Should we Fear Islam?

Keith Ellison

Washington, DC – At a time when our nation is seeing a rise in intolerant behaviour, crossing every cultural line, whether based on

race, religion or sexual orientation, we seem simultaneously stuck with a national news media that is preoccupied with conflict and controversy when we desperately need one that weighs facts and reports fairly. A recent national news programme reinforced these concerns. Let me explain what I mean.

Imagine a respected television show or news magazine article with the title, Should Americans Fear Black People?

Imagine staccato hip-hop music for the teaser, with clips of black gang members toting guns, hanging around urban scenes, looking scary. Imagine the zoom-in close up of a shoulder tattoo, proclaiming “Thug for Life”.

As the host (some household name) opens the show, imagine that the white expert opining about the root causes of urban decay is a nationally recognised racist like, for instance, David Duke, a former Louisiana State Representative and a leader in the Ku Klux Klan – a once widespread white supremacy movement. With a straight face, and no sense of irony, the host solicits Duke’s views, and he proceeds to declare, “When the American people saw the Los Angeles riots, they received a peek into their future”, referring to the 1992 riots that erupted following the acquittal of four white police officers who were on trial for beating Rodney King, an African American motorist.

Imagine the television cameras going in search of voices of “real” black people. Where do they go? The ‘hood of course! I mean, where else do black people live?

The intrepid host invites regular Americans to ask the experts to explain black pathology: “Why is their rap music so degrading to women?” Cynthia from Wyoming wonders. “Why are so many blacks at the bottom of the economic and educational ladder?” Chuck from New York muses.

Is this starting to get a little uncomfortable? Of course it is. Just ask Don Imus, an American radio host fired in 2007 for making racist and sexist remarks, about the wisdom of indulging in racial stereotyping against blacks. Add Jews, Catholics, gays and others as well. Not a good idea.

Now replace black with Muslim, and that’s just about how ABC News treated Islam and Muslims on the recent television shows 20/20 and This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

There were the obligatory clips of terrorist training camps, the planes flying into the Twin Towers, the victims of so-called “honour killings”. The Muslim experts – looking officially “Islamic” in their long beards and hats – included one who declared that one day the flag of Islam would fly over the White House.

The non-Muslim experts – Robert Spencer (a leading anti-Muslim advocate in the Park51 Islamic centre controversy), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a prolific anti-Muslim writer) and Franklin Graham (who has said Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion”) – are well known, even famous, for spewing anti-Muslim hate.

Of course, these characters emphatically agreed with the caricatures with long beards and white hats, repeating the propaganda that Islam requires its adherents to dominate people. Among the “normal” Muslims interviewed were a woman in niqab (fewer than one per cent of Muslim women in America wear the full face veil and accompanying robes), and Muslims in the Muslim ”hood”, cities like Dearborn, Michigan and Patterson, New Jersey.

Do some Americans fear black people? For sure. But we don’t validate those fears by allowing them to be expressed with fake innocence on respected news shows. Why are fears of Muslims validated by television airings?

Are there criminals in America who are African American? Yes, again. But they’re not presented as representative figures of the community by reputable news programmes. Why do such shows go out of their way to find the scariest, most cartoonish Muslims possible and present them as spokespeople for Muslims?

No serious journalist would ask a random black guy with a briefcase on the street to explain the pathology of an African American criminal because of the coincidence of shared skin colour. But serious journalists called on ordinary Muslim Americans to explain the behaviour of homicidal maniacs and extremists, thereby making the link between the crazies and the mainstream community.

Are there people willing to offer all sorts of racist theories about black crime, from problems in black genes to deficiencies in black culture? Plenty. But the only time they show up on mainstream news shows are as examples of racism, not as experts on race.

We are having a national conversation about belonging. The threatened Qur’an burning in Florida and the controversy over the proposed Islamic centre in lower Manhattan are examples of this national conversation about whether America can stretch her arms wide enough to embrace Muslims too. Irresponsible and sensational depictions of Muslims in the popular media are not the cause of Islamophobia, but they certainly can make it worse. Recent news shows and media reports do nothing to shed light or understanding on this national conversation, which is too bad.

But the conversation must continue. And I hope it continues in our mosques, churches, synagogues and other holy places, with Americans of all faiths talking face to face about differences and about our shared humanity – free of the stereotypes that lately are so prominent in our television shows and magazines.


  • Sam

    Islamophobia? If Islam consisted of nothing more than its 5 pillars, there will never be any fear and no problem of

    integration anywhere in the world.
    So is the picture of violence, intolerance, compulsion that is projected today all mere skewed propganda?

    Skewed or not, the face of Islam that is in the news today is indeed chilling. But people (including the so-called moderate

    Muslims) must wake up to one stark reality. If one were to call out, “Will the TRUE Islam please stand up?”, well, you find

    a bunch of people in various garb from various parts of the world arguing vehemently that each represents the TRUE Islam and

    the others are pretenders/unschooled/traitors lackeys of the infidels etc.. The gentle folks (supposedly the vast

    majority),trying to calmly extol the “goodness” of Islam will be shouted out of the debate or worse, blown to smithereens.

