American Views On Islam: Ignorance Is Bliss
Why are people's views about Islam so screwed up ? Mostly because the only things they know about it tend to be the worst possible aspects of all.
Joel Achenbach has a post up today lamenting the latest manifestations of what you can only call public stupidity:
God help us. Could so many Americans really be that dumb, ill-informed, paranoid, gullible and goofy? It must be tricky being Barack Obama, winding down the U.S. presence in volatile Iraq, trying to keep Afghanistan from degenerating, pondering war with Iran, even as, according to the latest bulletin, one in five Americans thinks he is a Muslim.
Why not just believe he’s an alien from outer space? Or a Manchurian Candidate, programmed by, say, the Chinese to bring America to ruin?
It’s also dismaying that so many Americans are opposed to the mosque near Ground Zero. In America you can worship wherever you want, regardless of religious belief. We protect religious minorities here. This isn’t merely the law: It’s a core value. This goes back to the Pilgrims, I seem to recall. The backers of the mosques are the good guys, the ones who preach tolerance. There should be no hedging on this at all from American leaders: If we can’t allow a mosque in lower Manhattan we might as well close shop for good and turn out the lights.
What this shows is that disinformation remains powerful and infectious, and that large elements of the country distrust the official story about anything. People assume, as the starting point on any issue, that they’re being lied to. Maybe they want to believe that because it offers an explanation, of sorts, for why the world isn’t the way we think it ought to be.
I think there’s a fairly simple explanation for all of this. It’s not merely Fox News/Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck brainwashing. It’s not necessarily racism or bigotry. It’s comes down to the simple fact that people tend to think the worst about things they’re unfamiliar with.
As I noted yesterday, for example, most Americans tell pollsters that they do not know any Muslims personally. At the same time, though, the same polls show that most Americans think they are at least somewhat knowledgeable about Islam:
Where are people getting this knowledge about Islam if they don’t know any Muslims ? Well, obviously, from the same talking head news culture that creates the culture of demonization. If you were to base your opinion on Islam solely on what is portrayed on Fox News and on radio shows hosted by people like Sean Hannity, then it’s not surprising that you’d be opposed to not just to construction of a community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan, but any mosque anywhere. It is, quite simply, ignorance fueled by demonization. I would submit that if some of these people had actual Muslim neighbors or co-workers, their opinions about the religion, and the rights of its adherents, would be much, much different.
And that, I think, is part of the problem that Muslims in America face. They are a very small part of the population — somewhere between 1.3 million and 7 million people depending on whose numbers you go by — but they are part of a religion of 1.6 billion people worldwide that is, because of it’s radical elements, suspicious to some people. It’s a PR problem, but one made more difficult by the fact that it’s very unlikely that most Americans will know much about Islam other than what they see on television from the Middle East, and most of that, quite honestly, isn’t very good (which is, incidentally, why many of the Muslims in America are here rather than there). When it comes to Islam, Americans suffer from a lack of knowledge about everything other than it’s most extreme and radical elements, and until that changes I’m afraid that the public’s attitudes about Islam are going to remain as negative as they are today.