From the Publisher of The Arizona Muslim Voice

By Wafa Unus

In public discourse, there is often a misunderstanding in the historicity of religion and a displacement of religiosity in areas more suitably analyzed through political contexts. The political history of a people is often mistaken for their religious history. While the two are by no means completely separable, the unintelligible mashing together of the two contexts, as is often done by the media, presents unique challenges.

There are numerous opportunities for those in the religious communities to change the conversation about religion, to correct misconceptions or dispel stereotypes through a growing interfaith culture in the United States. However, the news media the culprit situated at the forefront of the offenses to religious understanding is often the same entity that should, at least to some degree, be providing the populace with accurate, albeit basic, education on topics of discussion in public discourse.

The “media are the problem” stance is a difficult one to overcome in minority communities that feel routinely subjected to misrepresentations. A level of distrust is perhaps even more dangerously superseded by a level of disinterest. Communities begin to shy away from coverage, look at reporters with degrees of skepticism and a feel hesitant to speak freely when the spotlight is, often involuntarily, thrust upon them due to some event caused by someone with a similar sounding name. This discomfort is not invisible to the camera and the community essentially finds itself in another strange position. That hesitance to be portrayed as something they are not, is what causes them to more easily be seen as what they are not.

This, along with the lack of education of reporters on the basic tenets of world religion, and particularly the understanding the history of religion not just as milestones noted in religious scripture but in the political and geographic contexts that shape all histories, makes for extremely poor reporting on minority religious communities in the United States.

With a basic understanding of the challenges that face my own community, the Muslim community, I decided to purchase a small 20 year-old local Muslim newspaper that had long operated more as an aggregator of content than a producer of true local service journalism.

In an effort to better prepare young journalists for dealing with minority communities, particularly religious minorities, I have begun to use the newspaper as a sort of lab. Young journalists of all backgrounds can learn how to interact with a minority religious community and navigate the nuances of understanding the variety of cultures of which they are composed. Likewise, reporters’ interaction with the Muslim community allows them to feel a little less apprehension because of their sense of ownership over their local media. The facilitating of this relationship may slowly, and on a very small scale, make an impact on the preparedness for young reporters to report on minority and religious communities and to give minority and religious communities a greater confidence in their ability to interact with media and journalists.

It is my hope that through this, both journalist and reader will develop a more intelligent, ethical and understanding relationship with one another and subsequently contribute to the production of better, more accurate and more purposeful journalism that is knowledge-based and culturally competent.

Wafa Unus is the publisher of The Arizona Muslim Voice and a doctoral student at Arizona State University.

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