The Media's Role in 20 Years of Islamophobia

Notes on a weekend in Doha and my prepared remarks to a panel discussion on Islamophobia that Georgetown University convened. PLUS: Your War on Terror news roundup

The Media's Role in 20 Years of Islamophobia
Supporters of Cordoba House, smeared as the "Ground Zero Mosque," and interviewer. David Shankbone, CC-BY-2.0

Edited by Sam Thielman

DOHA, Qatar—I'm actually back in Brooklyn while I write this, but at major newspapers, it is acceptable to dateline your copy in such circumstances if what you're reporting takes place within the dateline. Feels dishonest, but that is journalistic convention!

At the invitation of Georgetown University's Doha campus, I spent the weekend in Qatar as part of the Hiwaraat Conference Series' two-day symposium on the Global Histories & Practices of Islamophobia. My slice of the conference came on Sunday, when I joined two colleagues for whom I have abiding respect, Laila al-Arian and Sana Saeed of al-Jazeera, to discuss Islamophobia in the media with Mohamad Elmasry of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. Al-Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal was our moderator. 

It doesn't seem like our panel is online. That's a shame, because the printout of my remarks was full of excited scribbles jotted down after Laila, Sana and Mohamad said smart things, and after checking through my luggage in the hope of finding examples for you, it looks like I threw out my papers. That means you're stuck with my prepared remarks as a window into our hour-and-forty-five-minute presentation, and I even revised those on the same paper I apparently threw away. But since I don't often do media criticism, here's me doing some of that.

But first, Doha. The last time I was in Doha was 19 years ago, for al-Jazeera's first-ever international media summit. Believe me when I say Doha looked very different. To the best of my recollection, getting from the airport to the hotel on the Arabian/Persian Gulf involved passing through vast expanses of undeveloped land. Now Doha looks like Miami. 

It was 2004 and I was in my early 20s, which meant that it sounded like a good idea to me and three Chinese journalists I met for us to share a post-midnight handle of whiskey during an impromptu swim in the Gulf, determined to see the sun rise, until an agitated hotel employee sprinted to the shoreline to tell us that under no circumstances could we do that. This time, in my early 40s, I enjoyed grown-up conversations around dinner tables, hotel lobbies and a karak truck with journalists, activists and academics. I recommend the awe-inspiring Museum of Islamic Art, housed in a building designed by I.M. Pei. At this point, as a city, I'm pro-Doha. Proha. 

OK. My remarks are going to follow the paywall, since I need more of you to pay for a subscription to FOREVER WARS! If you want to hear me discuss this some more, check out an upcoming episode of Arsalan Iftikhar's podcast Unpacking Islamophobia. Special shout to Hamza, a FOREVER WARS reader who introduced himself at the Doha conference and let me know our comic-book references don't land well for non-comics people.