Simply entering the words ‘British Muslim women’ into the News Google Search will provide you with clarity on the issue of misrepresentation in the media. The search comes back with articles based on the topics of oppression, terrorism, submissiveness or simply the words of British Muslim women attempting to defend themselves against hateful rhetoric.
Fauzia Ahmad links the rise in the Islamophobic hate crime following terror attacks to the way in which the media creates a narrative of the events. She explains that the media creates a divide between the public, it becomes a battle between ‘“modern/Western” values and “traditional/Muslim” dichotomous frameworks’. In 2016/2017, 62,685 race-related hate crimes were reported (a rise in 27%) and 5,949 religious related hate crimes (a rise in 35%).
The phrases and terminology used by the media, such as attacks on “British values” and failure to integrate make Muslim women appear to be the enemy, and subsequently make them easily recognisable targets. The splaying of images of women in traditional Islamic dress across papers following attacks or on topics of terror creates a lingering link in minds of the public. The suspicion and vilification. Ahmad additionally views the terms ‘moderate’ and ‘extreme’ as problematic. To use these terms is to say that Muslims are ultimately grouped together with terrorists, they simply practice to different levels.
Aside from the representation of Muslim women in the media leading to hate crime, there is also the on-going narrative of submissiveness and oppression. Women who chose to wear religious clothing are branded as brainwashed and controlled, people cannot fathom that it is the woman’s own choice- they must have been coerced. Although sadly, some women do not have a choice, these women are the minority. Some people go as far to say that a woman cannot call herself a feminist if she calls herself a Muslim.
The focus on negative and damaging representations of British Muslim women allows their success to be ignored, ‘the successful, well-socialised Muslim woman is completely invisible’. With the accomplishments of British Muslim women being largely ignored by the media, it appears as though she is not permitted to have positive existence in British society, she remains as the ‘other’. Female Muslim narratives should not only be permitted in the media when they are speaking out against their narrow representation, they should instead be permitted to inclusion- eradicating the perception of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
Rihana Osman is a researcher, with a postgraduate degree in Global Ethics and Human Values and a bachelors in Law. Rihana is an advocate for gender equality and social justice.