After the 9/11 attacks in New York City, the Muslim community was neatly packaged into a microcosm which saw that Islam was not only violent, but that it was interchangeable with the term of terrorism. In turn, this had long-term effects on the mental well-being of Muslim Americans. In fact, in a study from Pennsylvania, the social inequality seen subsequent to 9/11 as advertised by the media for years afterwards resulted in “57% of Muslim Americans experiencing bias or discrimination and 48% believing that their lives had changed for the worse.” This rooted from things like new policy making (ie intensified airport security), face-to-face judgment, and discrimination in employment.

Thirteen years later, here the world is, facing a reinforcement of these religious generalizations. The Islamic State however, puts an interesting spin on this idea.  Many IS members have been identified as belonging to ‘Western’ nationalities: European, Canadian, British, and American. This is important. Coincidentally, the first Canadian member of ISIS that was killed was from my hometown. Unlike the September 11th attacks which prejudiced Muslim Americans more intensely than others, we are now dealing with an international community of infidel-accusers. This alone creates insecurities that can have implications on your mental health. If there was an ISIS member from my hometown, was he recruited by others here? According to National Post, there are allegedly at least 130 Canadian ISIS members.

Unfortunately, a lot of individuals are not aware of the primary factors that affect our health; they are not lifestyle choices nor are they medical treatments and living conditions. Our mental and physical health is widely shaped by social determinants. Just like physical determinants (ie genetics), social determinants play a part in a person’s holistic well-being. Negative social determinants are however much harder to prevent or adjust and the outcomes are more difficult to treat as many ideas have been instilled into society and are here to stay. Some social determinants include your social status and income, employment, education, gender, and race. Terrorist organizations play a part in shifting the mentality of groups and in turn, this could directly affect an individual’s health. For example, a day after the Twin Tower attacks in New York, a Yemeni man who had been an American citizen since 1976 was sent home from his job at a welding factory with his boss screaming “go pray, go to your leader!” Another example, this time looking at gender, is the popular belief that women who wear the hijab are weak or oppressed. I feel that the mental well-being of primarily Muslim-following cultures is more susceptible to distress in correlation to the psychological manipulation that they are exposed to through mainstream media and the internet.

The Social Media Craze

Who are we kidding though? The Muslim world has been the punch bag of Hollywood and videogame propaganda for decades. The comical irony of the Islamic State is that they love using the tools of a civilization that they despise. There has been ongoing propaganda from IS since their campaign to ‘take over the world’ began. What is interesting is that they are very aware of their spotlight in the media and it seems to further encourage them. Why do you think writers are imprisoned? It is not because of what they write necessarily, but because of what they are capable of writing; it is in essence, the fear. The Islamic State is using these tactics to create fear. Since there are so many outlets to social media, it is not difficult to create an illusion of the whole thing being bigger than it actually is. The propaganda isn’t necessarily impressive but it’s doing what it’s supposed to do; getting the message right is a lot harder than polishing the vehicle, but the skills can be found around every corner. I mean, who are we really dealing with? I imagine that most of the western-born members of the Islamic State were not indoctrined from birth but rather a generation of misunderstood people, a generation of Muslims who could belong to a gang but still feel justified as a gangbanger. They have security in that they are good in the eyes of the Lord – a power higher than them, a religion which their parents follow, whether they disagree or not, the members believe there is nothing wrong.

There have been countless ISIS-run twitter accounts for the diffusion of propaganda.  How long do you think twitter will last as a popular form of social networking? I think twitter will be the most successful in evolving with time. Twitter is fast and instant. Depending on who you follow, you can be up-to-date with real news directly from the source. There are currently a staggering 232 million users. That number does not represent the total number of users either; rather what Twitter calls “monthly active users.” And twitter scares the government. Let us recall Erdogan’s weak attempt to cover up massive corruption by banning social media a few months ago. Nice try Erdogan, but the kids will always find a way. If ISIS is “defeated,” will it be long before Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, create another band of brothers to fight? Social media has become a vital form of connection around the world.

The difference between 2001 and 2014 is this: today, we are active more than ever on the internet. The internet has become a place where one can openly pose judgment and easily get away with it. If you aren’t targeted in the real world, you will be in the virtual world. This is why mainstream media and the internet are two very different things. On every ISIS video on YouTube, there is at least one comment that points out how Islam is violent. This inconsistency could be anxiety-triggering as it shows what people “really” think.

If we look at this from any angle, those who are tied to a predominantly Muslim-following culture are vulnerable to psychological effects due to the social aspect of health determination. Since the situation is currently underway, we cannot make clear conclusions about long-term effects although negative short-term health is highly vulnerable to being adjusted. However, previous studies regarding 9/11 and the mental health of Muslim Americans can be used as a basis to show how large groups can be affected by their representation in the mass media, and today, ultimately in social media.

References

Byng, M. D. (2008). Complex Inequalities: The Case of Muslim Americans After 9/11.American Behavioral Scientist, 51, 659-674.

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