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The Need to Re-think Muslim Stereotypes

“The greatest gift we can give to our children is to raise them in a culture of peace”

Louise Diamond

In the days following the heinous crime carried out at the Boston Marathon on 15th April 2013, the Muslim community was once again thrust under the spotlight. Boston, like London, Moscow, Mumbai, Spain, Baghdad, Oklahoma City, Kabul, Newtown, Columbine and many other places around the world has fallen victim to a terrorist act with tragic consequences. It is true that the two brothers responsible for what happened were self-identified Muslims, but before this news even came out many people had already decided that there was a link to Islam and that those responsible would be Muslim individuals.

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A number of significant events such as the 9/11 and 7/7 tragedies, and Muslim reactions to the Gulf War and Salman Rushdie controversies, have reinforced negative stereotypes about the Muslim community and Islam itself, and have fuelled far-right groups in their hateful spewings. In response to the events in Boston, some people quickly chose and continue to choose to vilify or shun members of the Muslim community, often placing the blame directly onto them. However, the danger here is that humans have a tendency to stereotype instantly in order to make sense of something with which they are unsure, and in highly emotive situations this process is even stronger. Jeff Greenberg, a Psychologist from the University of Arizona commented after the bombings that “when death is percolating close to consciousness, people become more ‘us vs. them’ – they become defensive of their belief system, positive toward those they identify with and more negative to those who espouse a different belief system”.

Whilst stereotyping may be something that humans do instinctively, we must be conscious that stereotypes can be (and often are) completely inaccurate and damaging to the lives and communities of others. In a recent BBC report, Khaled Beydoun from the UCLA School of Law suggested that “a white terrorist will be framed as an individual aberration [whereas] a culprit who is an Arab, Muslim or black American will vilify an entire community of people”. This view has some substance. It is simply not right to stigmatise an entire community because of the immoral and barbarous actions of a few. However, quite often the stereotypes and associated emotions that are raised in people can be so strong that they end up omitting or censoring information that may counteract this, such as this stark piece of information:

Islam forbids terrorism.

Surprising? It probably is to some because those who scapegoat Muslims for any terrorist attack are undoubtedly lacking a full understanding of Islam. Time and time again leaders from within Muslim communities declare that this kind of act is not permissible under Islamic Law and is in no way justifiable, but this often does very little to change people’s views. A common argument often given is that ‘Muslim’s do show support for terrorism’ but this is nonsensical because Islam, just like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and every other faith in existence, has individuals who have, do and will interpret scriptural and practical teachings in their own way. Indeed, Muslim scholars from around the world have repeatedly declared that the Quran, the central religious text of Islam, preaches peace and not the hatred that is sometimes misconstrued.

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The borders that exist in our world are no longer as stark as they once were. The communities in which we live are no longer unblended. Our lives are no longer untouched (in one way or another) by someone from a different cultural origin, background or belief system.

Whilst some in our society attempt to divide us, we must strive to never allow another’s hate to turn us into haters. No matter what our differences are, we are united by a common humanity, and we should take inspiration from those who try to heal communities, who try to promote peace at a both a grassroots and a global level, and who refuse to shun those whose cultures or beliefs are different from their own.

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1 Comment

  1. Anna says:

    I think in the first paragraph it is crucial to mention as well terrorists acts which took place in Russia. We cannot forget for example about events in Beslan or Dubrovka Theater which have been planned and conducted by Chechens involved in Islamic rebels group.

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