One of the main problems plaguing the Islamic community is its lack of control over its own independent media. Though it would be unfair to say there is a lack of quantity and variety, Muslims still largely depend on others’ platforms to be heard by large audiences, in particular in the West. Over the last years we have seen many top Muslim journalists rising to the top and starting to have a platform, and it has been noted that Muslims journalists are no longer a rare sight in mainstream media newsrooms. The likes of Mehdi Hassan, Tariq Ramadhan, Zeinab Badawi and Amani al-Khatahtbeh come to mind. But there is something all of them have in common: they still depend way too much on non-Islamic mainstream media in order to reach large audiences. One step too far or one use of the wrong word and mainstream media executives can simply choose to remove them and replace them with more agreeable voices.
One example comes to mind- Nafeez Ahmed Mosadeq, arguably one of the best investigative journalists of his generation, and once a distinguished contributor for the Guardian, had his ‘Comment is Free’ section unceremoniously terminated. The reason? A brilliant article that quickly went viral which argued that Israel’s Gaza invasion of July of 2014 was partially motivated by Israel’s interest in gaining control of Gaza’s natural gas resources. In hindsight, it seems to have been a mere pretext to remove the rug from under the feet of one Muslim Journalist that digs too deep, investigates too much, and asks too many questions.
Nafeez has since written brilliant articles about the connections between the CIA and Google, and is one of the go-to sources if one wants serious journalism about the so-called ‘Deep Sate’, i.e., the inner workings of the shadowy sections of governments, whether they be in the Middle East or in the West. It was only a matter of time before the Guardian realised that his work is too subversive for a newspaper which also recently fired hundreds of workers, and the content of which is increasingly lifestyle commentary and cultural critique rather than investigative journalism and deep analysis.
So even though Muslims feature more and more in mainstream media, we have seen little to no advances insofar as ownership of large media outlets go. And perhaps more importantly, not only do we not have large media outlets, we are lagging way behind in the alternative media scene. This is all the more worrying because of the rise of Donald Trump, made possible in great part due to the rise of the neo-reactionary movement which holds a dominant presence in the alternative media. It is not only the alt-right, which was born in Internet forums. All over the West, websites, blogs and Youtube channels are springing up, and their vision is that, get this, the mainstream media lacks credibility because they are too soft, rather than too harsh, on Islam and Muslims.
Alex Jones and his Infowars website, Breitbart News, Rense, the Drudge Report, Milo Yiannopoulis, Tomi Lahren, amongst many, many others, reach millions with their nonsense about what they perceive as the liberal media’s positive bias towards Muslims. Whereas about a decade ago the alternative media in the US and Europe gained ground by appealing to people’s distrust and sense of being victimised and neglected by their own government, many of them have turned 180º and now all of a sudden are outraged not because they see their governments as being too oppressive, but rather because they are not oppressive enough towards Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities. This switch and bait trick has been largely ignored by the Islamic community, but it is having a huge impact of the general public’s perception of Muslims, especially amongst the youth. This does not bode well for the future of Muslims in the West.
But let’s look at the numbers. Here are three tables of News Sites Ranks, divided by Mainstream, Alternative and Islamic media outlets (using the most popular Internet metric service, Alexa):
|Mainstream Media||Alexa Rank (March 2017)|
|New York Times||130|
|Alternative Media||Alexa Rank (March 2017)|
|The Jacobin Mag||27,510|
|Islamic English-Speaking Sites||Alexa Rank (March 2017)|
|Al Awsat News||7,490|
In the middle of the cross-fire between the liberal and alternative media, the most common perspective amongst politically-conscious Muslims, which is that BOTH the liberal and alternative media pay too much attention to so-called Islamic extremism while still disregarding the West’s continued war crimes in the Middle East and the Islamic World, as well as failing to provide detailed coverage for terrorism that is perpetrated by non-Muslims, is all but silenced. Regardless of which media outlets are to blame for the Muslims’ increasing disfranchisement, the truth is that, at least insofar as our power in the media goes, we and only we are to blame. As long as we continue to trust others to tell our story for us, or at best, to let us tell our story as long as it is told in a manner that is acceptable to them, we will continue to not have our own narrative.
But this is the perfect time for Muslims to work together, promote each other’s sites, blogs and channels, and our objective should be clear- to build a strong presence in the alternative media. In a time when the mainstream media is facing a huge crisis, as newspapers cut jobs, readers turn away and their credibility has never been lower amongst the public, we should stop aiming our efforts mainly at gaining space in the mainstream media. Rather our emphasis should be on building wide-reaching alternative media that Muslims and non-Muslims want to read, listen to and watch. In terms of content, we should not aim solely to speak about Islam and the issues facing Muslims, but rather to address all issues which affect everyone, from a fresh and exciting Islamic perspective.
And it is not only the Islamic world and peoples which need, for their own sake, to tell their own story on their own terms. In a world that is increasingly confused and desperately looking for alternative ways of thinking and acting, and yet lacking in radically different ideas that act as an alternative to the hegemonic perspective, building large Islamic media outlets would be of great benefit to everyone.
by João Silva Jordão