March 9, 2006

How America Sees Islam

The Washington Post reported today about a new poll that shows negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims are on the rise in the US. The results are not very surprising, although they are disturbing. With the recent media frenzy over the Danish cartoons, followed by the Dubai Ports fiasco, Americans have been bombarded by images of crazy Muslims burning embassies and politicians denouncing the port deal because Arabs are more likely to let terrorists slip in if they control American ports. The article interviews some averages Americans who say even though they have met nice Muslims, they still feel that Islam promotes hate and violence.

The poll found that nearly half of Americans -- 46 percent -- have a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the tense months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Muslims were often targeted for violence.

According to the poll, the proportion of Americans who believe that Islam helps to stoke violence against non-Muslims has more than doubled since the attacks, from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent today.

The survey also found that one in three Americans have heard prejudiced comments about Muslims lately. In a separate question, slightly more (43 percent) reported having heard negative remarks about Arabs. One in four Americans admitted to harboring prejudice toward Muslims, the same proportion that expressed some personal bias against Arabs.

Americans who said they understood Islam were more likely to see the religion overall as peaceful and respectful. But they were no less likely to say it harbors harmful extremists, and they were also no less likely to have prejudiced feelings against Muslims.
I really do not like labels, especially "moderate" and "extremist", and I think this contributes to the problem. However, I feel that most of the blame should be handed to the mainstream media, because "moderate" Muslims (or 98% of the 1.6 billion of us) do not have a voice. Simply put, they are not headline makers. If Muslims as well as the msm keep emphasizing the idea that only "moderate" Muslims are against the "extremist" ones, then it gives the idea that these "moderates" are a hand full, which is very wrong. Now I'm definitely not going to stand here and try to convince my fellow Americans and the rest of the world that we are peaceful people who do not like to burn flags and call for jihad in our free time. It is up to Muslims to show that, through action and not words, that we are indeed against the acts of the minority.

Don't take me wrong, I don't believe we should apologize for the actions of others. I will not be held responsible for the action of another Muslim, just like I won't hold my next door neighbor responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing or the injustice faced by African Americans for decades. Muslims should not be apologetic and always on the defensive.

The problem is, why do I have to keep defending my religion for something it did not do? Why should I be on the defensive because someone cannot understand that a bunch of criminals are exactly that, a bunch of criminal hijackers or bombers or whatever. Just because they justify their actions using religion, that doesn't mean that religion should be held responsible. Since when do we take what criminals say as the truth?

After reading about this poll, I cannot help but recall another recent poll conducted here in the US asking Americans what their first amendment rights are. I wouldn't expect an average American to take the initiative and find out more about Islam and Muslims when most can't even recall some of the most fundamental rights of citizens in this country. There is a culture of indifference here in the US, and unfortunately that is obvious to the rest of the world. Many people distinguish between Europeans and Americans, usually characterizing the latter as more "ignorant" of international affairs and anything that doesn't really have to do with picking up the kids from soccer or what's going on with Desperate Housewives.

I think my point is that as an American Muslim, I do not want to be apologetic. I definitely want to be the example of what true Islam is all about. But I find that even when we do that, Americans will continue to assume that this only me, and that the rest of Islam is the embassy-burning bunch. Stereotypes have been very well engrained by news headlines and ranting right-wing radio jocks. The "light in the tunnel" appears to be a new trend of media in today's world: citizen journalists, and as this BBC article indicates, it could have a great influence on the future of the "mainstream media."

[Prominent American Muslim organizations have reacted to the polls. The Muslim American Society has invited the media to attend the 3rd Annual MAS Youth Tampa Olympics. Executive Director of the MAS Freedom Foundation Mahdi Bray said, "
It would be nice to see the media covering Muslims involved in wholesome competition and encouraging youth to excel in behavior that fosters commitment, character, team work, community service and positive moral values," added Bray. In addition, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has also issued a release expanding on the results of the poll.]

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At 12:09 PM, Blogger Tololy said...

I loved this:

"The problem is, why do I have to keep defending my religion for something it did not do? Why should I be on the defensive because someone cannot understand that a bunch of criminals are exactly that, a bunch of criminal hijackers or bombers or whatever."

I, too, am getting very sick and tired of having to defend my image (to make it personal)after any bit of news reports an attack or violence somewhere. There are better things to do with one's time, and I have no answer to the world's troubles.

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you know, as much as i agree about how annoying it is to always have to be on the defensive...we don't have to be. we weren't responsible for it. Allah SWT is giving this to us as a test, an opportunity for the once isolated muslims to come out and show what islam truly is and what the Prophet S stood for. the answer to the world's problems is obvious...islam. the problem lies within each individual and his willingness to accept the truth.
Allah knows best.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger moi said...

Tololy and Anon,
Thanks for your comments :)


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