In an article that should be no surprise to anyone, MSNBC lets us know that Negative Perceptions of Islam Increasing, something I’m sure none of us would have guessed had there not be pollsters to tell us.
As an aside, you can check out their daily poll, a true example of the stupidity of online polls, at Poll: How do you view Islam? What on earth is that question supposed to mean? It’s a polling question for stupid people, and the results are meaningless. But then, all results of online polls are meaningless. This one just stuck out as more meaningless than usual. But even though it does not collect useful information, it suggests and reinforces an attitude, the attitude that suggests that we can deal with all who claim to be Muslims as a single entity.
This would be as though we decided that all Christians should be assumed to be like the Christian reconstructionists, and that if you meet a Christian, or make policy for dealing with a Christian you should assume that set of beliefs. Whether you agree or not with Christian reconstructionists, you know that most Christians do not, in fact, hold that particular set of beliefs.
I do not mean to suggest that we should not learn from experience. The fact is that those who are attacking us the most at this point do claim to be Muslims, and while they may be bad Muslims (I certainly am not going to try to judge “good” versus “bad” members of another faith), they do hold at least some claim to the title. So there are certainly things that we need to do to guarantee security. But if we fail to distinguish the good from the bad, and even different attitudes amongst the rest of Muslims, it can only make the situation worse. I don’t mean that we do this because it’s politically correct, or because we have to feel guilty about defending ourselves by force, or out of altruism. I say it because I believe it is the best way to deal with the situation.
The only thing that can result from us building up prejudice and hatred here in America against Muslims is to increase the number of our foes, and reduce the number of our friends. It can make it strategically difficult to find help and to gather intelligence. If Muslims in the Arab world (and it’s important as noted in the MSNBC story I cited to distinguish “Arab” from “Muslim”) believe that we are intending to destroy Islam, than many who might be willing to work with us against terrorists will instead be pushed to work against us. The instinct for survival does that to people.
We, in the United States, need to repeatedly make it clear who is the enemy and who is not, both by words and by behavior. If you are a “good” Muslim from our point of view, you should be certain that you are safe and that your legal protections are guaranteed and will be respected. By “good” here I don’t mean a good adherent to the Muslim faith–that is not for me to judge. What I mean is a person who abides by our laws and means to continue abiding by them and upholding them.
I believe it is possible for us to recognize how our own actions provoke reactions in the Arab world without blaming ourselves for causing the terrorist attacks. What I mean is that we can consider our words and deeds from a strategic point of view. What type of speech and behavior will make it easiest for us to live in the world and protect our security? One can teach a tourist, for example, what areas of the city to avoid in order not to be a victim of crime without also telling that tourist that he or she is to blame if victimized.
But the reason I chose to comment on this story is simply this: If we think of Muslims as a monolithic group, all to be treated in precisely the same way, then we will restrict our ability to act effectively. Asking, “Do you have a favorable impression of _____?” and naming the group is sloppy thinking, and it can lead to sloppy actions.