Recent months have seen an abundance of media discussion about Islam in America, and most of that coverage has had a subtle undertone of fear and division. It started with the controversy over the Park 51 Community Center, better known by its doubly misleading nickname, the “Ground Zero Mosque.”
As that controversy developed, more and more us-versus-them rhetoric became acceptable in the media conversation. On Oct. 3, ABCâÄôs This Week titled a special edition of its show “HOLY WAR: Should Americans Fear Islam?” That sensationalistic title implicitly claims that Islam and America are mutually exclusive âÄî obviously false.
America and Islam are not at odds; instead they are each a part of the other. That title would prompt a Muslim-American viewer to think, Should I be afraid of myself? Of course not. America is not a country of white Christians that only allows other races and faiths to participate; non-white, non-Christians are just as much a part of the fundamental idea of “America” as anyone else is.
This offensive media discourse came to another boiling point during Bill OâÄôReillyâÄôs Oct. 14 appearance on The View, where he brought up the “mosque controversy.” During the discussion, OâÄôReilly shouted “Muslims killed us on 9/11!” This may be true, but notice OâÄôReillyâÄôs use of the term “us.” The way he constructed his phrase, “us,” excludes Muslims, when more than 30 Muslims were killed in the attacks of Sept. 11. Many more put their lives on the line for America every day by serving in the military. It would have been at least equally valid to blurt out “Muslims were killed on 9/11!” and argue that those families should have a place to pray for and mourn their family members and other victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But sometimes things can get too politically correct. National Public Radio recently fired Juan Williams, overreacting to comments he made about “get[ting] nervous” around Muslims on planes. People have real reactions similar to Williams, and those should not be ignored or swept under the rug. The point, instead, is to acknowledge that they exist, but stop short of institutionalizing them or allowing them to control oneâÄôs behavior.
Take, for example, a fatal drunk driving accident. This event would cause severe emotional consequences for survivors and family and friends of the victim. However, they do not subsequently campaign to prohibit driving or drinking alcohol. If each is used safely and responsibly, neither is inherently dangerous; instead, the individual drunk driver has made dangerous choices and behaved irresponsibly, and he or she is rightly punished.
The same is true of the relationship between America and Islam: Certain individuals perverted a religion that, when practiced normally, is peaceful and harmless. The dangerous behavior of individuals caused the deaths of thousands of Americans, and people are right to feel emotional and angry about that. However, we cannot confuse the true cause of those attacks for a false one. Americans should seek to prevent the practice of terrorism, not the practice of Islam. The two are not the same and neither the media nor the American public should treat them as such.