By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
This week, President Obama is reaching out to the Muslim world. He's trying to change Muslims' perceptions of the United States, but it's just as important for Muslims to change Americans' perceptions of them. Mainstream Muslims who seek peace were drowned out a long time ago by radical clerics who support jihad. The time has come for reasonable, peace-loving Muslims to step forward. And it's time for the rest of us to listen to them.
President Obama spoke to the Turkish National Assembly this morning, and said this about the Muslim faith:
I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject.
That's the problem: Many Americans, rightly or wrongly, believe that when you're talking about the "people of all faiths" who reject violence and terrorism, you're not including the vast majority of Muslims. President Bush #43 was quoted many times saying that Islam is a religion of peace, but I can't think of any major Muslim leaders who were quoted saying that about their own religion. In fact, I don't think most Americans can name a mainstream Muslim leader, certainly not one calling for an end to violence—thanks to years of radical clerics on the nightly news, screaming into bullhorns about the Great Satan and whipping crowds into a frenzy.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released today reflects this. According to the data, most Americans think President Obama's outreach to the Muslim world is an important goal, but nearly half hold negative views about Islam and a "sizable" number believe that even "mainstream" members of Islam encourage violence against people of other religions.
And while a majority of those polled think that Islam is a peaceful religion, a substantial minority—nearly 3 in 10—said they see mainstream Islam as advocating violence against non-Muslims. About half, 48 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Islam—the highest in polls since late 2001, in the weeks following the September 11 attacks.
The data also show that a majority of those polled said they do not have a basic understanding of the Muslim faith, nor do they know anyone who is Muslim.
So while part of the problem is lack of understanding on one side, part of the problem is lack of explanation on the other. So it's time for Americans to listen. And it's time for mainstream, peace-loving Muslims to come forward and speak out about their faith, explain their basic teachings and philosophy, and condemn violence against other religions.
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