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More than just terrorists?: Constructions of Canadian Muslim identities in the Canadian daily press

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Title: More than just terrorists?: Constructions of Canadian Muslim identities in the Canadian daily press
Author: Nicholson, Megan
Department: Department of Psychology
Program: Psychology
Advisor: Wood, Linda A.
Abstract: Discursive psychology was used to analyze constructions of Canadian Muslim identities in the Canadian mainstream daily press. News and opinion discourse from a six-month period (November 1, 2008 - April 30, 2009) was examined. Whereas previous research has typically focused on negative news coverage, I examined the full range of identity portrayals of Canadian Muslims available in the daily press. Not unexpectedly, the most overtly negative identity constructions of Canadian Muslims were found in coverage of terrorism trials. In that coverage, the accused were typically worked up as endorsing an extreme interpretation of Islam. These extreme descriptions of the accused may suggest a particularized and therefore non-representative Muslim identity. Negative identity was also constructed in articles that reported on Canadian Muslims’ interactions with the legal and immigration systems: the behaviours of some Canadian Muslims (e.g., polygamy) were formulated as a threat to mainstream Canadian social values. The coverage also dealt with the issue of discrimination against Canadian Muslims. The case for discrimination was accomplished via comparison (e.g., government treatment of Muslim versus non-Muslim Canadians). However, in some coverage, Canadian Muslims were indirectly and subtly portrayed as possibly deserving of discriminatory treatment. Canadian Muslims were favourably portrayed when they: 1) upheld mainstream Canadian social values, 2) had a sense of humour about their Muslim identity, and 3) educated non-Muslim Canadians about Islam. However, favourable identity constructions of Canadian Muslims were often accompanied by background information that negatively portrayed Muslims in general. This juxtaposition of positive representations of individual Canadian Muslims with negative general information about Muslims and Islam may have subtly suggested that good Muslims are an exception rather than the norm. Overall, it was found that Canadian press coverage offers a fuller picture of Canadian Muslim identity than elsewhere (e.g., the U.S. and the U.K.). However, Sampson’s (1993) distinction between accommodative and transformative voice suggests that this picture is still incomplete. Several possibilities for improvement are suggested; for example, the press’s reliance on ready-made news (e.g., staged events) may provide opportunities to increase favourable identity portrayals of Canadian Muslims.
Date: 2011-09-22

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