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Americans don’t understand Islam

A nationwide poll from the Council on American-Islamic relations found that one out of every four Americans believes that Islam teaches children to hate, does not value human life and is the source of a nationwide conspiracy to take over America. Furthermore, the poll showed that nearly half of all Americans support restrictions on the civil rights of Muslims. There is a broad misunderstanding of Arabs, Muslims and the Quran. These misunderstandings are not harmless. Aside from proliferating intolerant stereotypes, these views create a high incidence of hate crimes against innocent Muslim-Americans.

The number of hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims skyrocketed after Sept. 11 — a report from the FBI indicated an increase of these incidents by 1,600 percent. Aggravated assault shot up dramatically, and growing tensions are not showing signs of stopping.

One source of this bigotry is fallacious racial profiling. Most terrorists claim to be Muslims. To say that this transfers to the belief that most Muslims are terrorists is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Ironically, the nation’s intellectual pundits and leaders have no problem following such erroneous thinking.

Not surprisingly, Ann Coulter, a political pundit, was glad to fall into the trench of bigotry and hatred. According to Coulter’s blog, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” When asked if she converted her Muslim ex-boyfriend to Christianity, she told Time magazine, “No, I was just happy he wasn’t killing anyone.”

Furthermore, the media constantly throws around terms such as “Islamic radicals,” which can have a lasting effect on the average citizen. The sentiment is not being diminished, when the supposed intellectuals perpetuate the stereotypes and ignorance that inspire hate crime.

No one seems to notice that the vast majority of Muslim leaders and theologians dispel these false notions. Islam is not a violent religion. The men who commit atrocities such as the Sept. 11 attacks are heretics to their own religion. They are no more representative of the Quran than Jim Jones, the maniacal cult leader, was of the Bible.

Religious texts can be very confusing, and many passages can be taken out of context. The reader must understand that the Quran was written at a time when the Prophet Mohammed was dealing with serious tribal conflicts in the Middle East. The passages concerning Jihad have their place in their holy book. Similarly, the biblical passages that tell Christians and Jews to stone to death all homosexuals, adulterers and prostitutes have a contextual importance as well.

If Islam and the Quran are so inherently violent, why were militant Islamic groups nearly non-existent in the 1960s? The Quran had the same message decades ago. If the text is immutable, it is necessary to look at cultural and historical sources of this issue before calling the religion violent.

Irrational fear is almost always a result of not knowing or understanding the object of that fear. The poll showed that 37 percent believed that another attack will happen in the next year. A similar poll from Cornell University in 2002 stated that 90 percent of Americans believed another attack was imminent. With this much fear and misguided media, it is not unlikely to have an increase in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment.

While hatred toward innocent people is irrational, it is not entirely impossible that the United States could be attacked again. Citizens should not become ignorant of the threats that terrorists pose. But how does animosity for an entire race and religion keep anyone safe at night?

The best way to eliminate bigotry is to spread awareness. Islam awareness groups, such as the one that conducted this survey, are making a great effort to educate the American people. But groups such as this have no chance of competing with mass media or opinion manufacturers such as Ann Coulter. People need to stop giving so much credit to mass media. But even Islam awareness groups such as this have their biases too. Individual study is the most reasonable path.

Every responsible American ought to pick up the Quran and a history book before labeling people they do not understand.

Tim Aylsworth The Battalion,Texas A&M.