Islam and Muslims should not scare you
When Jihad Jane and terror is all most Americans know about Islam and American Muslims, it’s time for a media makeover.
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Americans deserve to hear a more accurate portrayal of a religion and people that account for a fifth of the world’s population.Skip to next paragraph
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The West (even the Vatican) praise the ethical principles behind Islamic banking services. There is a thriving literary and artistic tradition within Islam. For example, American Muslims have made remarkable contributions to such diverse fields as jazz (Yusuf Lateef), photojournalism (Adrees Latif) and miniature art (Saira Wasim).
Islam is host to moderate and vibrant minority communities. For example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – a dynamic, fast-growing international revivalist movement within Islam – is America’s first Muslim organization (founded in 1920) and has vociferously denounced violent “jihad” as a grave sin.
American Muslims collaborate with individuals of all faiths and traditions to improve their local communities on a regular basis. Here in Los Angeles, the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement at the University of Southern California has been at the forefront of promoting mutual understanding.
Yet all of this gets lost in a wave of negative headlines.
Extreme personalities have painted Islam with broad strokes, and much – though not all – of the media have allowed them to. This must change.
Whose burden is that? The news media bear the primary responsibility. Isn’t one of the main purposes of the media to empower citizens to make informed decisions concerning their democracy? Sensationalizing or even mischaracterizing incidents can greatly influence how citizens treat one another; it can also influence US policy.
By leaving out the full picture, the news media can ultimately inflame public outrage to such an extent as to facilitate ill-conceived legislation or engender popular vigilantism against American Muslims.
To be sure, it is a difficult time in the US for journalism. In the 24/7 news and Internet age, newspapers and TV news stations fight for their survival by becoming as attractive to viewers as possible. But that doesn’t have to mean accuracy should suffer.
The solution is rather simple: The news media should make a concerted effort to get comments from American Muslims to help give context when reporting on Islam and the multitude of voices and movements within the religion. That way Americans will understand that most American Muslims are as aghast as they are every time there is a “jihad” against America.
There are plenty of American Muslim journalists and commentators willing to help put the news in perspective. In order to repair the image of American Muslims and fix the misperception problem, the media must work harder to help make the unfamiliar feel familiar.
Amjad Mahmood Khan, a former editor in chief of the Harvard Human Rights Journal, is an American Muslim attorney in Los Angeles.