Opinion | Western media has a problem portraying Islam

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A scene from the Netflix show “Elite” of a Muslim character, Nadia Shanaa, who is played by Mina El Hammani. Columnist Chiara Awatramani believes that western media misrepresents Muslims and Islam culture.

By Chiara Awatramani, Columnist

Islam continues to stand as one of the world’s largest religions. Currently, 1.2 billion people follow Islam — around three and a half million of those Muslims live in America. However, in Western media, this peaceful religion is seen as oppressive and dangerous. Islam, like any other religion, deserves to have an accurate and fair representation. 

The rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in America arrived after 9/11. Many Americans turned their backs to anyone with a Muslim name or brown skin. In Europe, anti-Muslim sentiment traces back to wars, refugees crises and African immigrant influxes on the border of Western Europe. Many Europeans in recent years despise and fear Muslims due to the attacks in Belgium and various other countries, a completely irrational and racist fear.

These vicious anti-Muslim sentiments have leaked into Western film and media.

In the Spanish show “Elite,” a Muslim girl named Nadia is portrayed as oppressed by her strict Muslim family — symbolized by Nadia’s hijab. A particularly problematic scene shows Nadia removing her hijab for her love interest Guzman — presenting Islam as a barrier in her love life.

This sends the message to millions of viewers that for Nadia and many other hijabis to be happy and find love, they can’t wear the head covering.

Evidently, since the hijab is a defining feature of Islam for many, portraying it as negative and oppressive devalues and disrespects it. With shows like “Elite” perpetuating this stereotype that a hijab signifies oppression, many are taught Islam is oppressive — that Muslim women are oppressed and forced to wear hijabs, niqabs or burquas.

Many other movies, such as “The Siege” starring Denzel Washington, “Hotel Mumbai” starring Armie Hammer and Dev Patel and another Netflix show called “Grand Army,” portray Muslims as terrorists without any Muslim perspective on the events that occurred. Because Muslims are a minority in America and Europe, an image of Muslims that is correct — not filled with negative stereotypes — is a crucial step in decreasing Islamophobia and increasing love and acceptance towards Muslims.

With movies that portray Islam in a positive light, the Western public can gain a more accurate understanding of Islam and the people who follow it. In this way, negative stereotypes — such as the association of hijabis being oppressed and Muslim men being terrorists — can recede and be replaced with a full picture of Islamic values.

Chiara is a sophomore in LAS.

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