“What about the terrible way Muslims behave?”

THE NATURE of the news media is that in general it only reports bad news; the exceptions may include sports news, visits by statesmen and royalty, finance news, and the like. We would not expect to see a report on the news dealing with the wonderful weather which hit Albania today, or the absence of war in Utah, or the revelation that a politician was totally uncorrupt. We do not need, apparently, to be told such things. Journalists are not in the business of reporting good news; that’s the job of those lovely Disk Jockeys on Radio 2.

As a result, our view of those subjects with which we are unfamiliar can easily become skewed. In the case of Islam, you are unlikely ever to come across the very good work of organisations such as Muslim Aid or Islamic Relief in the daily reports of the news media. Daily they provide emergency relief aid in the desperate situations of Chechnya, Afghanistan and so forth; they contribute to social welfare programmes; they undertake community development projects; they assist in literacy programmes; and they work with orphans, but such information is not the stuff of news reports. This is true also of Christian organisations, but the difference is that Christianity is familiar; you already know something about it.

Where most people are concerned, very little is known about Islam. Ask many people for ten facts about Islam, and most would struggle to provide even one. When such ignorance is the foundation upon which the daily news reports are built, the idea that all that is to do with Islam is negative can become a reasonable notion. The nice Muslim doctor who prays in the chapel becomes nice not because of his Islam but in spite of it. The polite Muslim student becomes polite not because of his Islam, but in spite of it. The kind Muslim teacher, kind and a teacher not because of her Islam, but in spite of it. Even when people encounter good Muslims, they are viewed as the exception due to an overarching view that Muslims behave in a terrible way.

This may be due to the reason that only bad news is news, it may be due to the fact that news about Islam tends to be very negative, or it may be due to other factors. I cannot say for sure, but I do know from experience that people tend to drop their anti-prejudice mores when it comes to dealing with Islam. I am not talking here about difference of opinion; I do not expect a Christian to accept or agree with my beliefs, for that would be nonsensical. I am talking here about an attitude which boils down to, ‘You’re all right; it’s all the others I object to’. There can be no issue with those who dislike Islam as a result of their knowledge of it. But when people do not know any facts and then speak of the terrible way Muslims behave to prove that Islam is bad, we are entering territory which all would agree to be unacceptable in other situations.

The truth is, the news of Muslims is not all bad, though the scholars of Islam agree that we are living in a period of decline and decreasing knowledge (of the religion amongst Muslims). There are the good works carried out by charitable organisations, for example. This, I think, is good news.

This aspect aside, there are all sorts of other issues to consider. The above explanation, my own view, is a nice simple one. Other explanations are more complex. Some people argue that the media is anti-Muslim, just as some Israelis argue that is is anti-Israel, or some Jews argue that it is anti-Semitic, or some Christians argue that it is anti-Christian, or some members of various ethnic groups argue that is prejudiced against them. At times I have some sympathy with this view, but on the whole I steer clear of it. If a group, for example, calling itself Islamic Jihad bombs a bus, journalists cannot be blamed for reporting this as they do. They have a limited number of seconds or number of words in which to deliver their report, and they cannot be expected to expound on the teaching of the religion in this regard. That is not their job. So while I may find it extremely offensive when I hear careless use of phrases such as ‘Islamic Terrorists’, I generally consider it in terms of journalists just reporting what they see. Another issue to be considered is context. For the majority of situations reported on the news, we are not provided with background information to an event or situation.

These issues and others like them have been the topic of discussion in many books and articles. I do not have the ability to examine them myself. All I would really like to say is that the news media should not constitute the only source of a person’s awareness of Islam, for it can be misleading. And remember: if you meet a nice, kind, polite man who happens to be a Muslim, he might not be an exception and it might just be that he is nice, kind and polite because of his beliefs.

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