Over the weekend, two bombings in Cairo killed dozens at two churches on Palm Sunday, one of the most crowded days of the year. While these tragic events deserve world attention and careful reporting, the coverage from major U.S. outlets followed an unfortunate pattern--one that highlights religious conflict as a fact of the story, rather than highlighting the use of religious rhetoric as a tool of war.
AFSC's 2016 study on media coverage of violent extremism documented a disturbing trend: 90 percent of the coverage we analyzed in our study mentioned Islam in the context of reporting on violent extremism, far more than any other religious group. In fact, Christianity - the second-most covered religion in our sample - was mentioned in only 13 percent of the articles on violent extremism, with Judaism a distant third at 4 percent of total coverage. This is a problem because major media routinely included Islam in stories about violent extremism, doubling down on the U.S. public's perceived link between Islam and extremist violence. Instead of framing religious rhetoric as a weapon - used by some extremist groups alongside other weapons, like guns and bombs - this coverage frames an entire religion as inherently violent. This framing has a number of consequences. For example, it sets up a dangerous narrative in which U.S. politicians call on "the Muslim community" to stamp out extremist violence, something they would never say to "the Christian community" when someone with a Christian background commits similarly horrific acts. It also drowns out coverage of Muslim activists working for peace and Muslim victims of extremist violence. And, it can help prime the U.S. public for war.
What should journalists do instead? AFSC has developed tip sheets like this one and this one for reporting on this important issue that go beyond the dangerous, racist frames linking Islam to extremist violence. We also have resources like this one and this one on how to improve reporting on the Middle East in particular. Readers also have a role to play. It's important to stay strong when the news is exhausting. Crisis fatigue is a real thing, but don't just tune this kind of coverage out: Demand better coverage instead. You can also help us change the narrative on violent extremism in the media. And follow us on Facebook or Twitter to stay up to date on how you can help us change other war and fearmongering media narratives too!