Select and present an article from a current newspaper or magazine in your country, (the UK), that offers an assessment of some social problem. Assess the data in the article in terms of a social scientist’s perspective. What is your conclusion regarding the article.?
Relationships between the West and the Muslim world have been of considerable interest both to politicians and to the general public, especially sociologists. Since the events of 9/11 in America the world has been confronted with the fact that there is a faction within Islam that will do anything to make its voice heard and to further its concerns in the West. This paper therefore has selected a newspaper article concerned with the publication of some cartoons involving the Prophet Mohammed. This has caused considerable upset in the Muslim world and is given a different presentation in different publications. The article selected for analysis here is taken from the Daily Mirror, Saturday 4th February. This paper will assess the data in the article from the perspective of a social scientist and will then give some conclusions regarding the article. Sociological analysis of documents is usually described as content analysis and there are a number of ways in which this type of analysis may be undertaken. Some sociologists use formal content analysis where a number of different texts on a given subject are used. This also sometimes involves the use of statistics (Giddens, 2001). Content analysis may also involve thematic and textual analysis. This paper will use a thematic and textual analysis (as described by Bryman, 2004) to analyse the chosen article. Scott (1990) maintains that great care should be taken when analysing documents, particularly media documents. The person undertaking the analysis needs to be aware of their own position and prejudices at the outset and how this might impact on their reading and understanding of the text. There are, therefore, problems of reliability with this kind of analysis.
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Language and Ideology
The article that I have chosen to analyse is entitled “Muslims Day of Rage: Muslim cartoon Protest rock the world and Britain” by Victoria Ward and Stephen White. The article concerns the protests and violent reactions to the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. The first thing that was noted was the title. Muslim’s Day of Rage, this is the kind of phrase that is likely to add to the Islamaphobia that has been growing in the West since the events of 9/11 and the London terrorist bombings last July. The wording implies that all Muslims were not only upset and insulted by the cartoons, bearing in mind that all forms of representation not only of the prophet, but of human beings are forbidden in Islam, but that most of them are engaging in violent protest. This analysis of the title is confirmed by the opening lines of the article:
FURIOUS Muslims warned Europe it would pay with blood yesterday for publishing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist (Daily Mirror, 4/2/06-no page number given).
Again the article does not differentiate between groups of Muslim protestors and the Muslim community at large. It tends to suggest that the vast majority of Muslims take the view that Europe should be made to pay in blood for the insult. This kind of wording is likely to incite religious and racial hatred. Looking at the article as a whole it might be said that the ideology underlying this article relates to Islamaphobia and is perhaps connected to the writers’ own fears of terrorist attacks. This theme of Muslim violence can be detected throughout the article. What is most problematic about this is that the article does not clearly differentiate between those Muslims engaging in demonstrations and violent protest, and those Muslims who are not. The language is used in such a way that it appears to apply to all Muslims and represents them as an angry and violent group.
The title and opening lines of the article I would suggest, tend to represent Muslim people as a homogenous group who want to see the West pay for the outrageous insult to the Prophet. The writers go on to speak of demonstrations that were charged with hatred in London where the Danish flag was burned and some protestors were claiming that ‘another 7/7 is on its way’ (referring to the tube and bus bombings in London last year). The article refers only briefly to the cartoon itself:
The offending cartoon, which first appeared in a small Danish newspaper, showed the prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry (Daily Mirror, 4/2/06)
No criticism is made of the paper that printed the cartoon, of the cartoonist that produced it, or even of the fact that to Muslims such a cartoon would be viewed as blasphemous. While not wishing to endorse violent protests or to take sides it would seem that the article treats the subject with a very uneven handed approach. Clearly the writers, although this is not mentioned, hold to the idea of free speech and the freedom of the press. The question is why should this unheralded endorsement of free speech be contrasted with the representation of ‘furious’ and ‘angry’ Muslims. The ways in which the information is presented arguably gives a distorted picture of the whole issue. The cartoon is given much less space and attention than the acts of groups of Muslim protestors and tends to minimalise the offence that even the majority of non-demonstrating/protesting Muslims must have felt.
Passive and Active Language
The sentence relating to the cartoon is written in the passive voice, it says that the cartoon ‘first appeared’ as though it was not the work of human hands. By contrast all the recorded incidents concerning the protestors and the demonstrators are presented in the active mode as the following two extracts show.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, more than 150 Muslims stormed a building housing the Danish Embassy and tore down and burned the country’s white and red flag (Daily Mirror, 4/2/06).
Thousands of Palestinian refugees marched through the streets of their camps in Lebanon, burning flags and urging Osama bin Laden to avenge Mohammad (Daily Mirror, 4/2/06).
No information is given as to the accuracy of the number of Palestinian refugees, the authors cite demonstrations from across the world and so some of those represented must have come from secondary sources, live news bulletins or other papers but it is not stated where such information came from or how the numbers given in the article for example the article states that more than 10,000 Palestinians were burning Danish cheese. The ways in which these numbers are presented and the fact that the newspaper makes consistent use of verbs to describe the protests and demonstrations gives what might be said to be an inflated view of what has been going on. The reader could be forgiven for believing that many thousands of Muslims across the globe have been involved in demonstrations and violent protests. Clearly this does not make violent action and threats of violence right but perhaps journalistic ethics were not hugely in evidence judging by the way in which this information was presented. Towards the end of the article Jack Straw condemned the cartoon, but again, not the cartoonist who produced it not the editor that published it. His comes as a voice of calm reason at the end of a litany of violent protest and threats of violence, adding to the overall picture of Muslims as enraged and violent rather than groups of Muslim protestors. At the end of the article the writers point to the fact that the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain urged Muslims not to be provoked by the extreme actions of those elements who were out to exploit the situation. It would seem that this might be a clearer picture of events than that which the writers of the article have presented us with.
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In this paper I have attempted to analyse, from the point of view of a social scientist, a newspaper article that is concerned with protests and demonstrations by some groups of Muslims over their upset at the publication of a cartoon which present the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. I have used a textual and thematic analysis in reading this article and have tried to cover most of its aspects. In undertaking this analysis I was acutely aware that the way in which the article was written annoyed me because I felt that it did not give an accurate picture of Muslims as a whole. It seemed that some of the language used by the writers was used not just to persuade, but to inflame and that this could lead to counter-protest on behalf of those people who see Islam and its people as a threat to Western civilisation.
Bryman, A 2nd ed. 2004 Social Research Methods Oxford, Oxford University Press
Giddens, A. 2001 4th ed. Sociology, Cambridge, Polity Press
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/topstories/tm_objectid=16665334%26method=full%26siteid=94762-name_page.html Daily Mirror, “Muslims Day of Rage: Muslim cartoon Protest rock the world and Britain” by Victoria Ward and Stephen White. 4th February 2006
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