Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

1.4. The image of the "Other" in the contacts of Europe, Asia, Africa and America
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Agata S. Nalborczyk (Warsaw)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Anthropological Study of Islam in the Media in the USA
Media, Terror and the Subjugation of the Other

Shanga Norris (Masjid Al Islam Educational Center, Oakland, USA)


The United States government utilizes the media to characterize Islam as an enterprise of terror, thereby masking its own terrorist activities, in order to create an atmosphere for homogenizing the globe into the American popular culture. The clash between the American and Islamic cultures is ideological. A contrast between the two culminates in the subjugation that relegates Muslims to being "other" and therefore unworthy of true recognition. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (1944) describe the formation of the "culture industry," which impacts society via the subsumption of the masses into a means of production. In so doing, individual expression is stifled and every detail is stamped with an air of sameness. The media's portrayal of Muslims is a stereotypical brand. The characterization of Islam as a religion that has been hijacked by fundamentalists creates the atmosphere for the continued clash of the differing ideologies.

Muslims in the Islamic Movement take on the responsibility of eradicating forms of injustice. The responsibility of those who practice Islam in the post-modern age is to reestablish order in civilization. Following the principles and practices of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and the blessings of Allah be with him, who brings about this order. The global imperative from this perspective begins with living a lifestyle free of earthly contaminates, while continuing the effort to establish an Islamic state under the leadership of a caliph. This is the movement that the U.S. government seeks to restrain vis-à-vis the use of the press, which portrays it as destructive. The word, terrorism, which evokes consternation, rage and fear, is linked with the word Islam in the minds of the American public . Terrorism is a descriptive catalogue of violence. It, along with other descriptive terms such as murderers, criminals and cowards arouses anxiety. These terms, and the intent that precedes them, are used to represent Muslims engaged in insurgency movements rather than more nominative portrayals such as workers, helpers, activists or patriots.

The U.S. State Department (2003) defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience" (Jenkins, 2003, p. 4). The key term here is "sub-national." This concludes that state-run political violence is not terrorism. A paradigm is therefore created by which the U.S. and its allies can perpetuate violent political acts in order to enforce regime changes without being deemed terrorists. Incidentally, the word terrorism itself has no concrete definition. It is a moral dilemma. Hence, it is fair for me to say, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Political violence when perpetrated is either accepted or rejected based upon one's connection with the perpetrator.

Many Muslims, including myself, view the struggle of Islam against the Western cultures injustice as a worthy one. When a Muslim decides to wear a bomb, and destroy his enemy, he is utilizing his only resource, himself, to make a statement for liberation. The same is true when a youth throws a rock against a tank. He is stating that he will sacrifice his life to uplift the cause of Allah. Conversely, many Westerner's view those Muslims who wear bombs to enact insurgency as "suicide bombers" and "terrorists" rather than as martyrs and freedom fighters.

An opinion survey conducted in Palestine (2002) shows that more than eighty percent of Palestinian Arabs favored the use of violence against Israel; two-thirds of those who responded said they supported the use of martyr missions. Countless Muslims view Palestine as an occupied land, taken forcibly. Therefore, we believe it must be redeemed. The official declaration of Arab States condemns terrorism and excludes from this term "acts of peoples who combat foreign occupation and aggression by whatever means in order to liberate territories and secure the Arab right to self-determination" (Jenkins, 2000, p. 4). Muslims use instead terms such as freedom fighters, mujahids, resistance fighters, soldiers, and martyrs to describe the actions of those perceived by the West as terrorists. In an article entitled "Al Qaida Claims Responsibility for the Black Out," (2003) the authors write:

In The Name Of God, The Merciful, The Mercy-Giving
Operation Sudden Lightning In The Land Of The Tyrant Of The Age
"If you are suffering, they are suffering even as you suffer," [Qur'an, 4:104]

