Prior to coming here at Roger Williams University, I had no perception of what the Middle East looked like- other than what was shown to watching the news with my parents. Especially back in “the old days,” media coverage of Arabs and Muslims were sensationalized and misrepresented as a symbol of American hatred. I grew up watching pictures of Osama Bin Ladin blared on the television screen and then which him fade into the flames spouting out of the World Trade Centers on 9/11. Headlines read, “Muslim Terrorist’s Caught,” or even “Jihad in America.” It caused myself to not only be scared of an Arabic person, but internally felt prejudicial tendencies. I had, what scholars prescribe as Islamophobia. In his book Islamophbia: Making Muslims the Enemy, Peter Gottschalk writes , “the significance of this phenomenon is the tenacity of its stereotypes…media outlets consistently overlook the voices of moderation from the majority of Muslims (Gottschalk and Greenberg, 2008).” I was once part of the millions of Americans who saw Islam or Arabs as person of anti-Americanism. Now looking back, I realized I was brainwashed into believing the exaggeration of such perceptions.
A documentary that really opened my eyes and started to change my former views of Muslims was “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” I saw this movie in my CORE 103 class Perspectives in Human Behavior With Dr. Macphee. The documentary explores the expertly gathered opinions of Muslims around the globe as revealed in the world’s first major opinion poll, conducted by Gallup, a preeminent polling organization. Research lasted over six years and spanned to over 35 countries giving the findings an astounding accuracy Focused on the issues of terrorism, gender justice, and democracy, the film presents remarkable data that challenges the notion that Muslims and the West collide.
Coming from the background of misconceived notions, I was truely shocked about the findings. For example, when Americans were asked how much they generally knew about Muslims, only 52 % said they did in 2002. In 2007, with six years of Muslims being in the media after 9/11, that figure grew to only 57%. This just shows how in the past, the media has been reluctant to provide actual information and not just Islam as the “terrorist religion.” Another poll that caught my attention was the amount of Arab men actually thought women should have equal rights. The lowest percent was in Egypt, and that was only at 67%. I had, along with many other Americans, perceived that all Muslim men were against women’s rights and their statuses as equals. The final poll that surprised me was how many Muslims thought that 9/11 was completely unjustified. Choosing between 1 thru 5, 57% of Muslims that took the poll chose 1 and that 9/11 was unjustified and only 7% (5) thought it was.
This documentary really got me interested into studying Arab Politics and the Untied States relationship within the Middle East. If you have any friends that have “Islamophobia” or want to take a look for yourselves here it is.