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A Better Way to Fight Stereotypes

Posters and billboards are not enough to fight Islamophobia. The fight should be directed at the sources of information that lead to negative biases—the media, the internet, and ourselves.

There are many posters floating around on the internet that were made to fight popular stereotypes against Muslims (such as those posters that talk against the West's beloved fantasy that Islam oppresses women). While these posters bring feelings of power and liberation to those who create them and to those who pass them around, a Muslim activist's time can be spent in a better way to fight stereotypes, due to the way human nature works.

It is about how stereotypes are made in the human brain and how they are strengthened. See, stereotypes are general conclusions that we draw from the massive amounts of data that enters our brains every day. For example if many times we see cats attack small birds, we conclude that cats are dangerous to small birds. Now, if cats started creating posters that claimed cats are not bird killers, we wouldn't believe the posters because we have data in our brains that contradicts the posters' claims.

When people who hold negative stereotypes against Muslims see anti-stereotype posters, they don't say to themselves: "Oh! I have been so wrong about Muslims all along." They look at the posters with indifference because the information they have gathered in their brains for all of these years tells them that their stereotypes are correct. One single anti-stereotype poster has no power to fight the one million stereotype-supporting posters that many Westerners carry in their brains against Islam.

Stereotypes are natural. Allah has made the human brain processes in a way that leads to their creation. Fighting stereotypes is like fighting the clouds that come out of the oceans. What use is removing a cloud or two when there is a whole ocean that is constantly producing more of it?

The way to fight stereotypes is to fight the data sources that generate them. Most of the anti-Muslim data that exists in the West's brain comes from the media, and some of it comes from Muslims themselves

  • The majority of the West's media dislikes Islam to some degree and for various reasons. Some Christians feel better when they are told how bad Muslims are, which motivates the media to do it to please them. Most Jews, whether following Judaic religion or atheists, love Israel and consider Islam the biggest enemy of their beloved state, which motivates them to use their prominent media and publishing positions to portray Islam in a negative light. Non-Jewish atheists dislike all religion and love to publish anything against it, and Islam makes the easiest target.

    All of these interests and many more have come together to create today's Islamophobic media and internet atmosphere.

    To counter these interests, the media and the content on the internet should be made more honest and agenda-free. This is done by having more Muslims work in the media field. Whether as reporters, news photographers, editors, filmmakers, bloggers, website owners, writers and scholars, or media executives and entrepreneurs, Muslims can ensure that the media's systemic anti-Muslim bias does not pollute their own work and the work of their subordinates.

    A book about the history of Islam, if written by a person who has reason to dislike Islam, will end up being a negative portrayal of Islam, even if the person tries not to make it such. So far a lot of the works published on Islam are written by such people. There is an obvious danger in a situation like this, when almost everyone who writes about a religion dislikes it right from the start. The truth has no chance of surviving in such a situation.

    Things can be made better by adding more voices to the mix. If some of the highest quality books on Islam are written by Muslims, the publishing media atmosphere will be made less Islamophobic.

  • Muslims: We often say that Islam is great. But we aren't great Muslims (as Tariq Ramadan says). Anyone who wishes to spread Islam and to be a representative of Islam must first look at their own actions and their own heart. Saying that Islam is great does nothing, because words are empty. Our actions and behavior, our kindness and generosity should talk for us.

    Being a Muslim means being a representative of Allah. That is what the word khalifah means when God says "I will put a khalifah on Earth" [from Quran 2:30]. We are Allah's representatives, how are we representing Him? How many of us, through being terrible representatives of Allah, have turned people away from Him and His guidance?

This is not to say that anti-stereotype posters are completely useless. They don't affect those who hold strong stereotypes, but those who don't may be made to realize that these stereotypes are questionable. People who haven't been strongly affected by the media's anti-Islam bias will see that there are multiple sides to the issues related to Islam, and these stereotype-fighting posters may motivate them to find out more about Islam (what they end up finding out, of course, is another issue.)

But if the goal is to fight stereotypes at large, rather than reaching the small sector of unbiased individuals in the West's populace, the fight should be directed at the sources of information that lead to negative biases—the media, the internet, and ourselves.