Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Help your readers, listeners and viewers understand the different forms of Islam

The controversy over building a huge Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, exacerbated by President Obama's remarks on the subject, has exposed a serious lack of knowledge among many Americans about Islam. Contrary to suggestions that the main imam behind the project might have links to Islamic radicals, he is a leader of the Sufi sect, "which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists," author William Dalrymple writes for The New York Times from New Delhi.

Dalrymple sees in the U.S. "a dangerously inadequate understanding of the many divisions, complexities and nuances within the Islamic world — a failure that hugely hampers Western efforts to fight violent Islamic extremism and to reconcile Americans with peaceful adherents of the world’s second-largest religion. Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors."

That is putting in terms that most Americans can understand, so we encourage newspapers to reprint the article and broadcasters to look for ways to enlighten their audiences. The stakes are high, as Dalrymple notes: "Many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion." (Read more)

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