by Syarif Hidayat

Islam is a peaceful religion, which does not promote any injustice or crime. Nevertheless, the West has many stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam that are due to: the media, Prejudice, and Ignorance. Islam is often looked upon as a “extremist”, “terrorist”, or “fundamental” religion. Many people hate Islam and do not want to acknowledge its true teachings.

In many cases, the media’s reports about Islam are incorrect due to ignorance. This is one of the reasons why the West often hates Islam. In contrast to what many Westerners think of Islam, Islam is a peaceful religion, which does not promote any injustice or crime. Stereotypes about Islam are not new to Western culture. Problems can be traced back 1400 years. At that time, Islam and Christianity were involved in the Crusades in the 1100’s and in the Ottoman and Moorish control in Europe. Islam spread quickly to the West, and started to threaten the position of the Christian Church and the ruling class.

The Western elites, mainly the governments and the churches, then became highly involved in seeing that negative images were presented about Islam. As a result, not only were battles fought against Islam, but also a war of words was initiated to make sure that Islam would not have any converts or sympathizers in the West. These kinds of actions and feelings that the West had long ago still seem to be the case in the West today.

Today, the West, with little or no understanding of Islamic history, has identified a new enemy, “a new demon that has replaced the Red menace of the Cold war, i.e., radical Islam”. This “radical Islam”, a stereotype common to Western thought, portrays Muslims as fundamentalists or potential terrorists. Some of these ideas that the Western people have about Islam are due to the mass media of the West. Reporters who cover the Muslim world often know very little details about it. The media then develops a distorted image of Islam that Western culture adopts.

A major factor which contributes to Islamic stereotyping in the West is due to the media’s ignorance of selecting their words that describe Muslims. Some common names heard or seen in the news about Muslims are “extremist” or “terrorist”. These words are misleading and are mainly anti-Islamic. The media rarely uses more neutral terms such as “revivalist” or “progressives”. The Western media also creates the idea that Muslims are “returning” to Islam. This is not true in most cases, because many Muslims have never left Islam in the first place. Islam has always been a big part of their lives.

images1Islam is against terrorism

In Islam, the right to life is an absolute value: Islam is against terrorism and killing!!

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. “Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation (in legal punishment) of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidence, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allâh by committing the major sins) in the land!” – Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Maidah, Verse 32.

“By God (Allah SWT), he is not a true believer, from whose mischief his neighbors do not feel secure.” – Prophet Mohammed PBUH – (Hadith written by Bukhari and Muslim)

Unfortunately more and more often, Islam has been associated with terrorism and violence due to the actions of a few extreme individuals who’ve taken it upon themselves to do the most heinous crimes in the name of Islam.

Tragic events such as the attack on the twin towers in New York, the bombings of Bali, Madrid and London are assumed to be justified by Islam in the minds of some people. This idea has been fueled further by many media channels which defame Islam by portraying these bombers as ‘Islamists’ or ‘Jihadists’, as though they were sanctioned by Islam, or had any legitimate spokemenship on behalf of Muslims.

The actions of a few fanatical individuals who happen to have Muslim names or ascribe themselves to the Muslim faith should not be a yardstick by which Islam is judged. For the same reason, that one would not do justice to Christianity if it where perceived as sanctioning the genocide of the Native Americans, the atrocities of world war II or the bombings of the IRA.

The unfair treatment of western media towards Islam and Muslims is not new to many people. The biased reporting, stereotype stories and hidden hate towards Muslims of the world are facts of western journalism. These champions of the free world who claim that their reporting standards are very high, they are honest and feel responsible to provide correct information to their audiences are in fact, have dual standards of reporting.

They intentionally dramatize a situation in order to market their programs and increase their market share at any cost. They are not honest when a news item or a story involves a practicing Muslim or religion of Islam.

About six million Americans are Muslims [Al_Jazeera/Getty Images]

About six million Americans are Muslims. [Al_Jazeera/Getty Images]

American Muslims’ ongoing civil rights fight

William Roberts in his article titled “American Muslims’ ongoing civil rights fight” published in writes  Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.

Washington, DC Thirteen years after the September 11 attacks, Arabs and Muslim Americans in the US still face continuing bias and prejudice, Arab Americans and civil rights activists say.

“It has gotten worse for us,” said Nadia Tonova, the executive director of the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) in Dearborn, Michigan. “We are a community that is constantly under suspicion. It’s really at a point where it’s out of control.”

The NNAAC is rolling out a $4.5m grassroots mobilisation campaign called “Take on Hate” in New York City on July 15, designed to give Arab Americans and Muslims tools for combating bias and prejudice. The campaign, funded by the Open Society Foundation and the Proteus Fund, will focus on achieving public policy changes, educating the US public about Muslims and giving community activists a platform to battle discrimination.

The campaign aims to challenge acts of discrimination such as an incident that occurred on June 16, during a panel discussion held by the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

During a discussion about the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a Muslim law student named Saba Ahmed said: “We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam. We have eight million plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don’t see them represented here.”

