May 01, 2009

In order to better understand situations and people in other parts of the world, consumers of the 24-hour news cycle need to be especially critical of the information they absorb, says one university professor.

“We need to become more aware of how the language itself is being appropriated and utilized within those discourses,” says Anna Agathangelou, a Global Politics Professor at York University.

When information is presented in such concise, instantaneous reports, important details are often overlooked. A prime example can be found in the portrayal of Muslims as radical, anti-democratic, and fundamentalist.

Many times the word “terrorist” is thrown about and on occasions it is used interchangeably with terms like “islamist” or “jihadist,” says Agathangelou — terms that have been misconstrued.

Criticism of non-secular states in the Middle East has been a hot topic in the media for some time now, mainly in the post 9/11 era.

But, when certain terms from Islam are associated with conflicts overseas, it can contribute to misconceptions of Muslims, says Agathangelou.

It is so easy to be misinformed about a situation, especially one that appears so far away and detached from us. However, when the media shapes how people understand cultures and religions that are different from their own, problems can arise.

Generalizations are made, fear is created, and innocent people in turn can be affected.

“We have to be more savvy in the way we read, the way we understand and the way we ask questions,” she says.

Originally published on as part of the Global Voices program