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Education is Key to Reversing Attitudes about Islam

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    SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006 Education Is Key To Reversing Attitudes About Islam In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful COMMENTARY:
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 10, 2006
      SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006
      Education Is Key To Reversing Attitudes About Islam
      In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

      COMMENTARY: Education Is Key to Reversing Attitudes About Islam
      c. 2006 Religion News Service

      (UNDATED) I can hardly believe it has been five years since the
      devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That day was doubly hurtful for
      me as an American Muslim. That anyone would willfully and murder
      3,000 Americans was painful enough. To learn, however, that those
      responsible for the death and destruction claimed their deed in the
      of my faith hurt just as much. The memories -- as well as the pain --
      that terrible September morning will be with me for the rest of my

      In the weeks following the attacks, our nation witnessed a
      tremendous unity that had not occurred in quite a long time. Americans
      of all colors, creeds, and walks of life came together to comfort one
      another. What was most heartening was the response of non-Muslim
      Americans toward their American Muslim neighbors.

      While there were scattered acts of violence and discrimination
      directed toward Muslims (or those who "looked" Muslim), for the most
      part, non-Muslim Americans reached out and comforted Muslims. The
      widespread backlash that many American Muslims -- including this
      -- feared would occur failed to materialize. In fact, a Pew Research
      Center poll found that the number of Americans with a favorable view
      Islam rose -- from 45 percent in May 2001 to 59 percent two months
      after 9/11.

      A 2004 Cornell University poll had more disturbing results: 44
      percent of Americans favored at least some restrictions on the civil
      liberties of Muslims (although more -- 48 percent -- said there should
      be no restrictions whatsoever). Approximately one-quarter of Americans
      said Muslims should have to register with the government and that law
      enforcement personnel should engage in racial profiling and undercover
      monitoring of Muslims.

      Earlier this year, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed even
      worse results: 46 percent of Americans had a negative view of Islam.
      Twenty-five percent admitted harboring prejudice against Muslims. The
      number of Americans who believe mainstream Islam encourages violence
      against non-Muslims more than doubled, to 33 percent.

      What happened? Why did Americans' attitudes toward Islam and Muslims
      become so unfavorable? For one thing, ever since President Bush
      Islam to be a "religion of peace" (a far cry from his recent statement
      about "Islamic fascists") many comments about Islam made by prominent
      Americans have been extremely negative. The Rev. Jerry Falwell called
      the Prophet Muhammad a "terrorist." Franklin Graham -- son of
      Billy Graham -- called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion."

      With the invasion of Iraq and the resultant insurgency, which
      brought out the most brutal Muslim extremists, Americans have
      the beheading of hostages, the kidnapping and murdering of
      aid workers and private contractors, and near daily suicide bombings.
      Many of these acts have been committed in the name of Islam.

      The recent report that Palestinians forced two Fox News journalists
      to convert to Islam at gunpoint did not help things. It seems that the
      only news reported about Islam and Muslims involves violence and
      thus it is not unexpected that Americans would view Islam in a

      Yet, amid this doom and gloom there is a glimmer of hope. There is
      opportunity among the smoke of "Islamic terror." It is quite easy to
      explain that the near constant bad news about Islam does not
      reflect the entire faith, just as the alleged rape and murder of an
      Iraqi girl -- or the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib -- does not
      accurately reflect the U.S. military. Second, I believe much of the
      negative attitude toward Muslims reported in the numerous polls
      conducted since 9/11 stems from ignorance about the faith.

      Consistently, 60 percent to 70 percent of Americans admit to having
      little or no knowledge of Islam. Reverse this ignorance with education
      and outreach, and I am confident the negative attitudes toward Islam
      will decrease. People fear the unknown and out of this fear comes
      and prejudice. Once Americans get to know their Muslim neighbors -- at
      cookouts, PTA meetings and sporting events -- they will realize that
      they have more things in common than in contrast. Then the prejudice
      that one in four Americans admits to harboring against Muslims will

      Such outreach and education are hard work, and countering the near
      constant negative imagery associated with Islam is a daunting task.
      it helps to bring Americans together when there are many who wish to
      tear us apart. We can again achieve the heart-warming unity that
      abounded after Sept. 11, even if it is five years later.
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