Times change as do the things people fear, hope for, and believe in. After 9-11 and all that followed, Americans have naturally focused their attention on happening in the Middle East as well as domestic terrorist acts and failed or foiled terrorist plots. There are scientific surveys and analytic articles aplenty that focus on American concerns and beliefs and, yes, biases with regard to Muslims, Islam and such. For instance, there is this 2010 article that points out that only 6% of Muslims are involved in what can be characterized as terrorist activities: All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t
Since scientific polls abound and there is no pressing need to reinvent that wheel, I decided to be unscientific and just listen in on what housewives, farmers, merchants, professionals and others in the Panhandle of Texas and northeastern Louisiana had to say concerning the “War on Terrorism”, Muslims and Islam. As you might expect, many expressed opinions that reflected a superficial and often incomplete or skewed knowledge of Islam and Muslim peoples (not only contemporary happenings & stances but those beliefs and actions on the part of followers of Islam down through history), often peppered with fearful “End Times” scenarios based on the writings or TV teachings of various fundamentalist & evangelical preachers. But, most were quick to add something to the effect that “there are rotten apples in every barrel including the Christian world and likely most Muslims are good people”. I came away with the impression that most of these folks felt it was the rotten apples that were making a mess of things and setting the stage for some kind of regional or global apocalypse.
Apocalyptic scenarios aside, we have a supreme historic example of what happens when a cultured, sophisticated people wind up handing a mandate to a whole barrel of rotten apples: Nazi Germany. The sad part is that once evil does gain the upper hand average people can get caught-up in perpetuating it either through direct participation, or simply by looking the other way as scapegoats or enemies are marginalized and hauled away and worse. Click to read my blog article How do you kill 12 million people? Evil then and now: Recognizing & containing it
Unlike the days preceding the rise of Nazi Germany and following on the heels of its 12 year reign of terror, it would seem people in traditionally Muslim nations in the Middle East do not favor dictators or regional wars that could escalate into a genuine world war (A world war being something many of the people I listened to in Texas and Louisiana feared might come to pass). Witness the “Arab Spring” and the many dictators since who have been toppled from power or who are facing this.
Of course, I am sure there are Muslims and others in their orbit who subscribe to narrow nationalist and religious extremist positions on various issues including Jews, Judaism and Israel. Some actually believe the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (1903) and other such anti-Jewish hoax documents are genuine; that is, was really written by rabbis or others in the world Jewish community intent on “global domination” or other nefarious activities as opposed to it being the forged handiwork of anti-Jewish bigots (Click to read a Wikipedia breakdown of the support this fradulent anti-Jewish book has enjoyed in various parts of the Middle East). And by virtue of this it some of these misinformed people fear Jews in-general and Israel in particular. And yes, some probably do embrace terrorism in various guises or else support it in other ways, or if not this think of anti-Jewish attitudes and policies as somehow “enlightened”. We in the US are hardly immune to racist or anti-this-or-that-ethnic or religious group attitudes or biases, and have plenty of homegrown (though thankfully small & not terribly influential) extremist bigot groups and political parties.
Is there an antidote to biased thinking about Muslims and Islam? I can think of several. One, befriend Muslim folks and learn firsthand from them about what they believe. Attend their services and invite them to yours. Of course, if you live in a community that has no followers of Islam you will not be able to learn one-on-one unless you navigate the Internet and connect via discussion boards or Skype or such. But whether you can do this or not, at least get acquainted with the history of Islam and its principles teachings and what its leading scholars believe about it. Let me get you started by sharing something Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in a June 14, 2013 article titled "Peter Beinart’s Bias Against Me, Cory Booker, and Israel" concerning the Muslim peoples of the world:
"I’m a Jew and I’m a member of a nation that has long proclaimed to the world that every human being is created equally in the image of God. Every one of my Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters are my equals before God and the lives of my Palestinian brothers are of infinite value. I've dedicated my life to the dissemination of this core message of the Judaic tradition, openly and unequivocally."
He adds something from history I suspect many people especially orthodox Christians are largely unaware of but need to know:
"I have long preached how we Jews owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Islam for welcoming us into their lands after repeated expulsions, especially from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1498. Islam, as a great world religion that has often protected Jews, is stained by those who murder in its name or who preach anti-Semitism."
"I am on record of repeatedly referring to Islam as a great world religion that took the Jews in to the Ottoman Empire after Christian persecutions. Indeed, Peter quotes me as saying that I believe Islam is a great world religion, but raises suspicions about my sincerity. I have long preached how we Jews owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Islam for welcoming us into their lands after repeated expulsions, especially from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1498. Islam, as a great world religion that has often protected Jews, is stained by those who murder in its name or who preach anti-Semitism."
Of course, as you wade into the literature and history of Islam you can expect to come across contrary, often dead wrong opinions and misinformation. Among those that popped up “front and center” when I did a Google search on Islam and Muslims were some anti-Muslim comments by televangelist Pat Robertson. In case you are tempted to latch onto Rev. Pat's views as (ahem) gospel, let me steer you to a contrary and IMO more reasonable spin at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/pat-robertson-islam-nazism-evil-video_n_3134711.html.
So, as you do your own research be cautious about sources especially those that confuse their own fears and narrow religious beliefs with objective historic truth.