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Muslims Are Internalizing Islamophobia, And Negative Media Coverage Is To Blame

Unprecedented levels of Islamophobia and heightened anti-Muslim rhetoric are so rampant that some Muslims are internalizing and accepting problematic stereotypes about themselves, according to a newly released report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

The study found that Muslims are more likely than members of other faiths to agree with the sentiment that their community is “more prone to negative behavior than other people” — at 30 percent, compared with 13 percent of Jews and 12 percent of Catholics.

“One of the most important and surprising findings we got in this study was the degree to which Muslims have themselves internalized negative stereotypes about their own community. That does underscore the power of the media and political rhetoric that day in and day out paints a narrative of Muslims in a certain way, that Muslims themselves are not immune to adopting that idea,” said Dalia Mogahed, the ISPU’s director of research.


The ISPU’s third annual American Muslim poll surveyed Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, white evangelicals and those who are nonaffiliated and compared attitudes across the groups. The report includes the ISPU’s first Islamophobia index, created in partnership with Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative, which measures different faith and nonfaith groups’ endorsement of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Internalizing racism involves “ingesting, often subconsciously, acceptance of the dominant society’s stereotype of one’s ethnic group,” according to a similar study conducted by the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research in 2016, “Exploring the Faith and Identity Crisis of American Muslim Youth.” The report corroborates the ISPU’s findings and documents the effects of Islamophobic rhetoric on the religious identity and perceptions of Muslim youths. The study found that 1 in 3 children surveyed wanted to tell others that they are Muslim and that 1 in 2 did not know whether they could be both Muslim and American.

Measuring internalized racism dates back to an infamous doll test conducted in 1947 to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children using black and white dolls. There have been few formal studies conducted since then, but the phenomenon has been well documented with other minority groups, including Latinos and Jews.

In fact, the new ISPU study found that Muslims and Jews were among the most likely — at 62 and 59 percent, respectively — to feel ashamed of violence committed by fellow members of their faith.

Muslims’ internalization of negative stereotypes about their community can be traced to disproportionate negative coverage of Muslims in mainstream media, according to the ISPU, a nonprofit with offices in Dearborn, Michigan, and Washington, D.C.


A separate study conducted by the ISPU last month found that Muslims accused of plotting violence get seven times as much media attention and sentences four times as long as non-Muslim plotters.

“It’s the combination of disproportionate media coverage and Muslims being much more focused on that kind of media coverage that explains the fact that Muslims themselves have internalized this very stereotype [of being prone to violence,]” Mogahed said.  

The report also found that those who scored higher on the Islamophobia index were associated with greater support for President Donald Trump’s travel bans and increased surveillance of American mosques. Those groups were also more likely to accept targeting of civilians by military and violent groups.  

On a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 the lowest level of prejudice, the report found that on average Muslims scored 17 on the Islamophobia index. By comparison, nonaffiliated respondents came in at 14; Jews and Catholics, 22; the general public, 24; Protestants, 31; and white evangelicals, 40.

Founded in 2002, the ISPU, according to its website, conducts “objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States.” You can read the report in full here.


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