In compliance with orders of the Commander of the Mujahids, Usamah bin Ladin (may God preserve him), to strike America's economic links, the Abu Hafs al-Misri Brigades struck at two important electricity generating targets in the region of the American East, including the most important economic cities of America and of Canada, (its ally in the war against Islam), the cities of Toronto and New York, and the regions around them. This strike resulted in a cut off of electricity from more than fifty million persons. For security reasons, it is not possible to clarify the manner in which the sabotage of these two points was carried out, in case the mujahids might need to use the same innovative method again soon, if God wills" (

Terrorism is not even-handedly depicted as applicable to non-state and state perpetrators when reported by the U.S. press. It soon became clear to the U.S. Government that the "War on Terrorism" would be considered winnable if it were reduced by excluding any other groups and targeting only Islamic nation states. In fact, acts of terrorism perpetrated by other groups are both underreported and underrepresented, including domestic terrorism, state terrorism and its victims, and insurgent acts in Latin America, Far East Asia and Africa. Herman and O'Sullivan (1984) found that as the government moves to ally itself with a nation, it no longer considers its violence terrorist:

As the Reagan administration rushed into warmer relations with Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, and South Africa, it was obvious that the leaders of these states were not "terrorists" but were merely violating something called "human rights." Terrorists were evidently those who used violence in opposing governments (p. 44).

To expound upon the stereotyping of Islam, I reiterate, the "War on Terrorism" began with the bombing of Afghanistan in October 2001 and continues with the destruction and occupation of Iraq in order to preempt a strike by what were dubbed as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). These WMDs have yet to materialize, although thousands of Iraqi lives have been lost while the military continues its search. Political violence perpetuated by individuals and governments has the same effect. It seeks legitimacy. The United States Government seeks validity through the utilization of its resources. The role of the media is to legitimize state-run terrorism and to make other acts of insurgency illegitimate. The violence enacted by the state is perceived as necessary to achieve the goals. Herman and O'Sullivan imposes this contradiction:

Management of the media is further aided by the force of patriotism. Mass media proprietors and reporters generally believe in the exceptional character of their country, the benevolence of its leaders, and the justice of its government's positions vis-à-vis other competing states. This allows them to be easily mobilized in a struggle against allegedly threatening foreign enemies, especially when their government invokes words like "terrorism" and symbols of evil (p. 193).

To bring some assurance to the terrorist acts enacted by the U.S. government, the media, consequently, has censored, buried and under investigated the information on such acts. When the U.S. military bombs a target, the target is only shown from a bird's-eye view or in the dead of night, so that it is not easily discerned. The victims are depicted as enemies of freedom and, thereby, evil. This is especially true of network news programs that reach an audience of approximately 25-30 million viewers each evening ("Misperceptions", 2003). The following are quotations from George W. Bush that were aired by the U.S. media. He stated," Saddam Hussein is a grave threat to peace, he has an arsenal of terror and possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons." He continued by threatening, "Americans: cannot wait for the final proof -the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. After 11 years, during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he's moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon" (Folkenflik, 2003,

The truth is that the intent of the U.S. is containment of Iraq by means of the Gulf War and the application of subsequent sanctions; as a result hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have been murdered. The weapons arsenals were destroyed, but along with them, the sewage treatment and electrical systems ( However, alarmist quotations give rise to fear and anguish that push the American public into a tailspin. The result is still being felt daily. The war has thus far taken 8,500 Iraqi lives, the lives of hundreds of U.S. soldiers, close to $100 billion dollars has been spent, and there has been a strain on relationships with the international community (ibid).