“The worse things get in the Middle East, the worse things get for Arab Americans here in the US.” – Samer Khalaf, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

One of the panellists, Brigitte Gabriel, responded that moderate Muslims in the US were “irrelevant” in the fight against radicalism. “It is time we take political correctness and throw it in the garbage where it belongs and start calling a spade a spade,” retorted Gabriel – drawing a standing ovation from the crowd of about 150 people.

In a recent cable television exchange with Gabriel, Linda Sarsour – the national advocacy director for the NNAAC – challenged Gabriel for linking all Muslims to terrorism. “I want you to understand that if you want to combat terrorism, you need to work within the Muslim community. You need to make sure that we are part of that and the, quote, ‘moderate’ Muslims that you’re talking about, which are almost every Muslim living here in this country, need to be part of this discussion.”

Muslim American activists worry that rhetoric such as Gabriel’s can fuel violent attacks and hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims. There are some 3.6 million Americans of Arab descent, many of whom are Christian, and an estimated six million American Muslims of varying nationalities, according to the Arab American Institute.

“The worse things get in the Middle East, the worse things get for Arab Americans here in the US. Every time there is something serious in the Middle East, things spike,” Samer Khalaf, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Al Jazeera. “People get attacked and beaten for doing nothing but appearing Muslim.”

Anti-Muslim hate crimes

There were 155 anti-Muslim hate crimes committed against Arabs and Muslims in the US during 2012, according to the most recent FBI statistics. The deadliest of these was the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, in which a white supremacist, who incorrectly believed he was attacking Muslims, murdered six Sikhs and was shot by police before killing himself.

Since the September 11 attacks, 30 new anti-Islamic hate groups have formed in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was founded in 1971 to combat racism against blacks in the American south. “We’ve seen some horrible crimes committed against people who are perceived to be Arabs,” Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Al Jazeera.

In March, about 40 worshippers attended sunrise prayers at the Prayer Center of Orland Park, a suburban town south of Chicago, when a bullet was fired through the mosque dome. No one was injured in the incident. The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the FBI to investigate the incident as a hate crime, but no suspects have yet been identified.

Starting in January 2015, the FBI’s hate crimes unit will specifically track hate crimes against Arabs, a category the law enforcement agency had not previously recognised, said FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer. The FBI will also track hate crimes motivated by anti-Sikh and anti-Hindu sentiment.

At a June conference in Washington hosted by the ADC, participants said Arab Americans recognise they are in a continuing post-September 11 battle for civil rights. It’s not just hate crimes: Arabs and Muslims in the US say they face rampant discrimination in every area of life. “We are the blacks of the 21st century,” said Azizah Y al-Hibri, the founder of Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and a retired professor at the University of Richmond’s Williams School of Law.

A 2012 survey by the Arab American Institute found that 55 percent of Arab American Muslims have experienced discrimination and 71 percent fear future discrimination.

Arab Americans routinely encounter extra hassles while travelling, and Haytham Faraj, a Chicago-based defence attorney, claims prosecutors often exaggerate charges against Arab Americans by alleging serious crimes related to suspected spying or terrorism.

A ‘fear stronger than ever’

Since 2010, the ADC says it has seen a surge in employment discrimination complaints. Last month, the group filed a discrimination lawsuit against an auto dealership in Lexington, Kentucky, on behalf of Easa Shadeh, a US citizen who was called a “camel jockey”, and told by co-workers that Arabs are the “new niggers”.

Denyse Sabagh, head of the immigration practice group at law firm Duane Morris, said Arabs and Muslims encounter more bureaucratic delays and obstacles in the US immigration system than other minorities. “I represent people from all over the world and the ones that seem to have the problems are Arabs and Muslims,” she said.

Arabs and Muslims have long been portrayed as villains and enemies in American popular culture – cartoons, movies, television shows. The September 11 attacks accelerated the trend and injected it into the US political dynamic, said Jack Shaheen, producer of the 2006 documentary Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.

“There is a fear stronger than ever before of Muslims – not just Muslims, but American Muslims,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera. “It has spilled over to the political arena and gotten worse.”

LaurenBoothThe folly of equating Islam with extremism

Lauren Booth in her article titled “Opinion: Muslims and extremists — we’re not the same” published in, wrote “Here we go again,” I sigh, browsing news channels. Each one, leading with the chilling buzzwords: “Islamic State” and “Jihadist Murder.” Not since the weeks following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York has turning on the TV been so demoralizing for Muslims across the globe.

I have that same sinking feeling whenever an atrocity takes place which is broadly placed at the feet of the “Muslim world.” Because, “Hi, I am Lauren and I am a Muslim” — should there be a new support group? What’s depressing as a “revert” (Muslims believe everyone is born into their faith) to Islam is to witness the casual sleepwalk towards the branding of all Muslims — wherever we live and whatever our lives — as the “same.”

As the wider community watches this dangerous pantomime unfold, it is significant that the question asked (again) of Muslim Britons or Americans is not: “How do we tackle these challenges together?” but “what can be done about ‘extremism’ in your community?” This question pushes millions of us outside mainstream society, causing fissures where fault lines already exist.

