The Islamic Faith and Extreme Fundamentalism
Today, I was having a conversation with a man who kept insisting that Islam was a religion that preached violence and bigotry. Ironically, the only bigot in the equation was him. He believed that Muslims support the actions of militant extremist groups like the "Islamic State"(IS) and thought that average Muslim citizens were incapable of accepting other religions.
Why is it that when we hear the phrase "the Middle East" our mind readily goes to an image of violence and chaos. Or when we hear about the Islamic faith we automatically associate it with terrorist groups. The Western World so readily accepts the narrative presented to them by the media which characterizes Middle Eastern citizens as a militant and irrational people. Although these countries are largely plagued by civil wars, the people of these countries are not characterized as a people that we can empathize with. The grapple between Eastern and Western ideals has caused us to in essence relive the Cold War except now over different ideals.
It becomes so easy to "other" these nations and the people that live in them. The people of the Islamic faith are viewed as a naive people who are in essence "brainwashed" with conservative ideals. The liberalized West, especially the US, feels a need to assume the role of moral actors and a need to inflict their "superior values" on the rest of the world. Western involvement in Middle Eastern countries have caused nothing but civil war and the rise of Anti-Western sentiment in these nations. The strife caused by external intervention has caused extremist militant groups like IS to rise to prominence.The tendency for the West to always assume they are right has caused the alienation of the Islamic people and their characterization as an irrational and extremist people.
The level of narrow mindedness that I encountered today thoroughly astonished me. I realized the extent to which Islamophobia still exists in our society. After 14 years, the September 11 attacks still continue to leave a haunting shadow over the United States and its citizens. The hatred felt for Muslims is so deeply set that it leads us to overlook that they are more similar to us than we can imagine. The citizens of Middle Eastern countries are nothing like the irrational, violent, militant, radical people they are often portrayed as.
Ignorance on either side will only prolong this conflict and will hinder us from gaining a deeper understanding of each other. We must be careful of making over generalizations because of the evident dangers that this presents for the future. An overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support the ideals of extremist fundamentalists and do not believe in using violence to spread the Islamic faith. More Muslims are affected by the violence and terrorism than are non-Muslims. The Syrian refugee crisis elucidates the helpless situation of many of the people living in these Middle Eastern countries that are plagued with civil war and economic strife. We must constantly be aware of our prejudice and keep it in check to the best of our ability. The man mentioned earlier can only be helped if he chooses to understand the people of this faith instead of choosing to alienate them.