion.

While this issue may not be a topic of national discussion on mainstream media, citizens are turning to social media once again to discuss issues of xenophobia and social justice. Alawadi’s murder has sparked conversations on Facebook and Twitter, resulting in the creation of the site One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi and #RIPShaima trending worldwide on Twitter. In addition, social media users have banded together to protest against the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Floridian who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when he was shot. Trending topics on Facebook and Twitter include One Million Hoodies and #Trayvon, which organized masses to protest against the justice system in the United States as well as racial profiling. Facebook users from around the United States have created the site Hoodies and Hijabs to promote various events across the U.S. to protest the injustices that continue to exist in our country, bringing together people of all faith and ethnicities. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Violence begets violence; hate begets hate.” It’s nice to see that love and sympathy still exist, even if they only seem to appear in the media online.

(The graphic is from the Facebook page of One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi and is used here under fair use and fair comment guidelines.  To see one of the original reports from San Diego about the Alawadi case before she died, please check below.)

This entry was posted in Culture, Media, Media Framing, Muslims, Social Media, United States, Videos, Xenophobia, YouTube and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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