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What counts as a “Muslim” story?

Munnik, Michael ORCID: 2014. What counts as a “Muslim” story? Presented at: International Society for Media, Religion and Culture, Canterbury, 4-7 August 2014.

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The news media play a profound role in shaping the public’s religious understanding. In this paper, I interrogate the criteria producers cite for including “Muslim” as an element in news stories. How and when “Muslim” is used matters for those who identify as Muslim and for the consuming audience. The texts media scholars identify as Muslim stories typically associate the religion and its practitioners with violence and otherness; scholars reach these conclusions through content analyses of the published texts. In contrast, I analyse the comments of those who produce such texts: journalists and their sources. I draw these comments from qualitative fieldwork conducted in Glasgow, Scotland. Journalists tend to characterise events, issues, or sources as Muslim through negative definition—they tell me when they would not use the term. Sources also contribute to this definition, both passively through their identified association with the term and actively through their communications with journalists, and I scrutinise the boundaries they use to determine what counts as a “Muslim story.” Both sources and journalists justify the term’s use “when it’s relevant,” which leads us to the question, “what makes it relevant?” My participants deem religious or cultural occasions such as festivals and awards dinners to be acceptable occasions for use, but this does not encompass political dimensions of the word “Muslim.” In this matter, source contacts offer diverse responses as to whether issues such as terrorism, foreign policy, or homosexuality are or should be relevant to Muslims’ faith. This ambivalence is also reflected in reticence of journalists: festivals are not “news” per se, and journalists risk criticism if they associate Muslims with terrorism. Statements from both sets of participants concerning the Glasgow airport attack of 2007 contradict many of their views as discussed in the statements above, revealing the contingency of journalism in practice. What emerges is not a consensus on what counts as a Muslim story but an anthropological meditation on the complexity bound up in the term.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2022 09:23

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