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Muslims are constantly faced with the judgmental nature of many Americans who have the tendency of stereotyping people of the Islamic faith as being violent and problematic, which sheds light on the ignorant mentality of most Americans today. After the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, many Americans have associated Muslims with terrorism. One majorly tragic event has shaped the way the majority of a society views a specific religious group. Throughout history there have been many countries and groups of people who have evoked terror upon a specific nation, so why is it that the first thing the majority of Americans think of when they think of terrorist are Muslims? The true definition of terrorism is basically the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Mega pop star Chris Brown and some friends decided to attend singer Rihanna’s Halloween party this year dressed as terrorists. This stirred up a great deal of controversy simply because his idea of a terrorist resembled a Middle Eastern Muslim person. The fact that Chris Brown decided to dress up as an Arab terrorist just shows his perception of what the average terrorist looks like. His decision to dress this way turned out to be highly offensive to many people, especially those of the Islamic faith. Although people were very upset with Brown’s Halloween costume, this just goes to show that Americans shaped the way people view the ideal terrorists after 9/11. Why have so many Americans instilled in there minds that the typical terrorist has to be a Muslim and what does this say about the mindset of the American people?
In a book review by the Harvard University Press, Claire Chambers dissects the book, Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation After 9/11 by Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin.Morey and Yaqin call "the merry-go-round of cultural approval", Muslims now tend to be represented in film, television and the media as a problem community, rather than the "model minority" of earlier generations (Chambers). It has unconsciously become the norm to associate Muslims with terrorism to the point where people hardly ever stop to think about the positive aspects of the Islamic faith. While the terrorist attacks on September 11th resulted in the collapse of the Twin Towers and the death of many innocent Americans, this still does not justify the hasty generalizations many Americans make about Muslims still up to this day. Although Brown’s costume choice caused a bit of a controversy, it subliminally made a bold statement about the fact that the American government has shaped the way many Americans view terrorists and terrorism. While some people like Brown’s mother make the argument that Halloween is just for fun, nothing more, nothing less, it still stirred up a great deal of contention in the media.
The term ignorance is bliss is extremely applicable to many Americans. Most people are more content with not knowing the truth because sometimes the truth is just far too complicated. To associate terrorism with the Islamic faith is very inequitable simply because a religion does not make a person/persons a terrorist, it is the mindset and characteristic of that individual that causes them to evoke terror. Jen’nan Ghazal gives a host of statistical facts that mention the connection Americans have made between Muslims and violence throughout the years in her article entitled Muslims in America. “Recent national polls find that four in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam, five in 10 believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, and six in 10 believe Islam is very different from their own religion. All this despite the fact that seven in 10 admit they know very little about Islam" This statement leads me to wonder: how could you criticize and make such general statements about a religion you barely know anything about? Many Americans use Muslims as an easy way of defining something as complicated as terrorism. This is one of the many reasons why people stereotype a specific group of people. It is so much easier to follow what everyone else is doing and saying, then to think something completely different because it challenges the norm.
Having this preconceived notion that all terrorists are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists just because of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11th, simply does not justify such a broad statement. After 9/11 there were hate crimes that took place in America against Muslim people. People were extremely angry with a specific religious group causing them to retaliate unjustifiably. It is clear to see that many Americans truly believe that Muslims are a great threat to the society. “The Council on American-Islamic Relations processed 2,647 civil rights complaints in 2006, a 25 percent increase from the prior year and a 600 percent increase since 2000. The largest category involved complaints against U.S. government agencies (37 percent)” (Ghazal). The fact that the U.S government agencies are getting involved with hate crimes against innocent Muslims just goes to show that categorizing Muslims as terrorists is a social and political issue, which stems from the government and trickles down to the American people.
There have been statistics that has proven many Americans wrong in their assumptions about people of the Islamic faith. The idea that Muslims are characterized by anti-democratic tendencies and violence has been contradicted by a thorough research on Muslim Americans. Interviews with 3,627 Muslim Americans in 2001 and 2004 by the Georgetown University Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project and 1,050 Muslim Americans in 2007 by the Pew Research Center show that Muslim Americans are diverse, well-integrated, and largely mainstream in their attitudes, values, and behaviors (Ghazal). This is a prime example of how the typical American idea of Muslims in America is completely inaccurate. However, while many accusations made of Muslims are indeed untrue, there are some substantial reasons to why some Americans may feel a great deal of animosity towards this specific religious group. After speaking to a fellow American by the name of Whitley Williams whose uncle died in the World Trade Center, she gave a valid explanation to why she will never look at Muslims the same after 9/11. Williams explains her anger towards Muslims when she says, “they purposely killed many innocent people like my uncle who came to work expecting to go home at the end of the day but never got the chance to because his life was taken from him by those fucked up people!” Many Americans can relate to Williams animosity simply because they too have had people they know that died in the September 11th attacks.
