By Richard Lim, GPS Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

Extremism is no way to respond to extremism. Just as bigotry towards Islam (or any group for that matter) is destructive to society, so too is the knee-jerk reaction that assumes America is a nation of overzealous, Islamophobes. Just as the stereotyping of Muslims is unfair, so too is the stereotyping of Americans as ignorant racists.

In the past year, Muslim perceptions of America have reached a nadir. The outcry over the building of a Muslim community center blocks away from the 9/11 site and the highly-publicized efforts of radical “Pastor” Terry Jones to burn the Qur’an have seemed to confirm a pattern of intolerance that has increased since 9/11.

This interpretation is a gross simplification and distortion of history. Just as many are apt to point out that Muslim extremism does not reflect the broader Muslim faith, so too it must be said that the Terry Joneses are not reflective of Christianity and America. Forgotten is the fact that America’s president, secretaries of State and Defense, the Pentagon, every respectable religious group, and conservative leaders Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have all condemned Jones’ pathetic attempt to garner attention.

Sometimes, in the passion of the moment, it is easy to lose sight of the overall situation when we elevate the noisiest and most obnoxious voices. The fact of the matter is that Muslim Americans, historically, have integrated well into
American society and have enjoyed the fruits of American opportunity. A 2007 Pew Research Center study found that immigrant Muslims exceed the general American population in percentage who attain college degrees and in annual household income, and are well represented among higher-income earners.

Last June, President Obama delivered a speech that he hoped would be a new beginning in relations with the Muslim world. Denouncing Muslim stereotypes, he added, “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.” In combating stereotypes, let us remember that extreme responses on both sides will do nothing to raise the level of debate in America.

Sources:

Janet Daley, “The Terry Jones saga shows the strength of anti-Americanism,”
Telegraph, 11 September 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/
janetdaley/7996761/The-Terry-Jones-saga-shows-the-strength-of-anti-
Americanism.html.

Paul Thompson, “Reverend to ‘rethink’ plans to burn the Koran after agreement to
move Ground Zero mosque is denied by Muslim leader,” Daily Mail, 10 September
2010, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1310635/Rev-Terry-
Jones-rethink-9-11-koran-burning.html .

Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, Pew Research Center, May 22,
2007, http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2008/December/
20081222090246jmnamdeirf0.4547083.html.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-
Cairo-University-6-04-09/

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