Students travel to Washington D.C. to investigate media attitudes toward Muslims
RELEASED: January 24, 2008
Barkin's class, "Islam and the Media: Breeding Hostility Toward Muslims," encourages students to look deeper into characterizations of Islam made by Western media conventions and to consider what the world looks like from the perspective of Muslims around the world.
"In the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq War, it struck me that Americans were getting a strange and distorted image of Islam as a religion—and that image came mostly from news and entertainment media," Barkin says. "I decided to spend some time looking into how Western countries have depicted Islam over the years. I found that the recent distortions had a long history dating back several centuries."
Watching newscasts, reading texts, and comparing coverage interactively only brought the class partway toward understanding in their exploration. "Integral to the class was a trip to Washington D.C., where students were introduced to the Islamic world in a different way," Barkin says. "Among the most important stops was a visit to Al Jazeera, the satellite news channel that enjoys a good reputation in most of the world, but that is regarded with great skepticism by most Americans."
This is not the first time Barkin has brought a class to tour Al Jazeera. In 2006, Barkin's CentreTerm course was the first group ever to tour Al Jazeera's American headquarters during the delicate process of developing an English-language station.
"Al Jazeera had changed a lot in two years," Barkin explains. "It had launched Al Jazeera English, a worldwide English language satellite news service that's available nearly everywhere in the world except for the United States, they told us."
The class was able to watch news shows being filmed live and understand what was being said. "It was one of [the students'] first encounters with straight, international news, devoid of the editorializing, argument and punditry that has come to characterize the U.S. cable news environment," Barkin says.
For many students, the trip was more than simply insightful. Barkin recounts observations made by one student in his class: "U.S. news shows you the bombs getting dropped, but Al Jazeera shows you what happens where they land. They don’t claim to be less biased than other news sources, but seeing their side of the story was an extremely powerful and sometimes emotional experience for all of us."
Shaina Peterson, a senior international relations major from Godfrey, Ill., says. "It's hard to think of something more important than learning about and understanding the world, which is becoming smaller each day," Peterson says. "The recent influx of Islam in Americans' minds and in the media provides an even greater reason to study Western perceptions and interpretations of the religion."
After having taken the class, Peterson has developed a a more intense focus when watching the news. "I pay more attention to the details," she says. "Everything—from story ideas to linguistics to photography—is carefully chosen and constructed."Barkin's course was one of many offered this CentreTerm that allowed students to travel off campus as part of the learning and exploration process. For more information on CentreTerm, click here.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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