    In every debate this pattern can be observed: “Anti Islamists” will quote the verses that call for killing of unbelievers,

    apostatesinfidels etc. Advocates of “the religion of peace” will say that those verses CAN be contextualized (i.e.

    applicable only to the cultural context of that particular period in history), and it’s the extremists and terrorists who

    have hijacked the “peaceful” religion. They will then go on to quote verses in the Quran exhorting peace, kindness,

    tolerance and all the good stuff. BUT NO ONE ever seems willing to admit the obvious – that the “violent” verses ARE OPEN to

    violent interpretation, as is being abundantly witnessed today. It’s sickening to listen to these religion of peace debaters

    pleading to the world to please “contextualize”, while hiding behind excuses like “there are many, many differing schools of

    thought on issues like hudud”. Puhleeeez! As long as some verses CAN be violently interpreted, you bet there will be people

    who will do so. I mean, what’s there to stop them from carrying out “divine” injunctions interpreted in such manner? Like

    can they be ex-communicated? So when a bunch of them band together and wreak havoc in every corner of the world, is the

    phobia not justified? DUH!

    In Muslim-majority Malaysia (which loudly proclaims itself to be a model progressive, moderate, Islamic state with a fully

    functioning Shariah in parallel with the Federal Constitution), where apostates are legally forced into “rehabilitation

    centres”, Bibles in the National Language are arbitrarily confiscated, couples are fined for holding hands in the park,

    complaints about excessive volume of the minaret result in detention without trial, Islamic prayers are mandatory in

    National schools, etc. And this under a self-professed “moderate” (since non-muslims are allowed gambling and liqour)

    government. How not to fear? Don’t preach to me about “contextualizing” the scriptures. Go sort it out with your brothers

    without getting blown up.

    To those peace-propagating Muslims of the religion of peace, this is my challenge you: take a trip from your democratic.

    multicultural countries; come to Malaysia and say your piece in the goverment-run TV and see how “lovingly” you will be

    received by the hordes of fellow Muslims here. Or better yet, go on a dakwah mission to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and

    speak at the main intersection in the capital and plainly name the hijackers of the religion of peace? Then, if you are

    still walking free in one piece, come talk to me about the religion of peace.

    • IC

      I thank you very much for you commendatory and shred your concern.
      The Muslim of Egypt gave you the answer … the way they made the dictatorship fall. we saw how their love and Patience,, sacrifice and peaceful protest gave the blind eyes to see, the death ears to hear and the dead heart to stop Islamophopic propagandas..

    • Maher

      Hi Sam,

      I love how you’re mixing cultural beliefs with Islamic Shari’a. “If one were to call out, “Will the TRUE Islam please stand up?”, well, you find a bunch of people in various garb from various parts of the world arguing vehemently that each represents the TRUE Islam and the others are pretenders/unschooled/traitors lackeys of the infidels etc..”

      I’d like to highlight that the garbs you mention are cultural and have nothing to do with Islam’s Shari’a. If the Christians and Jews in the west decided to stray from their roots and change their dress codes and what they eat, then that’s their problem. I’m sure you’ll be happier if the “garbs” were more revealing to fit you’re moral standards.

      I’ve been to Malaysia and I agree the laws are harsh, but to a non-Muslim. Similar laws are in Singapore by the way I don’t see you complaining, perhaps because prostitution and drinking is legal there. That must be your idea of liberating women. Most of the people that get in trouble in a place like Singapore and Malaysia are foreigners who try to impose “western” beliefs and cultures in that region. We need to respect and abide the law of the land just like we expect people to the same in our country here. Yes, this does include not drinking and not holding hands in public. It’s immoral there so respect that or don’t visit. If your idea or cultural liberation is plastering your women in Playboy and on the red carpet, it’s not the Muslim way and it’s not Malaysia. You want playboy magazine, alcohol, American Football, and pork chops you know where to get that. Hint: It’s not Malaysia.

      Let’s shift gears to “contextualizing” our Holy Qur’an. Cherry picking verses by a non-Muslim and interpreting as he/she likes should be acceptable to Muslims???? Cool then there is no need for Imams in Islam. We can just go to “Sam” and have him teach us the Qur’an. The Qur’an’s interpretation is our beloved Prophet (BBUH) and the way he lived. We follow the way he interpreted it for us and no one else. Neither you nor any other non-Muslim will ever be allowed to interpret the Qur’an or anything in Islam. We have our scholars to interpret for us, thank you. Anyone else but a Muslim scholar interpreting the Qur’an and Hadith is nothing but someone whose only goal is to run propaganda for their own worldly gains or take the focus off the fabrications that has happened over the year in their own religion. You can say what you want about the Qur’an, Muslims won’t believe you because you’ll always be saying it from a non-Muslim view. If you disagree just review your intentions for writing your statements on the ISWM website. Islam is a way of life not a textbook you pick up to read and memorize.

      Lastly, I’d hate to break it to you but the US and the so-called “developed” countries are not the beacon for civilization, peace, love, and moral integrity. We should all look in the mirror, fix ourselves and clean our own laundry. I ask Allah to guide you to the righteous way.