When Jihad Jane and terror is all most Americans know about Islam and American Muslims, it's time for a media makeover.
The image of American Muslims is in serious disrepair. A January 2010 Gallup poll found that almost half of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam. About the same number of Americans harbor personal prejudice toward Muslims, according to the poll.
These numbers become especially troubling when we consider that two-thirds of the Americans polled admit to knowing little to nothing about Islam.
Why are many Americans distrustful of a religion and people they know very little about?
People tend to fear what they do not understand. Americans, for the most part, have been brought up in a Christian society. They might not agree with it, but they are familiar with it and thus tend not to feel threatened by it.
Because Islam is still a minority religion in America and has had little positive public exposure, Americans have built up a strong distrust of it.
Islam deserves a media makeover. At a time when the United States is mired in two wars in locations where the majority of the people practice Islam, the future of American-Islamic relations is at stake.
The behavior of some radical self-proclaimed "Muslims" does not help public perception. Each time a terrorist commits a suicide bombing in a hospital, or a religious cleric issues a fatwa against Mickey Mouse, or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and 9/11, another American grows weary of Islam and Muslims.
Those familiar with Islam understand that these acts are not representative of the religion and shouldn't be associated with mainstream Islam. The rest of the US does not.
Reporting the acts of a handful of radical Muslims as if they are accurate portrayals of Islam would be akin to intimating that every priest involved in a scandal accurately represented Roman Catholicism.
The behavior of ideologues who capitalize on ratings or attention from fueling the fire against Islam does not help US public perception, either.
Each time Pat Robertson refers to Muslims as "fascists," or Ann Coulter calls Islam "a car-burning cult," it may get ratings but, more than anything, it damages America's perspective on Islam and Muslims.
Then there is the behavior of media pundits beholden to the 24- hour news cycle. Each time CNN runs a story on the self-proclaimed "Jihad Jane" or Fox News sounds off about Saudi women who can't drive, without including an expert interview from someone who can clearly explain cultural context, another American grows weary of Islam and Muslims.
Again and again it plays out: An extremist commits an atrocity in Islam's name; a non-Muslim ideologue typecasts the act as representative of Islam; and a media pundit cements the stereotype.
This vicious cycle must end if attitudes toward Islam and Muslims are to improve. Of course, it begins within Muslim communities and countering extremists with education, but education in the US is also required. …