Almost a decade ago, as the (Christian) head interviewer at the Islam Channel in the UK, my job put me into contact with some of the Muslim world’s most prominent clerics, academics and leaders. My contact with many chilled-out, clean-living and gentle people — offering me kindness, food and shelter — led me to research the world’s fastest growing faith. I came to embrace its central concept: the “Oneness of God.”

During this time, I also visited Palestine as a reporter. My working life in the Western media had not prepared me for the experience. I realized that I had been misguided about Islam and its people by the political mantra, best summarized as: “You’re either with us or against us.” One day, reporting from a refugee camp in Gaza, I was led by a group of shoeless children to a dark living room, lit only by candles due to a power cut. An elderly lady offered me tea and I found myself alone with a short-bearded young man in jeans and a t-shirt, with a serious expression.

“You are now in the house of Islamic Jihad,” he said. My eyes took in the impoverished home. My hair was out, my arms on show, and I was in my usual London-style clothes.
“Why aren’t you afraid?” The young man asked.
“Because your mum’s making me tea,” I said.

He went on to tell me that whether I was Christian, American, secular or Jewish, so long as I came to Palestine in peace, he and his colleagues would protect me with their lives and treat me (the sister in law of Tony Blair, former UK prime minister — no friend of Islam) as their honored guest. For the best part of a decade, this has remained my professional experience. I have also interviewed members of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The men I met expressed the same promise to protect my safety.

That particular young man in Gaza would no more recognize the aims or behavior of the so-called “Islamic State,” in beheading journalists and threatening the mass murder of other faiths, than your own kids or, for that matter, your average Muslim teenager in Los Angeles, London or Lille would. Yet Muslims — whether involved in genuine armed resistance in Gaza or simply preparing for college in the Midwest — are labeled as sharing the values of groups I can confidently say do not represent our faith, our many cultures, or much less our hopes and aspirations.

In response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to link all resistance groups’ aims to those of ISIS, Al Falistinya TV in Palestine aired a film clip that better reflects the way ISIS is viewed by most Muslims in the region. It is pertinent to remind ourselves that despite the abject horror of Western journalists being murdered, ISIS, like all extremist jihadist groups, has focused its killing on Muslims first and foremost.

The NCTC Report on Terrorism (2012) found that “In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” So, do you really think we don’t care about extremism? That it’s divorced from our reality, or unimportant to our community?

There is an experience that wannabe members of chilling al Qaeda offshoots and people like me share: the inevitable hurried, ill-thought out policy-on-the-run that politicians in the U.S., UK and France will now make off the back of the regular appearance of murder videos.

Every day, Muslims in market places from Kabul to Mosul are more likely to be blown up by “jihadists.” And in the West, it is everyday Muslims like me who hold our breaths waiting for the next raft of CIA and British intelligence “measures,” which will target citizens based solely on the basis of our religion or ethnicity. In the U.S., databases showing where Muslims live, where we shop, what Internet cafes we use and even where we like to watch sport are now accepted practices.

Informants — aptly nicknamed “mosque crawlers” by the CIA — are sent to our Friday services, pretending to share our faith, then reporting back to the secret service. Unsurprisingly as a result, government bodies are viewed as a hostile entity by Muslim voters who are not radicalized — simply frustrated. A 2012 survey by the Arab American Institute found that 55% of Arab American Muslims experienced discrimination, while 71% were afraid of expected future increases in discrimination.

Meanwhile in Britain, as Prime Minister David Cameron grandstands using phrases that inflame tensions on the streets here, mosques have been burned and vandalized. Muslims are the target of countless and increasing hate crimes across cities in the UK and Europe. Those headlines — the ones that may reassure you — about “deradicalization” and “crackdowns,” mean that your quiet, non-drinking Muslim neighbors and I must now prepare for more phone spying, more friends receiving alarming visits from secret agents and more hassle at the airport.

For those young men whose inner confusion, drug addiction, mental health problems or yes, even extremist grooming, makes them want to join some murderous group, one of the biggest recruiting lines is “the West vilifies you and your community.” So why do politicians think more mass surveillance and persecution is the answer? One ingredient for a long-term solution to the brainwashing of a small number of young people is one that is missing from this week’s political rhetoric — yet again.

This is the ideal of “fairness,” at home and abroad, for Muslims. This may be shocking to read at a time when “Muslims” are shown wearing bonnets and carrying long knives for slaughter videos. Yet the answer is staring us all in the face and has been since 9/11 first made Muslims in the West afraid to turn on the TV. Millions felt the same horror watching footage of Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. Are we all humans with rights or are we not?

The U.S. and its allies are preparing to re-enter Iraq again by air and perhaps eventually by land. Now is the time to propose a coherent strategy abroad that does not, and will never again, name the mass slaughter of Muslim civilians as “collateral damage” in a war they want no part in. A strategy should be proposed at home that includes honest, free debate between the Muslim community and the government on issues such as foreign policy and anti-terror measures, without prompting fear for our own freedom and security.

Now that really would be radical. In a good way, concluded Lauren Booth, a sister in law of Tony Blair, former UK prime minister. She is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. Her ground breaking work includes “Remember Palestine” and “Diaspora” for Press TV. In 2010 she embraced Islam. (HSH)







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