Terrorism – Islam, the Most Widely Misunderstood Religion and the Role of Media Increasing terrorism across the globe can be contributed to many factors such as extremism, poverty and literacy rate just to name a few; however, widely misunderstood religions have been the focus of the blame, disregarding the root causes. It has been over a decade since Islam is being openly criticized for promoting terrorism. Islam is the only religion that has been constantly associated with terrorism; however, it does not promote terrorism, but actually condemns it.
The only possible way to eliminate terrorism is if media and super powers such as United States, China and Russia stop taking advantage of general public and start playing a positive role in this whole blame game. Individuals from the west view that Islam promotes terrorism, have their own point of view. They trust that western values are in conflict with the Islamic values, resulting in a clash of eastern and western cultures. According to the western view point, Muslims have an aversion to the west for its successful secular state and therefore, express their hatred in the form of terrorism. There is no doubt that the values of western people are in conflict with the values of Islam.
Muslims do not seem to like the idea of secularism; however, this is not the main reason for terrorist activities carried out by Muslims. First, we need to understand how terrorism arises. What is the main cause of terrorism? As Woodberry J. Dudley (2002) points out, “Terrorism is a response to built-up grievances, real or imagined. Therefore, one cannot drive out terrorism without dealing with the grievances that have led to it. The most obvious of these issues is the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Another major point raised by Western media is the doctrine of Jihad in Islam. They claim that the doctrine of Jihad in Islam plays an important role in promoting terrorism. Raphael Israeli argues in ‘The Islamic Doctrine of Jihad Advocates Violence’ and Jennifer Hurley quotes him, “Jihad has principally one meaning: a military action designed to expand the outer borders of the realm of Islam or to protect the borders of Dar al-Islam from encroaching unbelievers” (Hurley, 2000). Although it would easily appear that Jihad advocates violence, and thus results in terrorist activities from Muslims, this is untrue.
One cannot come to the conclusion that Jihad promotes terrorism just by looking at the actions of Muslims, but instead need to understand the concept of Jihad. First of all, Jihad does not mean Holy War. It means to strive for something. As Mohammed Abdul Malek points out in the following: “In reality jihad is a duty of Muslims to commit themselves to a struggle on all fronts – moral, spiritual and political – to create a just and decent society. It is not a ‘holy war’ against the Muslims during the time of the Crusades (a war instigated by the Church for religious gain).
There are other words in Arabic which are more appropriate to use in a war situation, if war was the principal purpose of Jihad. Examples of such words are ‘harb’ (war) and ‘maaraka’ (battle).The Holy Quran could have used these instead of Jihad, if the intention was the declaration of war.” (Hurley 2000). Hence, it is clear that it is the misinterpretation of Jihad that has led Muslims and Non-Muslims to believe that Jihad advocates terrorism. It is understandable if the doctrine of Jihad is misinterpreted by Non-Muslims, because they may not have enough knowledge about the laws of Islam or they may not have an understanding of the teachings of the Holy Quran, the holiest book for Muslims.
Yet how come various Muslims misinterpret the doctrine of Jihad? As Pervez Amir Ali Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, notes that, “Maulana Abdus Sattar Edhi, Pakistan’s preeminent social worker, and the Taliban’s Mohammad Omar are both followers of Islam, but the former is overdue for a Nobel Peace Prize while the latter is an ignorant, psychotic fiend.” (Schafer, 2002). These two men represent the two ways of understanding Islam. One understanding is what Islam says. The other is the way it can be explained so that it fits in with one’s own beliefs.
The difference between the two is very obvious. Many Muslims tend to believe or explain things that fit in their beliefs. Unfortunately, this approach of understanding Islam has led to the misinterpretation of not only jihad, but the whole of Islam. On the other hand, right after the terrorist acts of 9/11, journalists were seen as being biased. Apparently, they were just doing their jobs but the after effects of the incident put them into a severe patriotic state. There is nothing wrong with being patriotic about your country and hating your enemies but while doing a job that makes you stand in front of the millions, patriotism came out as a controversial factor.
(Hess, Kalb, Brookings & Shorenstein, 2003). As John McWethy, the chief national security correspondent for ABC News, responded: “When you are on television, you are a symbol for your network. I would no more wave an American ﬂag while I am trying to report in a nonbiased way about conﬂict overseas than I would a Canadian ﬂag or a British ﬂag if I were a citizen of those countries. I’m a reporter.” (Hess, Kalb, Brookings & Shoranstein, 2003).
