War in Ukraine raises questions on media portrayal of Muslim nations


Kwot Anwey

When news outlets started reporting more on Ukraine’s situation with Russia, many noticed the change in reporting in comparison to other countries. Specifically, the coverage of conflicts in Muslim nations like Afghanistan is typically more harsh and less sorrowful.

Muslim nations continue to be constantly discriminated against and insulted by the Western world, even during times when they need help the most. 

Many Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan have been suffering from invasions and bombings from the U.S. and other powerful countries for decades. Recent attacks in Ukraine from Russia have caught the media’s attention, which has resulted in people sending donations and much more to Ukraine and people at their borders, but why hasn’t the media been showing as many bombings of nations where Islam is the dominant religion? These invasions and ensuing violence have been going on in many of these countries since 1980 or earlier. 

Recent news reports on CBS and Al Jazeera show journalists saying very biased and racist things towards Middle Eastern countries and comparing them to Ukraine’s invasion. Some words these white anchors were using included how shocking the Ukraine attacks were because these were people “like us.” 

“What’s compelling is, just looking at them, the way they are dressed, they are prosperous,” Al Jazeera English reporter Peter Dobbie said on air. “These are not obviously refugees looking to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to.”

Similarly, on February 26 in a CBS News segment, host Charlie D’Agata also said something extremely disrespectful and something degrading towards Muslim countries. 

“But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades,” D’Agata said. “This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.” 

As if this wasn’t bad enough, a reporter on French 24-hour news channel BFM TV proved that it’s not just English-speaking news outlets responsible for this kind of discriminatory language. 

“We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin,” Mehdi Hassan said. “We’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”

These words were very disrespectful and biased. The fact that these reporters were using words like “prosperous” and “civilized” shows how much confidence these people have whether or not they apologize for insulting Muslim nations. The things these reporters were saying were very clearly discriminatory and treating these people, who are currently also being bombed and invaded but without the worldwide recognition and empathy, lower than Europeans who were going through Ukraine’s trauma. 

A question that many like me have in mind is this: Why is there still so much racism in the media, in this case specifically towards Middle Easterners? Al Jazeera is an international 24-hours news channel headquartered in the Middle East, yet at least one reporter for their English-language channel has the audacity to discriminate Arab and Muslim nations.

This is just unfortunate proof that Islamophobia is still very present in 2022. Muslims struggle very much all around the world, from getting clean water and safety to getting insulted and neglected in the media. Those you would expect to help raise awareness about world issues are the same ones comparing and choosing which ones deserve the average person’s sympathy and attention. From Muslims and Black immigrants not being allowed to cross borders despite living in war-torn countries to Middle Easterners getting violently ejected from their homes for little to no reason, all these are factors that Muslim nations are currently struggling with as we speak. 

The real question is, then, as follows: Are we going to let these reporters continue to insult innocent people who need desperate help? Or will we finally get the representation and respect we deserve?