As we near the 10th anniversary of September 11th, many are reflecting on that painful morning and recalling where they were and what they felt when they heard the news. For many, that was the first time they ever heard about Muslims or Islam. For me, the only other time before 2001 that the word “Islam” even entered my sphere was when my third grade teacher taught us about the five pillars of Islam during our world religions unit in history class. Over the past decade, discussions around Islam and Muslims have become nearly ubiquitous. Nevertheless, many people’s knowledge of Islam and Muslims is limited to strong emotional associations –mostly negative, sometimes fearful.
Pictured here is Asma Assad, wife of Syrian president Bashar Assad. Many might guess Mrs. Assad to be a Hollywood actress and hold a favorable view at first glance. However, many Syrians look down upon her, criticizing her immodesty and opulent “western” lifestyle.
As part of an Anglo-American-orchestrated PR campaign, in Syria, Vogue ran a 3,000-word cover story on the Assads, portraying Mrs. Assad in contrast to the negative stereotypes of suppressed, ignorant, and conservative Arab women. Vogue painted the First Lady as a “thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement” and “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Vogue took the article offline soon after it was published due to heavy backlash.
Blaming Mrs. Assad for the recent atrocities in Syria, numbering over 2,200, and her husband’s support for violent extremism throughout his decade of dictatorship is obviously unfair. The motivations for Mrs. Assad’s reported trip back to her native London over the summer are unclear, if she is even in fact in London. The point is that it’s time for the western media and public to rise above the low bar that has been set when dealing with issues related to Islam and Muslims. As Americans, we owe it to the innocent people who were killed on September 11th, to the innocent lives lost from a decade of wars, and to ourselves to move beyond simplistic explanations and descriptions.
It’s time we stop being mesmerized and fooled by images and begin to judge people by their actions. It simply amazes me how images of 19 men with box cutters have led significant portions of western culture to become consumed with fear by the image of a brown-skinned man with a long beard or a women wearing a hijab (please take note, Juan Williams). That kind of fear is an embarrassment to the people that have been misled by the media and their own misguided perceptions. More importantly, it is insulting to Muslims everywhere, and to the people of Syria who are being massacred by their own President— who is married to a woman “on a mission to create a beacon of culture and secularism in a powder-keg region.”
It is a simple fact that self-identifying Muslims around the world have killed innocent, non-combatants (overwhelmingly other Muslims) in the name of their faith. It would be irresponsible to shy away from discussing this threat. But math is math, and the truth is that only a minute percentage of those that identify with the faith carry forward violent actions in the name of Islam. To fall into the trap of attributing judgements based upon physical appearance is naive, at best. All hope isn’t lost, but even a decade later, western societies have still fallen short of the ideals of blind justice that most stand for.