At the same time, a majority of population residing in the Middle East and South Asia, condemn the western media for being biased against Islam. One has to agree to a certain level that American Republicans, who are known to be conservative, have control over few news channels and those channels only show one side of the story.
In these critical times, the media’s role should be to help resolve the conflicts and show its audience the real face of terrorism. As Red Batario writes, “From where I stand, as a citizen and media consumer, the stories that come my way are bereft of one important thing: context and empowering information. They do not allow me to make sense of what is happening around me. The stories tell me of problems, they do not tell me that something can be done.
They tell me that everything is wrong but nothing about what’s working. Other stories cite Muslim terrorists but I have yet to come across a news item identifying para-military groups who assassinated their victims as Christian terrorists.” (Batario, 2012). Western media is also responsible for not appreciating the efforts made by Muslim community on daily basis. Those journalists and new anchors have totally ignored the anti-terrorism, anti 9/11 and anti Al-Qaeda attitude shown by Muslim patriots of the west. How come they do not see how it is like to grow a beard or wear hijab and curse the terrorists; the enemies of the west at the same time.
As Kamran Pasha, an author and a Hollywood filmmaker writes, “Thomas Friedman wrote an outrageous column in The New York Times claiming that no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama Bin Laden.” (Pasha, 2009). Fatwa means a legal pronouncement in Islam usually given by an Islamic scholar to clarify a question. (Wikipedia, 2013).
The surprising part is that a ‘fatwa’ had already been issued by some Spanish Scholars in March 2005 yet Friedman chose to lie and misguided his fellow Americans and an unknown number of souls all over the world. Pasha further elaborates, “There is a real political agenda inside the media itself to keep Islam as the enemy, and to portray mainstream Muslims as a fifth column inside America. The idea that your Muslim neighbors are silently supporting Bin Laden sells newspapers.
It captures the attention of viewers of the nightly news. And it furthers the ambitions of politicians who need a rallying point to get votes.” (Pasha, 2009). It is true that most of the actions taken by the Muslims in the west go unnoticed. For example, Pakistan, a country located in South East Asia, has been fighting the war on terror for last 12 years and has lost the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians but still media keeps portraying Pakistan as a terrorist country. My question is, what would make their voices get heard? What exactly do they have to do in order to justify that they equally condemn terrorism? I guess no one better than media can answer these questions.
Media definitely needs to play a more positive role instead of neglecting the real facts. The great minds in the media who create controversial stories should emphasize on coming up with creative ideas to illuminate the audience with truth. With the help of them and general public, many atrocities can be avoided by conveying the right message to the public. As Cerge Remonde said and Batario writes, “We (the broadcast media) generate a lot of heat but very little light.” (Batario, 2012). In conclusion, Islam has widely been misinterpreted both in the western world and the Islamic world.
To solve this problem, one cannot resort to war as a resolution or change the values of Islam, but instead there needs to be a change in western diplomacy to take into account the grievances held by many Muslims. The United States needs to change its foreign policies, especially concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, which would help many Muslims believe that the United States really wants to solve the issue at hand. Not only does the responsibility lie in the hands of United States, but also the Muslim Umma (society), who as a whole need to step up and realize that what they believe in is wrong and they need to find out the truth. The authorities of Islam need to step up and take a stand.
They need to educate the Muslim society and create more awareness about the true meaning of Jihad and other similar complicated concepts. If not, certainly this is only the beginning of terrorism in Islam. Not to mention, if media cooperates and stops being biased and one sided, issues bigger than terrorism could be overcome without wasting billions of dollars and many innocent civilian lives.
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The Islamic Doctrine of Jihad Advocated Violence. Jennifer A. Hurley (Eds.). Islam Opposing Viewpoints. (20-115) San Diego: Greenhaven Press. Malek, Mohammed A. The Islamic Doctrine of Jihad Does Not Advocate Violence. Jennifer A. Hurley (Eds.). Islam Opposing Viewpoints. (24-121). San Diego: Greenhaven Press. Pasha, Kamran. (2009, April 20).
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