The U.S. press has made it its purpose to suppress the ideological perspective of Muslims while promoting that of the American government. The aim is to persuade the American public to view as necessary, albeit severe, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the countless killings of Muslims throughout the globe. This condoned rage would contrast with views of others throughout the world that receive less censored news. There is an overwhelming number of misnomers for terrorism to describe all acts perpetrated by Muslims. Currently, the U.S. media has made little effort to investigate the allegations of so-called terrorism perpetuated by Muslims. Colin Powell (cited in "The Media", 2003) informs the United Nations Security Council that "There is a poison plant in North East Iraq." Luke Harding (ibid.), reporter for The Observer, wrote:

If Colin Powell were to visit the shabby Military compound at the foot of a large snow-covered mountain, he might be in for an unpleasant surprise. The US Secretary of State last week confidently described the compound in north-eastern Iraq - run by the Islamic terrorist group Ansar al-Islam - as a 'terrorist chemicals and poisons factory.' Yesterday, however, it emerged that the terrorist factory was nothing of the kind - more a dilapidated collection of concrete outbuildings at the foot of a grassy sloping hill. Behind the barbed wire, and a courtyard strewn with broken rocket parts, are a few empty concrete houses, there is a bakery. There is no sign of chemical weapons anywhere-only the smell of paraffin and vegetable ghee used for cooking. In the kitchen, I discovered some chopped up tomatoes but not much else" ("Revealed: Truth behind US 'poison factory 'claim," The Observer, February 9, 2003).

Reporters conducted this investigation from the U.S. network ABC; however, the Secretary of State was never questioned as to why he made such an assertion.

President Bush (2003) claimed in a press conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair: "Today Italy rounded up yet another cell of people who are willing to use weapons of mass destruction on those of us who love freedom" (cited in "The Media", 2003). This comment is, of course, a false depiction of 28 Pakistanis who were arrested on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack and then released because of insufficient evidence. The truth was found, buried, on page 27 (ibid.).

The Washington Post (2002) reported:

As Bush leads the nation toward a confrontation with Iraq and his party into battle in midterm elections, his rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy in recent weeks. Statements on subjects ranging from the economy to Iraq suggest that a president who won election underscoring Al Gore's knack for distortions and exaggerations has been guilty of a few himself (ibid.).

Yet, in spite of this attack on the President's misrepresentations, the news media continues to mislead the American public in support of the government's desire for hegemony. The United States' administration is steeped in the Americanization of the post-modern world. The result that it seeks is a homogeneous global community that is dependant on popular American culture. This sameness and dependence is reminiscent of Horkheimer and Adorno. It is their view that popular culture would be consumed under the agenda of the "culture industry". The mask of sameness would render the people hopeless. This dependence is characterized by acts of violence that are frighteningly similar to the original "Reign of Terror" of the French. In her article, "The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky," Arundhati Roy (2003) writes:

Since the Second World War, the United States has been at war with or has attacked, among other countries, Korea, Guatemala, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. This list should also include the U.S. governments' covert operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the coups it has engineered, and the dictators it has armed and supported. It should include Israel's U.S. backed war on Lebanon, in which thousands were killed. It should include the key role America has played in the conflict in the Middle East, in which thousands have died fighting Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. It should include America's role in the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1980's in which more than one million people were killed. It should include embargos and sanctions that have led directly, and indirectly, to the death of hundreds of thousand of people, most visibly in Iraq (p. 9).

The death and destruction is perpetrated in the name of "freedom." It is waged in order to secure the geopolitical aim of the American Government, which appears to be the subjugation of the smaller countries of the world. The United States continually perpetrates political terrorism. These actions aim to psychologically control individuals who reside in opposing nations. The level and magnitude of the violence is clearly meant to overwhelm these states, given the myriad killings of individuals. The U.S. Military has enacted psychological operations (PSYOPS) in order to bring Iraqi nationals under the fold of American dictatorship. Gert Van Langendonck (2003) details the use of these "PSYOPS":

Mohammed's shop was one of five housed in Albu Hishma that were partially destroyed on this day by the soldiers of the 1st Battalion 8th Infantry, stationed near the town of Balad. Several other villagers escaped the same fate by hurriedly covering up the anti-American graffiti with mud. Today's mission was part of a new, two-tiered approach to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis in this area, notorious for its stiff resistance against the U.S. 'We have tried to help these people and they have thanked us by shooting at us... We want to make them understand that there is a price to pay if they support the terrorist' said Specialist Bledsoe (Guerrilla News Network. Com).

