ISIS attracts media coverage, highlights inaccurate Muslim American stereotypes

Sabrina Szos, Staff Reporter

With growing tensions between the United States and the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), has gained notoriety in recent months. This minority extremist group  has a goal of restoring the caliphate, an Islamic state led by a religious or political leader.

The group, which was once a part of but is no longer affiliated with al Qaeda, began around 2004. Working much like a military force, ISIS is headed by the self-titled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Many leaders associated with the group were once former officers of Saddam Hussein’s army. It is estimated that 10,000-15,000 soldiers are to be involved in the coalition.

“ISIL is an indigenous group in a region that has been war torn, oppressed and in military combat for all of our lives,” Dan Larsen, AP Government teacher, said. “This region has never known peace. These people have never known the types of freedoms and liberties to make choices we have.”

Over the past few months, ISIS has gained land and increased control over towns and cities in Iraq and Syria. “The New York Times” reported an increase in these village raidings per year with 51 attacks taking place in 2004-2005 compared to 419 in 2013.

Gaining land comes with gaining oil fields, which has helped fund many of ISIS’s activities. A majority of the money is used toward resources to support its militants, such as purchasing weapons or recruiting new soldiers.

With the recent financial gains and increases in attacks, ISIS’s activities have been heavily followed by the media. This media attention especially increased in America due to the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Their deaths were recorded and broadcasted on social media for Americans to see. ISIS claimed the videos were warnings to the United States for them to end their air strikes in Iraq.

News outlets all over the country have been following the constant breaking news, updating American citizens on the events happening overseas. However, with many not knowing what or who ISIS exactly is, numerous misconceptions have arised, causing false stereotypes.

The assumptions have been formulated by what the media has presented to the public. Whether it’s a well known news source or a Saturday Night Live skit, much of what has been portrayed in mainstream media has the potential to shape Americans’ knowledge of and opinion on the foreign conflict in the Middle East.

A lot of news outlets have portrayed [Muslim Americans] as people to be feared because [news outlets] say a lot of things that are meant to incite a fear of Muslim Americans.

— Amina Moheddin '15

“A lot of news outlets have portrayed [Muslim Americans] as people to be feared because [news outlets] say a lot of things that are meant to incite a fear of Muslim Americans.” Amina Moheddin ’15 said. “I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions on social media, and I’ve confronted people, but people don’t seem to notice what message the media is trying to send.”

Islamophobia, the prejudice and often negative stereotyping against Muslims, has increased now that ISIS has become a common media topic. A recent study done by Pew Research Center found that about one-in-four people in Britain and the United States (23% each) voice unfavorable views of Muslims. Although terrorism has been taking place for decades, incorrect assumptions have been placed on Muslim Americans and their association with numerous terrorist groups.

“We have to be careful on some of the stereotypes we draw, and we need to understand these people,” Larsen said. “We can’t necessarily demonize them, fight them and imagine we can exterminate them.”

If one is interested in such a serious topic, become informed and knowledgeable, Moheddin said. All information received should come from a trusted news source, or as Moheddin suggests, a person who has been to or has a background of Iraq.

“Some people are just trying to be patriotic, and they mistakenly think being patriotic has to be synonymous with being islamophobic,” Moheddin said. “They think Islam is the enemy when it actually isn’t.”