Young Muslims seek careers correcting media misrepresentations

Participants in the Muslim Youth Leadership Program pose for a photo behind the Northwest Cable News desk. (Photo courtesy CAIR-WA)

Participants in the Muslim Youth Leadership Program pose for a photo behind the Northwest Cable News desk. (Photo courtesy CAIR-WA)

If there’s one statistic that explains the inspiration behind the Council of American-Islamic Relations’ Muslim Youth Leadership Program it’s this: Since 2005, the proportion of Americans with a favorable view of Islam decreased by more than ten percent.

Organizations like CAIR exist to push back against Islamaphobia and violence against Muslims that are common when those kinds of negative perceptions are so widespread.

In 2013, the CAIR-WA office received reports of over 350 cases of discrimination against Muslims in our state alone.

Established four years ago, the Muslim Youth Leadership Program (MYLP) is part of CAIR-WA’s efforts to help Muslims to take a more active role in shaping the portrayal of their communities in the media.

The free event, which took place in two sessions this month, concluding on Thursday, exposes Muslim youth to career opportunities in media, law, politics, and public relations, in order to equip them with the tools to shape information, laws, and policy.

According to CAIR-WA’s Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari, there is an increasing need to encourage today’s Muslim youth — who tend to be more attracted to careers in science and technology — to enter these fields to change the current state of underrepresentation.

“Research shows that we have a lot of work to do to get Muslim youth into these fields, that Muslims are highly underrepresented, ” Bukhari said. “We need to help Muslim youth get their foot in the door — to shape the views of the public, and the depiction of Islam and Muslims. We need actual Muslims to represent themselves and to tell their own stories.”

MYLP participants attend meetings with executives and CEOs at Seattle’s top law firms, public relations companies, and media outlets, as well as with political leaders and top law enforcement officials.

Muslim Youth Leadership Participants on a visit to Latino advocacy organization El Centro de la Raza. (Photo by Atoosa Moinzadeh)

Muslim Youth Leadership Participants on a visit to Latino advocacy organization El Centro de la Raza. (Photo by Atoosa Moinzadeh)

“The number one barrier is that people don’t know about the variety of careers available in these fields,” Bukhari said. “We want to encourage participants to explore options that play to their strengths, and we want them to know what starting median salaries are, career paths are, what someone in that field does every day, etc.”

Tagging along with the program earlier this week, I witnessed participants learning how to talk about the media coverage of Islam and Muslims, meeting the president of political communications consultant The Connections Group, touring Latino advocacy organization El Centro de la Raza, visiting the headquarters of public radio station KUOW, and getting in front of the cameras in the KING 5 Newsroom.

University of Washington student Varisha Khan says the program immediately helped her process current events that were of great significance to her.

“I just found out about the program over Facebook, while my newsfeed had been covered with the things that have been going on in Gaza,” Khan said. “You see news stories and you feel bad and you want to help, and it feels like you can’t do anything. But when I saw this program, I felt that maybe through being involved in media that I can do something to help things in the future.

CAIR-WA recently released an analysis of The Seattle Times’ coverage of Islam and Muslims in 2012, taking a close look at the rhetoric and framing used in those articles. While the report praised “representative” articles that portrayed everyday lives of Muslims, the main takeaway was a recommendation that the Seattle Times “be more accurate in its labeling and contextualization”

“To avoid perpetuating false stereotypes and unintentionally fueling prejudice and hate, reporters must accurately describe the background and reasoning for violent extremism,” the report said. “We found over 500 mentions of words such as ‘Islamist,’ ‘jihadist,’ and their variants. Imprecise terminology can fuel prejudice and hate in readers’ minds and becomes an obstacle in their understanding of issues.”

Leyla Ibrahim (front row, far right), Ardo Hersi (back row, far right) and other MYLP participants at El Centro de la Raza. (Photo by Atoosa Moinzadeh)

Leyla Ibrahim (front row, far right), Ardo Hersi (back row, far right) and other MYLP participants at El Centro de la Raza. (Photo by Atoosa Moinzadeh)

Highline Community College student Leyla Ibrahim says she feels a huge disconnect between media portrayal of Muslim communities and the Middle East, and her own real life experience. Ibrahim says she visited Yemen recently and saw this firsthand.

“I didn’t think [Yemen] was portrayed in the media correctly at all. The portrayal was that of chaos, and this did not match what I was seeing,” Ibrahim said. “I think the media should incorporate the perspectives of those who actually live there.”

Bukhari says he hopes that youth involved in the leadership program will be inspired by the positive examples around them like KUOW’s Amina Al-Sadi, or Granite Falls Mayor Haroon Saleem.

“How did a woman [like Al-Sadi] with a headscarf and a Muslim name that is well spoken and driven make it to the top of her field?” Bukhari said. “We are hoping to have those stories told.”

Recent Foster High School graduate Ardo Hersi already has her goals in mind: upon finishing at Seattle Central Community College with a goal of a 3.8 GPA, she hopes to receive a scholarship to pursue a Journalism degree at the University of Washington.

“People see the headscarf on a Muslim woman and then assume that I’m oppressed, but then they talk to me and see that I’m articulate, confident, and know what I believe in,” Hersi said. “You have to talk to people and educate them if you want to solve anything: we need to not only become cognizant of what’s going on in the media, but also to become leaders for tomorrow.”

