A few weeks ago, I saw Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. The movie was engaging, but what stuck out wasn’t the depictions of the global Muslim population but Americans’ perceptions about it. More than 60 percent of folks interviewed in a Gallup Poll admitted they know basically nada about Islam but 43 percent said, interestingly enough, that they felt at least a little prejudice toward Muslims. Hmm.
With that kind of foppery riding our red-blooded backsides, it’s no wonder a poor Muslim woman got treated like an Al-Qaeda poster child when she was ousted from a Southwest flight. When the lady volunteered to be re-searched by TSAs for bombs and terroristic paraphernalia, she still was cleared as a non-threat. But alas, she still wasn’t allowed to reboard the plane because — wait for it — she made members of the crew feel uncomfortable. Now that is just flat out ig’nant.
A flight attendant thought she overheard the woman saying, “It’s a go,” as in “It’s a go to do something sinister,” I guess.
For some people, the events of September 11 gave them a very real, very frightening demonstration of the wages of hatred. But the lunatics behind the madness just so happened to be followers of an extremist faction of Islam. Just like Jim Jones and his Jonestown massacre — which had the distinction of spurring the largest loss of civilian life before the 9/11 attacks happened — except in that sad instance, the zealot at the head of the murderous rampage was “Christian.”
Because we live in a country shaped and dominated by Biblical principles, nobody held Jesus or His lambs collectively responsible for that disaster, which took 914 lives. It was an isolated case of a madman operating under a religious agenda. But Muslims haven’t been given the same benefit of the doubt. Inasmuch as we call the U.S. a melting pot, they’ve stood out as “different,” and even though the maniacs who make up the violent, anti-American segment are like less than 1 percent of the Muslim population worldwide, they are, for too many folks, the face of Islam. It’s really sad.
Clearly, it’s too late for some adults to be rescued from their inclination to prejudge and see anyone with a hijab or Arab ancestry as a gun-toting, bomb-wielding terrorist (even though it may come as a shock to some that not all Muslims are Arab and not everybody wears the garb). You just aren’t going to change some people’s warped little close-minded perceptions, no matter how itty bitty skintight they are, like the flight attendant who saw a Muslim lady and “heard” what she wanted to “hear.” Interesting how, out of all the people that were probably on that plane, she just so happened to zero in on what that particular individual was saying.
It also never fails that the people who need to be reprogrammed the most are almost always the folks who will, in all sincerity, hit you with: “I’m not racist/bigoted/prejudiced. My cousin’s sister’s best friend’s boyfriend is black/Muslim/Mexican/gay and he came to my house for dinner last year” or “I dated a black guy in high school” or “There’s a Muslim gal in our knitting group,” like any of that precludes somebody from holding on to false beliefs. It’s so idealistic, it’s almost cute.
Let’s give our kids a chance to see the world uncolored by biases that we’ve picked up over the years. I know it sounds real We Are the World-ish, but the more we expose our children to folks from different races, ethnicities, religions — heck, even different classes — the more they can forge their own informed conclusions rather than having the same ol’ recycled bigotry implanted in their minds. It can’t even necessarily be parents that do it because sure as I’m sitting here, some mother or father is saying something in passing or imparting some attitude right now that’s all twisted and wrong about somebody else.
So that’s where teachers come in. Next to parents, they’re the most influential individuals in a kid's life and the impression they make is very often lifelong. If children can’t get equitable exposure to debunk stereotypes and stinkin’ thinkin’ about other communities at home, they need to be getting it at school. They need to be getting it from their Girl and Boy Scout troop leaders, dance teachers, basketball coaches — somebody needs to be teaching more than tolerance. Our kids need to learn acceptance and truth and develop a real understanding about who people genuinely are, not how they’re perceived from the outside.
That oughta whittle down the gigantic population of people walking around all loud and wrong about Muslims and a whole heap of other folks.
How much do you know about Islam? Where did you get what you know about the faith?
Image via Gefademe2d/Flickr