The “Internal Orientalism” of Indian Media 

The Indian media continue to spread Islamophobic discourse and misrepresent Muslims. To create religious animosity and demonize the minority Muslims, the mainstream media have again resorted to publishing fake news. This is a key finding of Boom Live analysis for the year 2023.
Representation Image / ISTOCKPHOTO

The Boom Live did a fact check of around two thousand stories from January to December 2023. According to its report, out of 1190 published fact-checked stories, 183 tried to target Muslims. The important findings of the report found the media disseminating fake news and spreading misinformation about Muslims. News channels, news portals, and wire news with a large circulation are involved in targeting the Muslim community and dividing society on religious lines.

According to the analysis, fake news spreads misinformation about changing demography by implicitly showing that the Muslim population is fast-rising. The tone of media has been so anti-Muslim that 87 per cent of the fact-checked contents, out of 211 stories, were related to religious groups and it targeted Muslims.

Shockingly, the recent brute military exercise of Israel against the impoverished Palestinians was also used by the Indian media to spread anti-Muslim sentiments. Fake and doctored graphics and videos have been shown by the media to create an impression that Muslims are “violent” and they are a threat to “peace” and “democracy”. In several doctored videos, the beheading of the children and execution of the prisoners have been shown.

In other contexts, the media used videos imported from outside India to depict Indian Muslims. The aim was to malign the image of Muslims and create a ground for anti-Muslim sentiments. They all contributed to keeping the fire of the Islamophobic narrative aflame.

It is feared that India is emerging as one of the centres producing Islamophobic content. Even in some videos, the story of Rohingya Muslims was spread in which it was claimed that these Rohingya Muslims were pretending to be “Hindus”. But the Book Live fact check found the whole story misleading and malicious in its approach.

Those who have so far denied the prevalence of hate news and the rising Islamophobia in India, should seriously read Boom’s report. Not to talk of so-called communal media, even a large number of “reputed” mainstream media with wider reach have been found guilty of spreading hatred and misinformation about Muslims. Apart from these, they were in the habit of publishing content in favour of the establishment.

Even a pure matter of science and technology was used to spread hatred against Muslims. For example, when the Chandrayaan-3 satellite was successfully sent onto the moon, contents targeting Muslims were widely disseminated. Propaganda was made that Muslims were “anti-science”, “religious” and “fanatic” in outlook, which is responsible for their “backwardness”. It was also an occasion to question the “patriotism” of the Indian Muslims. For example, a fact-checked story of the Boom Live shows that fake news was spread in which the media showed Kashmiri students beating other students who were celebrating the success of Chandrayaan-3. However, the true story was that a fight among the students broke out over the issue of violating the queue in the university canteen at Mewar University and not over the satellite.

To sum up, the contents of the news stories analysed by Boom Live have again been found to be spreading misinformation, sensationalism, communalism, and anti-Muslim hatred. Such contents contribute to promoting Islamophobia.

To understand Islamophobic discourse, Jewish-born scholar Edward Said can be a great help. Former professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Palestinian Arab Edward Said wrote the path breaking book “Orientalism” (1978). In his work, he was right to argue that the Western media and knowledge system had been in the habit of misrepresenting Arab Muslims.

According to Said, the Western media distorted the reality of the Arabs. The Arab Muslims were shown to be “the perversion” of the people living in the West. According to the Western binary, Arab Muslims were shown to be “barbaric”, “fanatic”, “religious”, “cowardly”, “anti-modern”, and “anti-secular” while those living in the West were praised as “liberal”, “rational”, “scientific”, “brave”, and “modern”.

During the 1973 Arab-Israel war, Edward Said was shocked to see the way the Western media spread misinformation, sensationalism, and misinformation about Arab Muslims. Since he had a lived experience of growing up in the Arab region, he was not able to accept the images and stereotypes produced by the powerful Western media about Muslim Arabs.

This was the immediate context when Edward Said began seriously engaging with the question of the representation of Arab Muslims and the East in Western media and scholarship. Soon, he was able to give a concept of “Orientalism”, which, according to him, is a systematic way of misrepresenting and violating the reality, image, and whole history of the Occident by Western scholars.

Three years later in 1981, Said wrote another important book “Covering Islam”. The subtitle of the book is self-explanatory: “How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world. Following the Iranian Revolution (1979), Said began to look deeply into the way the Western media covered the Arab and Islamic world. Soo Said concluded: “The coverage of Islam by the Western media is misleading and inaccurate, characterized by ethnocentrism, cultural and even racial hatred, deep yet paradoxically free-floating hostility” (ibid, p. li).

The framework that Edward Said gave to study the Arab and Muslim world, can be extended in India to explore how the Muslim minority is being misrepresented by Indian media. While the Orientalist discourse has projected the East as the “another” of the West, similarly the minority community is demonized as “alien” of the mainstream society by the communal media.

There is strong evidence to show that the communal discourse within India heavily borrows Orientalist tools. The communal media, like Orientalist discourse, is in the habit of creating a binary between the majority Hindu community and the minority Muslim community. It ignores history and presents a monolithic picture. It bypasses social and economic conflicts within cultural diversity.

Given the similarity, I would like to place before you the term “internal Orientalism” to explain the phenomenon of the misrepresentation of the minority within a nation-state. The content analysis of Boom Live over the years shows a persistent atmosphere of anti-Muslim discourse created and maintained by the Indian media and state-sponsored scholars.

Like the Orientalist discourse, internal Orientalist discourse creates a similar binary in India in which the majority Hindu community is shown to be “liberal”, “progressive”, “law-abiding”, “nationalist”, and “peace-loving”, while the minority Muslims are demonized as “backward”, “fanatic”, and “anti-national”, “violent”, “cruel”, “anti-women”, “lustful” and “untrustworthy”, who works as a burden for the nation. The concept of “internal Orientalism”, therefore, needs to be explored further to capture the rising anti-minority venom and launch a democratic struggle to counter it.

(The author is a Delhi-based journalist. He has taught political sciences at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University.)



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