Clarence Page wrote the following in his introduction to a recently published book chronicling the rise and fall of the African American press: “Operating against a background of continual inequalities for blacks and a white America that routinely, and sometimes fiercely and even illogically, fought the granting of any new rights, black newspapers came to be in the vanguard of the struggle. Because most white newspapers virtually refused to cover blacks unless they were athletic stars, entertainers, or criminals, blacks were forced to read their own” (Washburn 7). This was especially true during the 1960s and 1970s when America’s inner cities exploded with violence and popular outrage. Now turn to today. Muslim Americans after the terrorist attacks of September 11 face a continual barrage of probing articles, essays and editorials questioning their loyalty, legitimacy and place in America’s social fabric. As African Americans found out and as Page points out, blacks in white newspapers was not typically a good thing, especially during periods of popular protest by African Americans, including the 1960s when white American finally discovered the inner city and began to grapple with the other America — ghetto America.
And neither is it good for Muslims when so much of the world is alight with anti-imperial opposition. Over an over, it is the Muslim bogeyman or woman that accompanies some sinister music on CNN or a frightening photo on the front page of the New York Times with some links to violence or anti-American sentiment. Very few articles portray Muslims in a positive light, especially now in our sleepless news cycle culture. And as Muslim Americans attempt to socially integrate, create a new and dynamic culture and figure out identity, they are overshadowed by identity politics plaguing the Middle East and political events they have no control over. It is in this climate, therefore, that Muslim Americans, like African Americans once did, must create a vigorous and independent press whose journalists are not only “fighting partisans” but a window for America’s dominant culture to peer into to understand its peers in citizenship.
This Muslim fourth estate, as the African American press was in the 1960s, must be organic, provide “voice and visibility,” but also provide a forum for structured internal community introspection. It cannot be meticulously micromanaged, superficial, or serendipitous, but must be independent and ready to challenge and question not only the dominant culture’s view of Muslim America, but the Muslim’s view of Muslim America. But how did the African American press engage white America in the 1960s? How did it act as a platform for community introspection but also act as an ardent advocate when so much confusion reigned — Vietnam, Watts? I’m not quite sure. But I do know why do we Muslim Americans need this. The answer is clear. As non-Muslim America grapples with its Muslim population as white America did with its black population in the 1960s, it needs a viable medium to engage intellectually and culturally that is defined by those within the Muslim community and not from without. This press is necessary and its necessity can be summed by the founders of the African American press, “We wish to plead our own cause.”
For this paper, I will use three articles from major black newspapers and magazines and three from mainstream newspapers and magazines from the 1960s to illustrate how the African American newspaper acted as a forum for community introspection and an advocate for black social integration. I don’t have the articles yet, but am busy scurrying around trying to locate them. From what I imagine, these journalistic pieces will be editorials, newspaper stories and magazine features that discuss the African American press’ role in creating a place for engagement and also pieces that are of pure coverage of controversial events and topics from the African American perspective and white dominant cultural perspective to show how newspapers and magazines framed stories and provided a way for readers to better understand why certain things were taking place among Blackamericans and the African American community in the 1960s.
The founder of alt.muslim Shahed Amanullah wrote a piece for his Web magazine called "Western Muslims Need a Fourth Estate." I want to build on this call, but provide examples from the development of the African American community to show the great parallels and amazing success the African American community had because of an independent black press. I would like to then analyze the current place of the Muslim American community in its development to argue that it is in desperate need of an independent press that can provide a forum for intellectuals, scholars and lay Muslims as well to discuss where the Muslim American community is and where it should go. This independent press, however, does not look like it will develop until money is fed into it. With recent articles coming out in the New York Times and Adweek Magazine discussing the estimated $170 billion of American Muslim disposable income, the impossible it seems might just take a while. Myself and others have argued that Muslims are paving the road, but not sure where its leading toward and most importantly the destination in terms of integration, identity and cultural production.
The Muslim blogosphere as has actually flourished partly because of the lack of an independent Muslim press. But as it expands and anyone with computer access and an Internet connection can join, the discussion has become less structured. Although I appreciate everyone's opinion, there is no overarching agenda and structure that an independent media can provide in which to provide context and a vision for Muslim Americans to build something bigger than themselves and their families that will provide a foundation for future American Muslim generations. So I guess this is the comparison; the African American press’ place in the 1960s in facilitating greater awareness of African American grievances and providing “voice and visibility” to outsiders and insiders alike and how the Muslim American press can learn from the African American press to empower the Muslim American community and provided a means for positive growth and development.