The Misunderstood Middle East

Yasmeen Waliaga

In the 40s it was the Japanese, in the 80s it was the Russians, and today it is Muslims in the Middle East that are portrayed as america’s enemy.
In a Reuters article, reporter David Morgan said that the discrimination against Muslims has risen exponentially since the September 11 attacks, and much of it is seen in schools, workplaces, and other communities. Americans are constantly reminded of the tragedies brought upon by extremists who call the Middle East their home.
Articles show that many people have developed hatred toward all inhabitants of that region; not just the radicals, but the common citizens too. Other articles have also highlighted the miscommunications and misunderstandings that Middle Eastern individuals living in the United States have face day in and day out.
In The Daily Beast, Dean Obeidallah reported on the consequences that Muslims have had to face from false representation of their culture, which began with September 11. Over ten years ago, people were overwhelmed with horror when they were informed of the attack that had been made against America. He said, as people saw the towers explode, so did the rage within them; a rage that remains incurable and grows with each story they hear on the news.
These articles represent how some American citizens have inherited the idea that Islamic culture as a whole is grounded in evil and violence.
The question is whether the media has given Americans a distorted view on Islamic culture by failing at times to distinguish between what the culture actually promotes from what some radicals express about it?
The assumptions being made about Islam some say are leading to prejudice attitudes towards Muslims. Because of this, people who aren’t aware of the truth about Islam might be firing at the wrong targets.
A study from the Gallup World Religion Survey that was published by Fox News found that although two-thirds of Americans have minimum knowledge about Islam, they are more likely to be prejudiced towards Muslims than individuals of other religions.
Ahmed Bekhet, a graduate student at Georgia Southern University from Egypt, who is Muslim, said when he was riding MARTA in Atlanta, a woman told him he was a terrorist. Bekhet said that people need to learn that Islam is a peaceful culture.
“Yes, there are a minority who are causing problems, not just for America, but for the Muslim world as well. Many of the people who are suffering from these acts of extremism are Muslims themselves,” said Youssef Salhi, the Arabic professor at Georgia Southern University.
So what is to blame for this misunderstanding; the way the media portrays events or the values many Americans are raised to follow? How can individuals conquer this divide that has formed between Middle Eastern people and citizens of America?
“I think both sides need to take extra steps to reach out to the others.  The American society needs to open up to learn about other cultures and religions but also the Muslim community needs to reach out,” Salhi said.
Both Salhi and Bekhet pointed out that Islamic culture emphasizes on peace and community, not violence and terrorism.
“People should know that Middle Eastern people and Muslims are just like people here in America, people love to spend time with their family, to eat good food, to travel, to listen to good music and have fun.  They are just like us,” Salhi said.