Media Sociology

Hymn of the hyphens: Narrations of American-Muslim identity in taqwacore songs
Saif Shahin. Refracted visions from global art and popular culture: Perspectives on 9/11. 2020 (forthcoming).

Taqwacore is a musical genre that fuses punk rock with South Asian and Middle Eastern influences. It is also a post-9/11 cultural phenomenon involving mostly young American and European Muslim artists trying to make sense of a world falling apart in song and music. This article explores how young American-Muslims perform complex, contradictory identities in taqwacore songs. Three songs from the taqwacore band The Kominas’ first album, Wild Nights in Guantanamo Bay, are analysed. Each song, the article shows, constitutes a narrative in which the singer/songwriter negotiates seemingly irreconcilable identities. But the clash is not simply between “Islam” and “America” as social constructs: it is also over the interpretation of Islam itself as an individual faith and an institutionalised practice. Theoretically, the article draws on the concept of narrative identity to show how seemingly contradictory views of the self are made coherent in cultural production.

A tale of two tragedies: Culpability and innocence in American journalism
Saif Shahin. Journalism Practice. 2019.

Two deadly explosions took place in the United States, two days apart from each other, in the middle of April 2013. The Boston marathon bombings of April 15 killed three people and shook the nation. The blast at a fertilizer plant on the outskirts of West, Texas on April 17 claimed 15 lives but hardly left a mark on the national consciousness. In this study, I examine the contrasting coverage—or framing—of the two tragedies in national and local news media. I argue that journalists, while covering the Boston bombings, adhered to what I call the Blame Frame, focusing on identifying and punishing perpetrators for a vile “act.” The coverage of the West Fertilizer Co. blast, meanwhile, followed the Explain Frame, in which “acts” become “accidents” over which human agents have little control. Indeed, journalists go out of their way to take agency—and with it the culpability—away from perpetrators.

Framing ‘bad news’: Culpability and innocence in news coverage of tragedies
Saif Shahin. Journalism Practice. 2016.

This study proposes a dichotomous set of frames, the Blame Frame and the Explain Frame, to examine how the news media cover sudden tragic events. The Blame Frame affixes responsibility on human agents and foregrounds the pursuit of punishment and justice. The Explain Frame takes responsibility away from human agents and describes the tragedy in terms of natural or quasi-natural processes. The study argues that social identities of “prospective” agents predict the difference in framing: “deviants” and “aliens” are held culpable while local elites are deemed innocent, although these identities are themselves social and draw on prevalent cultural beliefs. Ultimately, both frames serve to reproduce social boundaries and reinforce the status quo. Empirical evidence comes from the ideological analysis of the coverage of April 2013’s Boston bombings and the West fertilizer plant blast in local and national newspapers.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Muslim: Media representations of ‘Islamic punk’ through a postcolonial lens
Saif Shahin. Race and Contention in Twenty-First Century U.S. Media. 2016.

This chapter examines the news coverage of taqwacore in mainstream United States and United Kingdom, publications as well as ethnic newspapers and magazines in both nations. Because of their amorphous character and ambivalent identities, taqwacore defy easy representation. Yet, news coverage must necessarily give them some shape and form, some roots and some purpose. The form that taqwacore is given in news coverage thus reflects the news media’s worldview, their perception of not just Islamic punk subculture but also of “Muslims” as a racial category, and of the relationship between “Islam” and “the West.”

News framing as identity performance: Religion versus race in the American-Muslim press
Saif Shahin. Journal of Communication Inquiry. 2015.

This study examines how two publications with a common religious affiliation—“Muslim/Islamic”—but different racial affiliations—“indigenous/Black” and “immigrant/Arab”—frame news events. It develops two interrelated ideas. First, identity is not simply an “individual level” but also a higher, “organizational level” of influence on news. Second, news organizations perform their identities in how they frame news. Comparative frame analysis reveals that identity performance, even at the organizational level, is context sensitive. The two publications, Muslim Journal and Islamic Horizons, use similar news frames when their shared religious identity is salient, but framing diverges in contexts where their differing racial identities become active. Racial identities also color how these publications construct and relate to “America.” Conceptualizing news organizations as reflexive actors with fluid identities and news frames as the contextual identity performance of these actors allows us to see how news media simultaneously reflect and reproduce social reality.

Unveiling the American-Muslim press: News agendas, frames, and functions
Saif Shahin. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism. 2015.

The growing scholarly literature on Muslims and the media in the United States has paid little attention to the American-Muslim press. This study compares the coverage of two major American-Muslim publications, the bimonthly news magazine Islamic Horizons and the weekly tabloid Muslim Journal, at four key moments beginning with 9/11. Content analysis (N = 576) indicates both publications are overwhelmingly US-centric, focusing on domestic political and community affairs rather than the so-called ‘Muslim world’. Aiding Muslim assimilation into American society emerges as the most important function of the American-Muslim press. However, Muslim Journal attends almost exclusively to black Muslims while Islamic Horizons emphasizes the coverage of immigrant Muslims from the Middle East and South Asia – reflecting and reproducing a historical schism within American-Muslim society. The study also reveals how minority media can reinforce power structures within the minority community and thus serve as a means of social control.