Atoosa Sonia Moinzadeh is a UW student studying Economics and Journalism working to contribute to discourses on social justice and socioeconomic activism. When she's not writing, she enjoys making and collecting zines, reading up on pop culture critique, and brushing up on her Farsi.

10 COMMENTS

  1. CAIR is not representative of Muslims. They support violent Islamist and terrorist organizations abroad.

    • Mahmoud Al-Islami, That is an absolute lie. CAIR does not and has never supported terrorist organizations.

  2. “…CAIR exit(s) to push back against Islamaphobia and violence against Muslims that are common…” Common? That is false and hyperbolic. A phobia is an irrational and debilitating fear of something that will not likely hurt you. On a day when we have a video of Islamic pigs sawing off the head of an American, the word “phobia” does not apply. What violence against Muslims? Where and how? It is little and very uncommon. How does CAIR define “discrimination?” A thug robs a gas station and calls the owner a name? Hardly discrimination. Someone gives a person in Muslim garb a funny look? Nope. I know and have worked with Muslims here and overseas, I am told that the people at the Irdiris mosque are great neighbors, and I have attended an Iftar feast with the Turkish community. These young people are not to blame; this is not Europe where Muslims frequently riot and commit acts of murderous violence. But the image of Islam we see every day is vicious, bloody, violent, genocidal, “honor”-murdering – women only, of course – intolerant, suicidal, and plain evil. And little is said among the Muslim community to denounce this horror. Perhaps instead of looking outward and wondering why we non-Muslims see Islam negatively, perhaps Muslims need to hold the mirror up and look at Islam and then decide what they should say to us.

  3. Why don’t more Muslims speak out forcefully against the radical element of Islam, the so-called “religion of peace?” Why do you not focus your attention on those Muslims who would want to destroy America and denounce them? Why do you tolerate those jihadist schools that inflame your youth to incite violence against all things Western in general and American in particular? Why is it that in America you are free to worship as you please, but in an Islamic country, those who follow Christianity are often persecuted? Why is that?

    Instead of seeking careers trying to do something about those incorrect views about Islam, you might want to demonstrate your abhorrence against the radical element of Islam by forcefully and unequivocally speaking out against it. Once you prove that you are as appalled by their actions as the rest of civilized society, the rest of us might feel more inclined to listen to the rest of what you have to say.

  4. “Since 2005, the proportion of Americans with a favorable view of Islam decreased by more than ten percent.”
    This is the first good news about Islam we have had in a long time. Good start!

    People need to recognize that the Moslem head scarf, the hijab, is a sign of submission to Sharia law. There is good reason for Americans to react negatively toward it.

    As for CAIR, of course they support terrorist organizations. They support Hamas which has been designated a terrorist organization by America, Canada, Australia and the European Union.

    All those Moslems whom CAIR is pushing to make careers in the media will comprise a large contingent of Moslem propagandists masquerading as journalists.

  5. “We found over 500 mentions of words such as ‘Islamist,’ ‘jihadist,’ and their variants. Imprecise terminology can fuel prejudice and hate in readers’ minds and becomes an obstacle in their understanding of issues.”

    Nope. The ideology does that all by itself! Why on earth would one want to use pretty words to describe something so ugly and evil?

  6. Tolerance of intolerance is no virtue. Not all Nazis were terrible people so should we support Nazis? There is a point at which we come to realize that certain groups are dangerous and can’t be tolerated. These groups and organizations have proven themselves to be dangerous to our society. Muslims are such as group. They are at war with America, at war with Hindus, at war with Buddhist, at war with everyone who isn’t like them.

    How can you tolerate people who are intolerant? If Nazi was a faith would you defend Nazis? Not all Nazis were bad people either. But you have to draw a line at some point. ISIS is that line.

    I don’t want to hear about Muslims speaking out against “a few bad apples” I want to see them actively fighting against it. I want to see them start by ending the wearing of covers. Woman should NOT be covered unless you are part of a faith community that believes in isolation from society. You can’t say you want to be part of society AND be apart from society without conflict.

    There are faith communities that do believe in coverings BUT they also stay OUT of secular society. Muslims want it BOTH ways. That is a recipe for conflict.

  7. Tolerance of intolerance is no virtue. Not all Nazis were terrible people so should we support Nazis? There is a point at which we come to realize that certain groups are dangerous and can’t be tolerated. These groups and organizations have proven themselves to be dangerous to our society. Muslims are such as group. They are at war with America, at war with Hindus, at war with Buddhist, at war with everyone who isn’t like them.

    How can you tolerate people who are intolerant? If Nazi was a faith would you defend Nazis? Not all Nazis were bad people either. But you have to draw a line at some point. ISIS is that line.

    I don’t want to hear about Muslims speaking out against “a few bad apples” I want to see them actively fighting against it. I want to see them start by ending the wearing of covers. Woman should NOT be covered unless you are part of a faith community that believes in isolation from society. You can’t say you want to be part of society AND be apart from society without conflict.

    There are faith communities that do believe in coverings BUT they also stay OUT of secular society. Muslims want it BOTH ways. That is a recipe for conflict.

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