Muslims under the Looking Glass
McCloud, Aminah B., Islamic Horizons
The Pew report strongly focuses on stereotypical issues concerning Muslims in the United States. BY AMINAH B. MCCLOUD
The Pew study of "Muslims in America," or should I say the results of this study, caught me off guard. I expected it to reveal that Muslim Americans have the same concerns over the current state of political affairs that other Americans do. I thought it would be a testament to an undeservedly growing Islamophobia despite societal claims to encouraging diversity. Instead, it focuses on stereotypical issues concerning Muslims in America.
While I did not expect Pew to advocate any particular view of America's Muslim population, I did expect that the right questions would yield more informative answers, rather than simply the only answers that a suspect population could give under duress. In the current climate, Muslims certainly cannot risk answering many of this survey's questions with candor, although they did an excellent job. Many questions have been asked of the Muslim community, and when Muslims have tried to share their knowledge and concerns about their environment they have often found themselves misunderstood and then surveilled.
My responses began on the first page with how the report was done-how the data was gathered and the subsequent statistics. I noticed that the survey's method was problematic. People were asked to identify themselves as Muslim and then speak with candor on sensitive issues. Also, on the first page the nature of the questioning sets up what the responses are going to be. There is a perception that most of America's Muslims are not Americans, as well as a presumption that they are supposed to reject something called "Islamic extremism" or anything else that has been designated as unacceptable.
Through its choice of issues, this report perpetuates the stereotypes and distortions of Islam. There were no questions permitting the rejection of the vocabulary used or of the underlying premises. The beginning of the report presents a comparison to Muslims living in western Europe, even though the report is supposed to focus on Muslims in America. This sets up a false binary.
The Muslims' concerns about the "war on terror" actually begins with a clarification of the word terror. Just because many Americans have accepted that one can have a "war on terror" does not change the fact that terror is a tool and not an object. The report also presumes that the "war on terror" is only a war against Islam and Muslims. Given the starting point, what can a Muslim say in response to the question? Muslim identity is immediately made problematic if you state that you are Muslim and then are put into a category automatically. …