"Muslims teach their children to hate"

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has sponsored a survey on perceptions of Muslims in the US, in which almost one third of respondents associate the term Muslim with a "negative image" (and only 2% with something positive). You can also see the entire survey here.

I find something like this interesting because it raises such a host of related questions. The way Islam is portrayed in the Western media for example, which is almost always as violent or irrational. Not to say that Islam can't be very intolerant and isn't used to spread intolerance (Muslims should ask themselves why about half of the American respondents said "Islam oppresses women.") But I don't think it's the case with Islam more than with any other religion. I mean, when we talk about Islam as a violent religion, have we forgotten the Crusades? the Inquisition? Abortion clinic bombings?

Also, the way all conflict in the Middle East is reduced to religion. The Palestinians happen to be Muslims, but the violence in the Occupied Territories has to do with nationalism, not religion. That goes for a lot of Arab countries, where the roots of violent action are more political/social/economic, and religious terminology is used to frame and give legitimacy to grievances.

Finally, I think the current US administration bears a lot of responsibility for negative stereotypes about Muslims. Bush has made several disclaimers about how all Muslims are not terrorists. But if you want to be running a perpetual and amorphous war, and you want to drum up support for it, then you need a perpetual and amorphous enemy, and all the talk of "evil-doers" and "thugs" and "ideology of hate" has rendered the entire Middle East, in many Americans' minds, one large hotbed of fanatical, freedom-hating, inhuman terrorists. This is convenient.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.