– Executive Summary –

Prejudice towards Muslim and Sikh Americans continues in America despite advocacy organizations’ efforts to combat it. In fact, the Pew Research Center compiled Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data that show a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crime from 2014 to 2015.[1] This violence also spills over to groups, such as Sikh-Americans, who are deemed to be similar. Some scholars suggest that the prejudice is due to a gap in firsthand interactions between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans, a critical void often filled by a prejudicial media. This thesis investigated underlying causes of media prejudice toward Muslim Americans and how well advocacy organizations utilize intergroup contact theory to fill the gap in firsthand interactions to help reduce prejudice.

This thesis first investigated evidence of media prejudice through an analysis of the media’s portrayal of religious institutions and garments. The analysis included newspaper articles, TV shows, and other academic research to better understand how and why media exacerbates negative stereotypes, further promoting prejudice. Next, the thesis introduced intergroup contact theory, which explains how to build social capital among groups to reduce prejudice.[2] Five advocacy organizations’ efforts were analyzed using a new framework built on intergroup contact theory to determine how well their efforts incorporate its criteria. The research into advocacy organizations also considered how the organizations work with or against the media to prevent and draw attention to media prejudice.

Regarding media prejudice, the research found clear evidence that the media is prejudiced in its depiction of Muslims and Islam. While many of the false depictions and recycled stereotypes were not intentional, they fit the framework of an historically prejudicial Orientalist view of Muslims. There were some examples of intentional prejudice, specifically from FOX News, which willingly served as a legitimate forum for fringe organizations to spread their false narratives.

In the review of advocacy organizations, the thesis found that no clear evidence exists that advocacy organizations are basing efforts on scientifically validated methods to increase positive intergroup contact. The research also suggests that no discernable difference exists between direct engagement by advocacy organizations and indirect methods, such as televised public service announcements. The thesis uncovered several similarities among efforts, such as the use of social media to magnify their respective messages, as well as many differences. Ultimately, the research revealed that organizations’ efforts are not extensive enough to fill the lack of firsthand contact, which is then filled by prejudicial media stereotypes.

The thesis offers three recommendations. First, advocacy organizations need to reach wider audiences to effect change. To do so, organizations should look to social media to help spread their messages. Organizations also need to define their target audiences better to focus their limited resources. The second recommendation is for advocacy organizations to address and combat fringe organizations directly. These organizations and individuals are a root cause of prejudice in civil society that must be addressed. The final recommendation is for advocacy organizations to work with media advertisers to promote change and introduce new programming to help normalize Muslim and Sikh Americans. A more realistic and normal view of Muslim Americans can help to reverse stereotypes and prevent future prejudice in civil society.

[1] Kishi Katayoun, “Anti-Muslim Assaults Reach 9/11-Era Levels, FBI Data Show,” Pew Research Center, November 21, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/21/anti-muslim-assaults-reach-911-era-levels-fbi-data-show/.

[2] David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, “America’s Grace: How a Tolerant Nation Bridges Its Religious Divides,” Political Science Quarterly 126, no. 4 (December 1, 2011): 620, https://doi.org/10.
1002/j.1538-165X.2011.tb00714.x.

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