Educating fear and ignorance

By Editorial Board

Radical Islamist terrorists have rocked the world with relentless acts of violence in recent weeks. The Jan. 7–9 Charlie Hebdo and kosher market shootings carried out in Paris by radical Islamists linked to a Yemen al-Qaida group were plastered across media outlets for days. In the outer rims of the news cycle, the militant Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram razed the Nigerian villages of Baga and Doron Baga Jan. 3 and has since kidnapped dozens of children in Cameroon. 

In light of these events and the Western world’s tense relationships with Islamic extremists, Islamophobia and whether or not to hold an entire religion responsible for atrocities committed in its name are at the forefront of American debate. 

Religious militancy and terrorism have existed for centuries. No religion is without its bloody past, but the visibility and rising ranks of radical Islamist terrorist groups have spawned irrational fears and prejudices around the world, often exacerbated by the media and a lack of education among citizens.

It is easy to blame the media for the fierce hatred of Islam that many people hold, but much of the media Americans consume is not objective. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 “State of the News Media” report, both Fox News and MSNBC favored opinion over factual reporting. With 85 percent of MSNBC’s content and 55 percent of Fox News’ content being commentary, we are left with few media outlets that are actually reporting “news.” CNN hangs in the balance with only 54 percent of its content being factual reporting, according to the report. And with radical Islamists making headlines every other day, the chance of hearing opinion rather than fact becomes increasingly likely.

Pointing the finger at big bad media conglomerates obviates consumers of the responsibility of actively choosing to educate themselves and others, though. If society actively pursues context for the news they are seeing on

Islam—a religion that is practiced by approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide and is rife with compelling culture, history and politics—it can move away from toxic beliefs and agendas that do not serve the global community. Education starts with pursuing different, unbiased sources of information and opening ourselves up to experiences and discussion. 

Many have closed minds on Islam—particularly in the realm of education—as is evident from the backlash seen in schools that have made attempts to educate students. In Revere, Massachusetts, a parent removed his child from a history class that was taking time to focus on the Muslim religion, according to an Oct. 14, 2014, WHDH-TV news report. In La Plata, Maryland, parents also removed their child from her history class because of a lesson on Islam, according to an Oct. 31, 2014, WUSA 9 report. In both cases, parents cited the supposed controversy and violence surrounding the religion for their actions. Nevertheless, denouncing Islam on the basis of the acts of extremists is foolish and only further isolates a religion and its adherents who are increasingly misunderstood.

In addition, allowing parents and others with a warped view of Islam to permeate the educational process is unfair and will only continue to breed animosity and hostility. It may not be easy to sway rigid beliefs that have been born from long-held prejudices and media bias, but a person who pursues truth and insight can help others challenge themselves, because it is with a willingness to understand and educate without bias that we can better treat and relate to our fellow humans.