When we think of terrorism today, Islam is the one religious group that usually comes to mind. Unfortunately, this is because the religion has been painted in the worst light since 9/11. Islam has been hijacked — its reputation is no longer in the hands of Muslims. Rather, it’s the media that have taken over its fate.
The power of the press is evident — the way Islam has been portrayed is the perfect example of that. The media need to remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Even though it’s a corny Spiderman line, there’s some truth to it. The media should be more mindful of the way they speak about Islam because they are greatly responsible for influencing public opinion. The role of the press and the media is to serve as watchdogs of the government and to inform the public of the world’s events. What they shouldn’t do is speak slantingly about a group of people.
Even the most reputable news organizations we turn to for top stories have been guilty. For example, while CNN was covering the Boston bombings, Wolf Blitzer hinted Tsarnaev might be linked to the violent behavior because he had the same name as a 14th-century Islamic crusader who massacred millions of people. I couldn’t believe they were making that connection on national television. A name does not inherently affect someone’s actions. And this is CNN we’re talking about here — one of the most widely viewed news organizations in the world.
A journalist is supposed to give a voice to the voiceless. Muslim Americans don’t always have high positions in politics or positions that can give a voice to its people. So here it is:
Terrorism is not a race — it doesn’t have a face and it doesn’t have a skin color. One definition of terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Nowhere in that definition is there a reference to a religious group or a particular spiritual following. It’s absolutely absurd that people are constantly making that association. I’m not a Muslim American, but I am an Arab American — a proud one at that — and because the two are often conflated I need to set the record straight.
How are we supposed to learn to get along and attain peace if we are demonizing people? We say we want a better America, a more peaceful America — well, let’s start by eradicating ignorance. Just because a person is Arab, does not mean they are Muslim. Just because someone is a Muslim, it does not mean they support Al-Qaeda or that they are affiliated with terrorism. The Koran isn’t telling Muslims to act chaotically. Not all terrorists come from the Middle East. The religion is called Islam, not Muslim. Say it with me — I-S-L-A-M. Educate yourself before developing harsh opinions about a group of people.
Imagine how Christian and Jewish communities would feel and react if their religion was disenfranchised like Islam is in America. Just taking a shot in the dark here, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t stand for it. I would like to make one thing crystal clear: I’m not in any shape or form defending the deplorable acts of terrorism committed by any terrorist, be they Muslim or any other religion. Yes, Muslims have carried out violent acts that were wrong and unforgivable. But how many times do we refer to a white criminal’s religion like we do with Arabs? Religion is not the reason people commit crimes. My main message is that not all Muslims are terrorists and that the radicals are the religion’s outliers. They are in no way whatsoever the vast majority.
It’s a shame that pockets of bad people created a stain that nearly covered the whole surface of Islam in some people’s eyes. There are approximately 1.5 billion followers of Islam around the world — doesn’t that say something? There are beautiful aspects of the religion, as well as outdated ones — just like every faith.
Let’s take the time to understand and learn about other cultures and religions. Once we do that, we all may actually start to get along.
Sara Shouhayib can be reached at email@example.com.