Harold Morales, Department of Religious Studies, presented a paper on media portrayals of Latino Muslims at the American Academy of Religion conference in Chicago, November 17–20, 2012.
In “Latino Muslim by Design: Reductive Binaries in American News Media,” Morales examined representations of Latino Muslims in news media and responses to these productions.
Since the mid-1970s, Latino converts to Islam have been forming communities in metropolitan areas including New York and Los Angeles. Conservative estimates of the number of Latino Muslims in the United States range between 40,000 and 94,000. Although modest in number, Latino Muslims attract quite a bit of journalistic and new media attention and raise important questions regarding two highly stigmatized groups in American media: Latinos and Muslims.
Morales focused on news coverage of Antonio Martínez’ attempted bombing of a military recruitment center in Catonsville, Md., in December 2010. The event prompted journalistic stories that questioned if there was a connection between Latino “nature” and radical religiosity. Additionally, many stories concluded that the Internet played a significant role in the radicalization of Martínez. In response to such negative news coverage, much Latino Muslim-produced media has taken a reactive and sometimes combative character.
In his presentation, Morales critiqued the “you are either a good or a bad Muslim” framework produced by both news coverage and Latino Muslim media and called for more complex understandings of dynamic communities, rather than accepting reductive media binaries.