American soldiers, ironically, have named the town after the slain rap music celebrity Tupac Shakur. They probably do not realize that "shakur" is defined as thankful in Arabic. Americans in the United States were told that the Iraqis should be thankful for their liberation and that American soldiers would be showered with flowers. However, the reality of occupation is a daily barrage of bullets and bombs aimed at the U.S. forces. Increasingly ironic is the realization that the "PSYOPS" tactics were originally utilized in the Vietnam War. They were of no avail in that country either.

Roy (2003) also states in her article:

Speaking about the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington President George W. Bush called the enemies of the United States "enemies of freedom." "Americans are asking why do they hate us?" He said. "They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other" (p.4).

What Bush left out of the equation was that countless Muslims hate the freedom to kill and maim indiscriminately in order to gain new colonialism under the euphemism globalization. The belief that the United States constitution has given the country the right to act empirically has angered an immeasurable number of Muslims (as well as Americans) who have felt the wrath of American sovereignty. The American Dream of freedom, equality and hyper globalization is not quite sanctioned by those involved in the Islamic Movement who have a different dream. Masjid Al Islam Resolution of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1996) states:

We resolve to work with other communities, movements, without regard of whether they are local, national, or international, toward the end of harnessing the power of Muslims and their resources, for the purpose of reestablishing the system of government known as the caliphate, after the pattern of prophethood exemplified by Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) (p. 2).

I conclude by stating that the goal of the Islamic revival is the reestablishment of Islam globally with the purpose of defeating the secular morality that has lead to the pervasive terrorism that exists. This directly contradicts the American Dream, which is based wholeheartedly on materialistic ideals. This ideological clash is the essence of the paradox, which has led to the bloodshed in Muslim lands. Unfortunately, the Americans will not relent although they have themselves in a quandary. Senator Dick Lugar (2003) stated on "Meet the Press": "At the end of the day the President will be supported." His support from many Americans is unyielding. The fear of Islam reigns along with the ethnocentric. However, the clash of the Islamic and the American cultures will continue indefinitely. In a speech given in Indonesia, Dr. Imran Waheed (2003) stated: "All Muslims desire to live by Islamic ideals" ( Allah has made it clear in the Quran that the final decision rests with Him, and He doe not love those who are unjust or create mischief in the land. My purpose is to bring to light the contradiction of the United States government as it claims to fight for American ideals. I hope to liberate my readers from continuing the subjugation of Muslim ideologies through characterizations such as "terrorist" in depicting those whose goal is Islamic unity. I hope that a deeper understanding has been gained which will assist in combating the American government as it moves towards the third world war.

© Shanga Norris (Masjid Al Islam Educational Center, Oakland, USA)


Horkeheimer, Max. & Adorno, Theodor W. (1944). Dialectic of Enlightenment, New York : Continuum Publishing.

Jenkins, Philip. (2003). Images of Terror. What We Can and Cannot Know about Terrorism, New York: Aldine De Grupper.

Abunimah, Ali. (2003). Keeping Americans in the Dark, Electronic Iraq.

Gordon, Barthos. (2003). America Swept to War on a Lie, Toronto Star, October 9.

Herman, Edward S.. & O'Sullivan, Gerry. (1989). The Terrorism Industry. The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror, New York: Pantheon Books.

Roy, Arundhati. (2003). "The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky" ZNet Foreign Policy, 22-10-2003; 22:45.

"Meet the Press" (October 12, 2003) CBS.

Masjid Al Islam (1994). Resolutions, Masjid Al Islam, Inc. Philadelphia, Penn.

1.4. The image of the "Other" in the contacts of Europe, Asia, Africa and America

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For quotation purposes:
Shanga Norris (Oakland, USA): Anthropological Study of Islam in the Media in the USA. Media, Terror and the Subjugation of the Other. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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