The spectrum of American media representation of Muslims stretches from informed reporting to mindless fear-mongering.
Question: Does the media accurately portray Muslim life in America?
Barrett: They are, and they are not. We are, and we are not. I am part of it. I’ll be immodest. You read my book – 300 plus pages – I think you get a very nuanced, very dispassionate view. Not uncritical, not apologetic perspective of an outsider sitting and talking with Muslims telling . . . reconstructing their stories, trying to make some sense of this, you know, fascinating history we see unfolding in front of us. So again immodestly, I think that representative of the media, me, I think I did a pretty good job. So it’s not that there aren’t people out there trying to do this in a very serious way. A reporter from the New York Times just won the Pulitzer Prize last year for an extremely sympathetic series of articles about a very conservative imam here in the New York area. I can’t imagine that many Muslims would have had a . . . you know, a major complaint about the media distorting things. This was, as I say, a very sympathetic portrayal and showed extremely serious attention to the minute concerns of Muslims in this country by the most powerful traditional print outlet in this country, if not in the world. Just a few days ago, the New York Post had on its front page a teddy bear with a reference to this crazy situation in the Sudan talking about . . . And I think it’s headline included the term “Islamonuts”, and it was about wanting to chop off the head of a teacher who had allowed her class of seven year olds to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Now I don’t think coverage like that helps a whole heck of a lot. If you read the article that went along with the provocative image, and you saw that actually this wasn’t about Muslims in this country. But unfortunately people tend to blend and confuse things and think about Muslims generally. They don’t understand that Muslims here are very different from Muslims in the Sudan who might be all concerned about the names that teddy bears are given. And I think that type of coverage is calculated to push people’s buttons and stir up resentments in a way that serious readers would resist. But not all readers are all that serious. And certainly not all viewers of television are that serious. Or people who go to provocative web sites that talk about . . . endlessly about Islamo-fascist and tend to blur the distinctions among people who may truly be radical, and dangerous, and intimidating to us as Americans who are 6,000 miles away and really pose very little direct threat to us versus your neighbor across the street who happens to be from Pakistan and is Muslim; or happens to be from Cairo and is Muslim; or happens to be from Indonesia and is . . . and is Muslim. So the media gets it right sometimes. We’re getting it right more often, and we blow it all the time at the same time. Welcome to the extremely imperfect American media.
Recorded on: 12/4/07