Problematic Stereotypes: "Muslims Are Not Terrorists"
by Isabel Oberlender
This article is a part of a new column series called Problematic Stereotypes, which offers new insights on the effects of predisposed opinions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other social categories.
Ever since the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, the American public has viewed and described terrorism in an entirely different way. Airports and government buildings have significantly increased security, and terrorism has become a very real fear for many individuals. In the wake of this hysteria, negative stereotypes about Muslims and persons of Arab descent have experienced a resurgence in the media and in the national sphere.
Several individuals and groups have spoken out about how Muslims are portrayed and addressed in the media, but news outlets continue to place the words “Islam” and “Muslim” next to words like “militant,” “terrorist,” “fundamentalist,” and “violence.” Events including the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis, the Gulf War, 9/11 and the “Global War on Terror” that followed, have received gargantuan press coverage as being evidence of “Islamic fundamentalism.” What an astounding number of people fail to recognize is that any act of terrorism committed by a declared Muslim organization is done by a small group of religious extremists whose terroristic actions actually violate the central principles of Islam. Why should the doings of a few religious extremists designate the reputation and representation of an entire religion?
When stereotypes arise, discrimination abounds. The impact of the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorists is felt heavily by the Muslim community in the United States. An article by The Pluralism Project at Harvard University reads: “Individuals have experienced discrimination in housing and employment, or even harassment and attacks from strangers on the street; mosques and Islamic centers across the country frequently report vandalism.” In 2015, Americans faced a greater threat of being killed for being Muslim rather than that of being killed by a Muslim.
In a 2011 report by the Center for American Progress entitled “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” sources of funding of the anti-Islamic slandering that has created a fear of Muslims were identified. These organizations include ACT! for America, Jihad Watch, American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). Of the organizations listed, many have been publicly identified as hate groups, but that has not stopped them from spreading intolerance. In 2012, the American Freedom Defense Initiative sponsored advertisements on public transportation in the New York area that declared: “It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”
The very word Islam, which translates to “surrender,” is closely connected to the Arab salam, or peace. In the Koran, the holy text of Islam, the Muslim Prophet Muhammad devoted his attention to building peace in a war-torn Arabia. He constructed a coalition of tribes and led an inspiring campaign of nonviolence. Due to the fact that the Koran was revealed in a time of war, several passages deal with battle. Extremists often quote the verses ordering violence, but fail to reveal the exhortations of peace that follow. A declaration of peace that trails the heavily quoted, “slay [enemies] wherever you find them!" (4: 89) gives way to how religious extremists defy the true message of the Koran: "Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them" (4: 90).
The American Muslim community has been working diligently to eliminate stereotypes. Mosques across the country hold open services and informational seminars are given at college campuses in an attempt to dispel the bias that perpetuates around Islam. It is truly eye-opening how much a seemingly harmless stereotype, when delivered as a joke or a headline in the media, damages others. In closing, the solution is education. As devastating as the results of this stereotype are, the only way to move forward is awareness amongst the American public and the dismantling of this stereotype in the media.