For Immediate Release
April 7, 2008
Contacts: David Ottalini, 301 405 4076 or email@example.com
Maryland Journalism Professor Named Carnegie Scholar
COLLEGE PARK, Md.- University of Maryland historian and journalist Susan Moeller has been named a 2008 Carnegie Scholar - one of 20 Americans honored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. She is the first University of Maryland faculty member to be so named. Scholars are selected for their "compelling ideas and commitment to enriching the quality of the public dialogue on Islam." Moeller will receive a two-year grant worth $100,000 along with additional support.
||Susan Moeller is an historian and journalism professor at the University of Maryland.
"We are thrilled that Prof. Susan Moeller has been selected as a Carnegie Scholar. Her work as a historian and former foreign correspondent give her a unique perspective on media coverage of terrorism and Islam," said University of Maryland President C.D. Mote, Jr. "Dr. Moeller has already made many significant contributions to this timely topic and this award will enable her to do even more."
Moeller calls the award a "tremendous honor" and says she will use the grant to write a book that will focus on how a wide range of stakeholders including governments, media and even terrorists themselves use the public threat of terrorism to further their own ends. "Reporting responsibly and credibly on the intersection of terrorism and Islam is one of the greatest challenges facing contemporary journalists. In fact we see the importance playing out even in the US presidential election, with the attempts to cast Senator Barack Obama as a Muslim who as a child was educated in a madrassa - the clear implication being that being Muslim is at best "bad," and going to school in a madrassa is tantamount to signing up to be a terrorist."
The Carnegie Foundation says this is the fourth year its Scholars will focus on Islam - a total of 91 honored over that time span.
The 2008 Scholars are drawn from a number of disciplines and represent public universities, liberal arts colleges and traditional research universities like the University of Maryland. Patricia L. Rosenfield leads the Carnegie Scholars Program. She says, "America's discourse on Islam will benefit from the Scholars' enthusiastic quest to transform complex information into useful, structured knowledge. Their superb scholarship is often daring, always accessible and truly public." Rosenfield said that emerging and established scholars alike are encouraged to orient their writing and speaking beyond purely academic audiences.
The Carnegie Scholars program was established in 1999 to "provide financial and intellectual support to writers, analysts and thinkers addressing some of the most critical research questions of our time."
Newsdesk recently spoke with Prof. Moeller - who is on sabbatical at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria - about being named a Carnegie Scholar, and about the focus of her research:
Q) What does it mean for you to become a Carnegie Scholar?
"Being named a Carnegie Scholar is not only a tremendous honor for me, but it will allow me the opportunity to take some significant time to work on a book project that I feel passionately about: How governments, media and other actors - including terrorists themselves! - use the public threat of terrorism to further their own ends, and how in so doing broad swathes of the world's population are stereotyped as 'evil.'"
Q) Many people equate Muslim with terrorist - does the media share most of the blame for making people think that way?
The powerful set the terms of public debate. Media, including independent, privately-owned media, usually confirm the political and social agenda of governments. Even when they challenge politicians' spin on events, the media usually report on what the government says is important. The level of recognition that politicians give to an issue usually matches the level of coverage given to that issue by the media. When the White House, for example, suggests that Americans need to fear terrorists, then there are stories online, in print and on TV about the terrorist threat. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Since 9/11, terrorists have often been carelessly profiled as a monolithic enemy - evil Muslim nihilists who target the innocent as a first, not a last choice. When terrorists are talked about as a monolithic enemy, rather than as distinctive actors looking to achieve specific political ends, when terrorists are portrayed as brainwashed religious fanatics, not as rational political beings, terrorism seems inexplicable. Terrorists must be defined in narrow terms if there's any hope of understanding them.
In the years immediately following 9/11, journalists often took their cues from such political leaders as President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, who have spoken about terrorists in the aggregate in apocalyptic terms, branding them all as practicing "a radical vision of Islam." Tabloids, radio talk shows and the blogosphere readily repeated such characterizations, conflating terrorism and Islam, and coining the word "Islamofascism" to deepen implicit associations between the horrors of World War II and current threats. But elite mainstream media have also framed the news through the words of political leaders, in effect validating that extreme political rhetoric.
Q) What is the best way for western media to cover events like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so that the public hears all sides of the issue?
Fear does not reinforce the values of civil society; it undermines them. Fear sanctions even extraordinary choices - the loss of civil liberties, even the call to war - if those choices are understood to be essential to allay that fear. What most alleviates fear is knowledge. Media could break away from the rote politicized ways of covering "terrorism." They could better investigate the context, distinguish the perpetrators, listen to other voices, consider the victims. In war, in diplomacy, even in US presidential politics, it matters what media say about Islam and Muslims. It matters whether the government's narratives become the media's conventional wisdom. It matters if that "conventional wisdom" shapes public opinion and rubberstamps public policy.
Susan Moeller is the director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA), and Associate Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism & School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. She is also the Co-Director of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change. She is currently on sabbatical at the Salzburg Global Seminar, Schloss Leopoldskron, Leopoldskronstrasse 56-58, Box 129, A-5010 Salzburg Austria.
Carnegie Corporation of New York - Scholars Program
2008 Scholars Release
International Center for Media and Public Agenda
Susan Moeller's Philip Merrill College of Journalism Home Page
Other Newsdesk Releases Featuring Prof. Susan Moeller