Media blamed for misconceptions

A presentation led by Scott Alexander and Lynn Mitchell discussed influences of the media in Islamic and Muslim misconceptions | Anam Ghias/The Daily Cougar

Scott C. Alexander spoke to a room full of people about “Islam, Muslims, and the Current Global Context: Moving beyond Media Sound Bytes” Saturday evening at the Turquoise Conference Center.

His speech was organized by The Institute of Interfaith Dialogue and it centered on how the media is the sole source of information about Islam and Muslims for many and how this is the reason for many misconceptions about the religion.

“Some things that go on in our world are too complex to be treated fairly and adequately in the media sound byte,” Alexander said. “And if you overlay on top of that certain prejudices and stereotypes and ignorance that get sometimes perpetuated in the context of the media sound byte, the problem then becomes compounded.”

Alexander showed two pictures to the audience, one of Shirin Ebadi, a Muslim Nobel Peace Prize winner, and another of Osama bin Laden. Everyone recognized the Muslim terrorist, but nobody recognized the Nobel Peace Prize winner. This highlighted the role media plays in forming our perception of Islam and Muslims.

“So we have a perception problem, a very serious perception problem, which sometimes the media sound byte doesn’t help us get beyond,” Alexander said. “As my friends in the media tell me, ‘If it bleeds, it reads.’”

Alexander is an associate professor of Islam at the Catholic Theological Union. He graduated from Harvard and then went to Columbia University for his Masters and Ph.D. in the history of religions with an emphasis in Islamic Studies.

Professor Lynn Mitchell, Resident Scholar of Religion and Professor of Religious Studies at UH, has also been involved with interfaith dialogues for many years.

“We must educate ourselves in our own history,” Mitchell said. “And try to learn as much as we can about our own religious history and traditions as well as the other religious traditions.”

Alexander helped this educational effort by conveying the results of a Gallup poll of Muslims around the world and their views on terrorism.

“Only 7 percent of the Muslims expressed their feelings that there was justification for the acts of Sept. 11. The other 93 percent said there was no justification,” Alexander said. “I know some Americans I speak to think that 7 percent of Muslims condemn Sept. 11 and 93 percent think it was a good idea. They think the exact opposite. And of course that’s the impression you get from the media sound bytes.”

When asked about judging an entire faith on the actions of a few, Mitchell advised against it.

“Don’t do it. Learn how not to do it,” Mitchell said. “It is a ‘sin’ and a lack of understanding of your own religious or spiritual principles.”


  • A lesson in statistics: The 7% figure is taken from a 2008 book entitled "Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think" by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. Beyond the 7% figure, the book does not provide any raw data, numbers, percentages, results, or statistical tests that will allow us to critically examine the claim. The only relevant statement in the book is: "According to the Gallup Poll, 7% of respondents think that the 9/11 attacks were completely justified."
    Given this sentence, I am perplexed how Scott Alexander reached the conclusion that "93 percent said there was no justification." The Gallop poll used a 5-point scale, where 1 is "totally unjustified" and 5 is "completely justified." The book only reports on the percentage of respondents who thought 9/11 was "completely justified." I am willing to wager my entire life savings that the percentage of Muslims who said 9/11 was "totally unjustified" was much lower than 93%. Of course, I do not have access to the data — Gallop charges more than 30,000 dollars for the data, but it is reasonable to assume that a significant fraction of respondents thought 9/11 was merely "justified," and some maintained neutrality on the question. I don't believe all respondents marked 1 or 5.
    I would also like to note that 7% translates into about a hundred million Muslims who think that 9/11 was "completely justified." How is that for a "media sound byte"?

    Dan Graur
    John and Rebecca Moores Professor
    Department of Biology and Biochemsitry

    • so are you outright saying that islam is an especially violent and/or dangerous ideology? or that believing 9/11 was "justified" is the same as being a terrorist? just wondering before i write you off as racist garbage

  • Part 1 of the chronicles-
    I read this article today and realized how it's not different from any other articles that i read from the cougar on a daily basis. It's always, and i mean always, talking about these poor little muslims. I have muslim friends that agree with me. How this exact person proves their article correct. They are the media so they are telling us how "oh these poor little muslims people are getting attacked." Honestly has anyone seen how these people are acting uncivilized in their original countries.

  • Part 2 The of the chronicles-
    Then they come to America and we have to conform to them and their beliefs. Mitchell from the story said "We must educate ourselves in our own history." Well here is a history lesson, when our forefathers founded this country it was founded on GOD. And now with all this political correctness junk people like me are the bad guys. I don't get it? History: it was some abdul or apu or Aljezzera person that flew planes into buildings and killed my fellow Americans. And you are telling me that i am offending your people??? I am cool with everybody of every race and what not but when i read stuff like this that tries to defend those that offended us; that's when i have a problem. I BET THAT THERE WILL BE ANOTHER ARTICLE IN THIS PAPER THAT WILL HAVE AN ARTICLE ABOUT MUSLIMS OR ISLAM THIS WEEK; HECK MAYBE TOMORROW. YOU CAN QUOTE ME ON THAT! U.S.A!!!!!!!

  • Did someone mention Thomas Jefferson?

    Here is Thomas Jefferson's experience with the "Religion of Peace":

    (See next comment)

  • In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). Upon inquiring "concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury", the ambassador replied:
    It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy's ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once. [2] [3]
    Jefferson reported the conversation to Secretary of State John Jay, who submitted the Ambassador's comments and offer to Congress. Jefferson argued that paying tribute would encourage more attacks.

  • I don't ever see any Muslim's getting harassed. I'm getting sick of these articles. Nearly every day, there is an article published about Muslims and how they are being persecuted or something like that. They are not being persecuted. There are important things to discuss.
    1) The debt
    2) Democrats skipping out to an Illinois resort instead of voting.
    3) Iran getting nuclear
    4) China buying our country
    5) The Middle East destroying itself
    6) Pirates in the Indian Sea
    7) Unemployment > 9% with real unemployment at nearly 17%

    So lets get off of these BS social issues and focus on real topics

  • i really don't see anything wrong with identifying Osama Bin Ladin over whoever the Nobel prize winner was… Osama Bin Laden was the self proclaimed face of 9/11. There are tons of Nobel Prize Winners……. only one 9/11

  • "And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them" [7:2]

    Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. [13:15]

    "And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee." [20:13-14]

    Guess who's holy book that's in? That's Deuteronomy, folks. Yep. That's the Bible.

    Muslims aren't saints, but let's stop pulling the wool over our eyes thinking the problems in the Middle East are because of a violent Islamic religion. The Judaic/Christian scriptures have their fair share of violent teachings in them which have been used to justify everything from the Inquisition to American Slavery. The Catholic Church recently declared Islam the largest religion in the world (over a billion strong). If Islam really preached unfettered violence, the West would be a smoking crater right now.

    The problems in the Middle East are more-so due to political reasons than religious reasons. People like Osama bin Laden use religion to further their political goals, just like Christians have used their religion to justify the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, colonialism and "the white man's burden", and a host of other vices.

    So chillax and try to get a balanced view of the Muslims. You'll find most of them friendly, hospitable, and simply upset with American foreign policy.

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