The photo selected to appear alongside Newsweek’s article on Americans’ opinions of Muslims helps downplay the notion of a connection between Islam and terrorism, or between Islam and the oppression of women. In fact, the choice of this image in particular exploits it as a subtler medium with which to chide Americans for being worried about Islam and terrorism, and at the same time, to insinuate some other things that would be too outrageous to suggest outright.
Shown above, it sets up a contrast worth examining more closely. On the left is a Muslim girl, dressed in modest, Western clothing, plus the hijab. She’s sitting up straight, looking eager, sincere, and certain, if called on, that she has the right answer. On the right, we see a non-Muslim girl, hair dyed blond, in a red tank top, slouching slightly, and looking jaded.
It certainly appears to set up a Goofus vs. Gallant comparison, and Ms. Gallant, of course, is the studious Muslim girl, while Ms. Goofus personifies Western decadence. Then, I see two underlying messages in the picture: First, not only are all Muslims impeccable citizens (except for that infinitesimal minority of extremists), integrated and yet maintaining their cultural identity, they’re better at it than you. And the hijab suggests it has something to do with their religion.
Then, Ms. Goofus is suffering from that Western decadence and her lack of religion, or perhaps belonging to an inadequate religion. And, if it’s worked so fabulously for Ms. Gallant, Islam could turn not only Ms. Goofus, but your daughter, from a materialistic social butterfly into an earnest, focused, modest, and well-dressed young lady.
Indeed, it’s too outrageous to say outright. But it underlines the power of images as well as verbal media to quietly advance an agenda.