First Year Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Arts
As modern Western society has continued to progress through the processes of modernity, technological advancement has caused the media to become the most effective means of conveying information to the public. As a result, the media and many news outlets in particular generally include a variety of different views and outlooks on current events. Many contemporary issues have been interpreted in a variety of different ways by the media, as well as by those who choose to read or watch it. For example, the recent shootings and terrorist-considered attacks in America have been portrayed by the media in a multitude of ways. Some individuals believe that these attacks should be considered terrorist-based violence, while others have concluded that they stem from core differences in religious belief. In particular, the recent Orlando nightclub shooting was scrutinized as an event which was perpetrated due to religious hatred and prejudice.
In June 2016, 29 year-old Omar Mateen committed what is now considered the deadliest shooting in American history. After entering a nightclub that supported and catered to the LGBTQ community, Mateen shot and killed a total of 49 club patrons, while wounding another 53. Directly prior to this attack, he had sworn allegiance to the the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He also claimed that the shooting was “triggered” by the recent killing of Abu Waheeb, a leader of ISIS, perpetrated by the U.S military. Mateen admitted that the American-led intervention within Iraq and Syria triggered his attack, and that he believed the United States had an obligation to stop bombing ISIS. Because of this, most media outlets portrayed this event as a religious hate crime and a terrorist attack.
Although the media depicted Mateen’s actions, as well as the grounds on which he based his actions, as constructed from bigotry, different theories as to why he committed the attack have also been introduced. His portrayed affiliation with Islam was presented by many media outlets in a fashion that was synonymous with stereotypical Islamophobic rhetoric which gave the general public a reason to believe his actions were those rooted in terrorist activity. This popular portrayal was promptly derived from the idea that there was a connection between his affiliation with ISIS and his claimed hatred for the LGBTQ community. Moreover, Mateen being previously described by those who knew him as being extremely racist and homophobic added to the media’s main consensus as to why the crime was committed.
While some of the aforementioned reports about Mateen’s character may be true, the common rhetoric of the attack excluded all discussion on other potential motives and didn’t leave room for critical analysis. Most of the portrayals failed to mention that preliminary reports suggested Mateen had previously attended the same nightclub as a patron himself, and had used dating apps and websites that suggested homosexual behavior. However, this exclusion can be justified due to the fact that there had been no credible evidence to validate these claims. Moreover, there was correspondingly a lack of evidence to suggest that Mateen had any legitimate ties to ISIS.
After critically reflecting on the media’s main portrayal of the attack, it is clear that religion was presented in a negative light. Mateen’s actions supported the generalizations and negative connotations already associated with Islam. Furthermore, the attack also supported the stereotypical generalization that all members of the Islam community are against the LGBTQ community, which is a false representation of their beliefs. By analyzing the main rhetoric of the media’s representation of Mateen’s actions it is obvious that thoughts and opinions are meant to do nothing but encourage Islamophobic thoughts and opinions. Therefore, the portrayal of the shootings provides a biased account of religion in general, as the opinions based on the causation behind Mateen’s decision gives the majority of the Western audience support in believing that Islam can be continued to be associated with terrorism and violence.
The main authoritative sources that the portrayal refers to included religious officials or representatives. Immediately after the event occurred, many of these figures apologized for Mateen’s actions on behalf of religion, expressing their concerns as to how events such as this force religion to be deemed as harmful or damaging to society. In particular, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee claimed, “violence of this magnitude belongs to no religious, racial or ethnic group.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, and thus a contemporary problem in religion and culture. Mateen’s decision to perpetrate the shooting coupled with his supposed allegiance to ISIS suggests that he must have considered following extremist and Islamic fundamentalism more imperative than following the laws of his country. As modernity and our current context of the world continues to progress and change, Islamophobic views remain prominent in modern day society. Events such as the Orlando shootings remind modern day Westerners that cultural hegemony and the belief that certain cultures or religious views should be considered more dominant, and thus more valuable than populations considered non-dominant.