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
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
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
The behavior of ideologues who capitalize on ratings or attention
from fueling the fire against Islam does not help US public
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
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. …