Journalist Noor Tagouri on misrepresentation of Muslims in the media: ‘Misinformation can put people’s lives in danger’

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Brittany Jones-Cooper

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Storytelling is an integral part of our culture. The vulnerability in a person sharing their truth can shift perspectives and heal communities. For Noor Tagouri, building a career by telling other people’s stories has helped her to connect more deeply to her own.

“I realized that my strength in my storytelling was who I was — it was my identity,” Tagouri tells Yahoo Life.

Raised in Maryland by Libyan parents, Tagouri always wanted to be a journalist. She studied journalism at the University of Maryland but encountered resistance when trying to be her true self on camera. “I was often told that I had to be extra careful that my story wouldn’t be biased — it’s impossible to be unbiased when you’re wearing a headscarf,” she says. “They were consistently politicizing the hijab. You don’t say that about someone wearing a cross necklace.”

Tagouri also found it difficult to tell the stories she wanted to tell — encountering news directors who didn’t see the importance of covering personal stories affecting underrepresented communities. This led to what she calls a “reckoning” with how she was taught journalism.

“I think now with social media and having your own platforms, and basically being your own media company and your own media brand, it’s a lot easier. But I had to go through that journey to realize the way that we’ve been taught the practice of journalism is outdated,” she says.

That revelation led Tagouri to launch her own production company, At Your Service, where she creates original video content and hosts Podcast Noor. In addition to finally owning her own work, Tagouri appreciates the opportunity to tell more meaningful stories.

“I really believe that storytelling is a form of service. I think that when someone shares their truth with you, that is them being of service to their community and to you as a storyteller,” she explains.

Journalist Noor Tagouri
Journalist Noor Tagouri believes that “storytelling is a form of service.” (Noor Tagouri)

Tagouri’s commitment to properly representing her subjects is only heightened by her own personal experiences with the media. In 2019, she was excited to be featured in Vogue magazine, only to realize that she had been misidentified as Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari. Back in 2018, a media outlet used Tagouri’s image and misidentified her as the wife of the Pulse nightclub shooter. That woman did not wear a hijab but shared Tagouri’s first name.

“It was terrible for the other Noor, and also it was terrible for me because I was afraid to leave my house because these stories were being circulated,” she explains. “Misrepresentation, misidentification and misinformation can literally put people’s lives in danger.”

The reality of being Muslim in America is that bias and discrimination can lead to dangerous interactions. A Pew Research survey from 2017 found that Americans rated Muslims more negatively than other religious groups and continue to have mixed feelings about Muslims and Islam. Tagouri has felt this prejudice while traveling, easing the process by signing up for TSA PreCheck and CLEAR just to make her journey smoother. She even shows up early to airports where she expects to face extra scrutiny.

“I just picked up on all of these things because I had traumatizing experiences where I would get randomly picked or whatever and then in front of people get groped,” Tagouri says.

In January, President Biden lifted the travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, a 2017 policy enacted by the Trump administration that many believed to be xenophobic.

Families like Tagouri’s have felt the repercussions. Her cousin, who had been studying at Harvard, traveled overseas for winter break and couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the travel ban was enacted.

“She’s not an American citizen and couldn’t get back in to go finish her semester at Harvard. So she had to move to London. She had to let go of the Harvard dream and move because of this ban, overnight,” Tagouri says.

Journalist Noor Tagouri (Photo: Getty)
Noor Tagouri continues to address big issues like Islamophobia by telling stories through her platform. (Getty Images)

Watching Trump supporters face increased scrutiny and restrictions at airports and on airlines after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was something that surprised Tagouri. “I didn’t know that in my lifetime I would see a white man go through what always happens to Muslims for no reason,” she says.

That shift, where white Americans were being labeled as domestic terrorists in the news, was a step toward addressing the severity of the situation, but Tagouri’s interest is in keeping the focus on tangible progress.

“That doesn’t give me a good feeling to call someone else a terrorist, because white supremacists will never be considered terrorists in America the same way Black, brown, Muslim people have been,” she says. “Once we realized that white supremacy was supported by the state and you actually tackle that part, it’s like, ‘Oh now we have to handle white supremacy.’”

Tagouri continues to address those big issues by telling stories through her platform. From an exposé on sex trafficking to exploring faith and fashion, she’s not afraid to seek truth — or let others share theirs.

“Every person has a human experience, a human story. They have their own perspective, and that isn’t a bad thing, that’s a great thing,” she says.

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