A culture of fear

By CiaraShook

Kim Powell presented images of the media’s portrayal of the Muslim population to a large turnout of students and faculty as they gathered in the Ferguson Auditorium on Nov. 11 for “Representations of Muslim and Islam: What is the Truth?”

Critical Encounters invited Powell to Columbia as part of the Fact and Faith series to speak about common misconceptions about the Islam religion in Western culture. Powell, a professor of Communication Studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was initially interested in studying the media’s representation of Muslims after the events of 9/11.

“They suffered through reactions people had to them, assuming they must have agreed with the acts of 9/11 because they were Muslim,” Powell said. “Every Islamic country issued a statement condemning the events of 9/11, condemning the acts of terrorists and offering sympathy for the victims, but that did not make the media.”

Powell studied Islamic religion and Muslim culture in the city of Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, and has published books and articles on images of Muslims and Islam in the media. Powell said since the events of 9/11, Western countries, particularly the U.S., have associated the religion with acts of terror and barbarism, turning the U.S. into a

culture of fear.

“There are many misperceptions that exist out there in the media,” Powell said. “A lot of these, we get through imagery.”

Powell’s lecture was almost an open forum for discussion, allowing audience members to contribute thoughts and field questions about Islam fact and Muslim culture.

“I want [the audience] to go away with a critical eye toward how the group and religion is being portrayed in the media, and why that’s a problem,” Powell said.

Powell tailored the lecture to Columbia students, who are future media makers.

“We’re a media arts school, so she wanted to make sure [the presentation] was media arts-friendly,” said Sandra Allen, director of Public Relations in the Marketing and

Communications Department.

Ebonne Just, a senior marketing communications major, said college students will start to change the current imagery of Muslims and Islam.

“A lot of the negative images that we’ve seen so far have been by older generations that are still conservative,” Just said. “As we move forward, I feel like our society is becoming more liberal and more forward thinkers. I’m glad that this presentation was here for college students, because we’ll be the ones changing the negative things that are happening.”

Powell said U.S. media chose to turn the Islam faith into a political ideology to destroy Western culture.

“[Since 9/11], people are more aware of [false depictions] now, from the shooting at Ft. Hood, but I don’t think the coverage has gotten better,” Powell said. “If people look to alternative sources like blogs, that can improve the larger culture, but mainstream media, as long as they keep jumping on somebody’s religious affiliation, I don’t see an improvement.”

Powell said the Quran, the holy book of the Islam religion, promotes peace and is against attacking civilians on any count.

Powell explained the misconception of Muslim countries, that U.S. media associates Arab countries with Islam, although only about 18 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries.

Powell said there are differences between a Sunni Muslim and a Shiite Muslim, with Sunni making up 85 percent of the Muslim population. Sunni Muslims believe in elected leaders while Shiites believe that any leader should descend from the prophet Muhammad.

“That’s where it becomes problematic,” Powell said.

Powell said a common misconception among many Westerners is that Islam is only a religion.

“Islam is a way of life,” Powell said. “It can’t be separated from government. There is not separation of church and state in Islam and how they deal with that.”

By Jennie Fouls