American television shows like Muslims in America have been created to shine light on the everyday life of American Muslims after 9/11. This specific series brings forth the point of view of Muslims in America and displays how it feels for them to be consistently ridiculed based on something that was beyond their control. Persecuting someone based on something someone else did is simply unfair and illogical. That is just like having Christians criticize every Jew they see for the alleged crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It would be irrational to even categorize Jews as killers, which is exactly what most Americans do with Muslims today. The islamophobia demonstrated by so many Americans causes me to wonder: how does it feel to be a Muslim in America dealing with all these biases from fellow Americans? My curiosity led me to speak with an American Muslim by the name of Akanke Tiamoyo whom now lives in Saudi Arabia about the negative opinions many Americans have about people of the Islamic faith. Here is what she had to say:
“I have mixed feelings when I hear people negatively stereotyping Muslims and Islam. On one hand, I'm intelligent enough to realize that this is primarily caused by ignorance and a lack of understanding about Islam and Muslims, which is heavily propagated by the media. Although it is unfortunate, the reality is that the mainstream media is largely irresponsible and biased and has great influence and control over people's thinking.”
If the media has control over the way the majority of a society thinks, then why is the media using their power for negativity against the Muslim people? When and why has this islamophobia become so popular amongst the American people? I have come to the realization that these questions could not be answered directly. Many people have sought out the answers to these very complicated questions and yet still find themselves searching for a steady answer. To define as simple as possible, Islamophobia is basically the extreme or irrational fear of all Islam people. How can you fear something you simply do not know? The sheer ignorance and misinformation presented by the media has deeply affected and brainwashed the American people into believing something that is completely inaccurate. While some Americans go beyond what they hear to further research the things that are being portrayed in the media, the majority of Americans are perfectly comfortable with following everything the media has constructed for the American people. This is a form of a more subliminal propaganda that has been created by the media to slander a specific group of people.
Chris Brown’s costume choice of being a “terrorist” sends a very misconstrued message to young kids who have absolutely no prior knowledge about the Islamic people. It creates this idea in these adolescent’s mind that all Muslim people pose a grave threat to the American people. Rather than focusing so primarily on the wrongfully posed negative aspect of the Muslim people, more Americans need to look into what the Muslim religion teaches and is all about. Having spoken to Akanke, she explained the sole function of the Islamic religion:
“Islam is very transformative because it is a complete way of life. It impacts our spiritual social, cultural, political material and family life. We are taught to believe in all the books that have been revealed, all the messengers or prophets, which have been sent, and we are shown the errors that have been made in the past and given clear direction on how to live as believers. Everything we do in life is seen in some way as an act of worship. Because it is so comprehensive, it powerfully and positively impacts every aspect of life and causes profound evolution and growth both spiritually and intellectually.”
These very diverse and universal qualities of the Islamic religion expressed by an actual Muslim person contradict basically everything the Western society has instilled in the minds of so many Americans today. When asked what would she like Americans to know about the Islamic religion that they have been so misinformed about, Akanke answered by saying:
“I encourage people to go beyond the hype and the fear it is intended to create and actually read the Quran with an open mind, meet Muslims and study comparative religion in order to learn the truth about Islam.”
By doing additional research about a specific group of people or persons, Americans would most likely decrease their animosity towards the Muslim people and they would probably put an end to the hasty generalizations. Americans would be more informed, less ignorant and more receptive of the Islamic faith rather than being repulsed. The blinder that has been covering many Americans faces will finally come off and the truth will set them free.
Morey, Peter, and Amina Yaqin. "Framing Muslims; Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11." 26.4 (2011): 1-246. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
Ghazal, Jen’nan. "Muslims in America." N.p., 23 Jan. 2007. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
Tiamoyo, A (2012, December 3). Email Interview
Williams, W (2012, December 1) Personal Interview