bismi11.gif (1074 bytes)

Covering Islam:
How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world

By: Edward Said

Reviewed by: Muhammad Khan

Broadcasted on BICNews 17 March 1998

Vintage, London, 1997
pp 200; 7.99.

Knowlege, Power and Islam in the western media

If knowledge is power then those who control the modern western media (visual and print) are most powerful because at a personal level they determine what we like or dislike; what we wear and how we wear it; and more importantly they decide what we should know and what we must not know abut ourselves.

At an international level, they decide what others should wear and what they must not wear; how they should conduct themselves and how they must not conduct themselves; and what they should know and what they must not know about themselves.

Knowledge is power. But the ability to control knowledge is an even greater power. A man’s intellect enables him to think, ponder, contemplate and question. His intellect is, according to Islam, what makes him unique as an individual. Man, by nature, is a rational being but the western media wants him to be irrational.

Irrationalism is to accept or agree with something without verifying it; without thinking and without questioning it. In other words, irrationalism means to let one person think and decide for another. Although the western media claims to be impartial, liberal, free and objective in reality it is biased, subjective, illiberal, insensitive and intolerant. It does not want you to think because it wants to do the thinking for you. It does not want you to question because it wants you to accept it as the truth. It does not want you to know because it wants to control you. This enables it to determine how you perceive yourself and others. In the end, the media’s perception of the world becomes your own perception because you no longer have a perception of your own. From then on you do not see things as they are in reality. You only see the media’s interpretation of reality - without questioning it!

This is called an ‘invisible screen’ which filters all information prior to releasing what it wants us know and blacking out what it does not want us to know. We live in the age of information. And it is the media that interprets and filters information. Thus whoever controls the media controls us because they control information, and those who control information control knowledge. And knowledge is power.

In this book Edward Said has very convincingly proved what I have said above on the role of the modern media, especially that of the modern western media. Originally published in 1981 and reprinted recently with a new introduction, Said shows how the modern western media and its half-baked ‘experts’ (the ‘invisible screen’) work over-time to control and manipulate our perception of Islam and the Muslim world.

In other words, they determine what we should and what we should not know about Islam and the Muslim world. Thus they want us to see Islam as oppressive (hence women in Hijab); that Islam is out-moded (hence hanging, beheading and stoning to death); that Islam is anti-intellectualist (hence book burning); that Islam is restrictive (hence ban on post- and extra-martial affairs, alcohol and gambling); that Islam is extremist (hence Algeria, Lebanon and of course Egypt); that Islam is backward (hence Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan); that Islam causes conflict (hence Palestine, Kashmir and Indonesia); and that Islam is dangerous (hence Turkey and Iran).

This is the modern western media’s perception of Islam and the Muslim world. It wants you to perceive Islam and the Muslim world in the same way as it does. Objectivity. Impartiality. Sensitivity. And liberalism. These are supposedly the cardinal principles of the modern western media.

However, the modern western media does not want you to know that in Islam both men and women are equal; that Islam is tough on crime and the causes of crime; that Islam is a religion of knowledge par excellence; that Islam is the religion of strong ethical principles and a firm moral code; that socially Islam stands for equality and brotherhood; that politically Islam stands for unity and humane governance; that economically Islam stands for justice and fairness. And that Islam is at once a profoundly spiritual and a very practical religion.

The Western media does not want you to know these facts. That is why it manipulates and filters virtually all information about Islam and the Muslim world. In the Western media, balanced views about Islam and the Muslim world are as rare as the Bengal tigers. This means untruth and falsehood about Islam and the Muslim world are consistently propagated in the name of objectivity, liberalism, freedom, democracy and ‘progress’.

In this book, Edward Said explains how and why the Western media does that. The book consists of three chapters. In chapter one he shows how Islam is portrayed as an item of news. In chapter two he takes a closer look at the Iranian revolution and how it was portrayed in the West. In the last chapter, he shows how interpretation influences the role of knowledge and power in the media.

Recommended reading for those who are interested in the role played by the western media in the modern world and how it portrays Islam and the Muslim world in particular.

Muhammad Khan.

-----------------------------
[Currently, he is writing a book, The Mind of Islam: A critical introduction to Islamic ideology and worldview]

index1.gif (3117 bytes)bicnews1.gif (3668 bytes)archives1.gif (3407 bytes)books1.gif (3137 bytes)