Islamaphobic Discourse and Interethnic Conflict: The Influence of News Media Coverage of the ISIS Beheadings on Identity Processes and Intergroup Attitudes

Islamaphobic Discourse and Interethnic Conflict: The Influence of News Media Coverage of the ISIS Beheadings on Identity Processes and Intergroup Attitudes

Bobbi J. Van Gilder (University of Oklahoma, USA) and Zachary B. Massey (University of Oklahoma, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9869-5.ch018
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This chapter examines the Islamaphobic discourse that is perpetuated by the news media coverage of the ISIS beheadings to explain the potential influence of news media on viewers' dissociative behaviors, and the justifications made by social actors for such behaviors. Specifically, this chapter seeks to explore the ways in which intragroup identities are strengthened (ingroup bias) through outgroup derogation. The authors conducted a thematic analysis of news coverage from five major news sources. Findings revealed four themes of problematic discourse: (1) naming the enemy, (2) establishing intergroup threat, (3) homogenizing Islamic peoples, and (4) accentuating the negative. The authors then describe several ways in which media can function as a buffer to alleviate intergroup hostilities through the creation of positive contact situations.
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Background: Identity Processes And Interethnic Conflict

As explained by Kim’s (2005) contextual theory of interethnic communication, ethnic identification becomes especially salient in instances of environmental stress. Kim (2005) conceptualizes ethnicity as “a social category defined by membership that is differentiated from other groups by a set of objective characteristics, qualities, or conditions such as national origin, language, religion, race, and culture” (p. 327). Environmental stress includes any factor that places strain on a social system. Such factors include economic hard times, war, or acts of terrorism. Relevant to the present chapter, the recent acts of ISIS have undoubtedly created environmental stress in the United States. As Kim (2005) explains, interethnic tension “is likely to increase at the individual level when the environment is under duress due to events that are linked to a particular group” (p. 339). As such, we define the current tensions in the United States, specifically the prejudice and discrimination targeting Muslim Americans, as interethnic conflict stemming from environmental duress.

In the post-911 era, interethnic conflicts related to environmental stress can be evidenced by the violent acts directed against Middle-Easterners, by the growth of anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim hate groups (Rubenstein, 2003), and by the derogatory language used by politicians, media personalities, and social elites to justify such discrimination (Allen, 2004). To further exacerbate the anti-Muslim sentiment, and add to an already tense social environment, the terrorist group ISIS executed two American journalists on camera in 2014. The public execution of these journalists was reported extensively by news media sources. To better understand the myriad of identity processes at the intersection of ethnicity, conflict, and media, we outline several relevant theories in the proceeding paragraphs.

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