One narrative now dominates our global culture. Another narrative, an alternative one, is all but missing.
The dominant narrative is that Muslims are a rage-filled people who hate America and react badly to events by throwing rocks, burning cars, clashing with police, destroying property – all over a low-quality, absurd video that disparages the character of the Prophet Muhammad.
Newsweek magazine fed this narrative with its current cover titled “Muslim Rage” under which was a photograph of an angry turban-headed man and another man in anguish with his head covered and fist clinched.
This cover reinforces the pre-existing narrative that members of the Islamic faith are reactive, angry, violent people who lack discernment and refuse to recognize freedom of speech.
Without question, protests against the film that mocked the Prophet Muhammad have been widespread, often violent.
Associated Press provided a summary overview of how the Islamic world is reacting negatively:
- Rock-throwing, car-burning protesters called for the death of Americans outside Camp Phoenix, a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
- In Egypt, an Islamic jihadist released a fatwa, saying it was the duty of Muslims to kill the producer of the film.
- Several hundred Indonesian protesters threw rocks at police guarding the U.S. Embassy in the nation’s capital of Jakarta.
BBC News reported that thousands of protesters in the Philippines held an “angry rally” and burned an American flag.
These types of stories dominate newspaper coverage. Add to them the constant loop of violent images on cable TV.
Counterbalancing stories are so few that they stand out.
One was the Christian Science Monitor piece, which pointed out: “The protests in more than 20 Muslim countries … have been small. Small as a proportion of the world’s Muslims, and small when compared to other Muslim ‘insult’ protests in the past.”
Additionally, the Monitor noted that “most Muslims aren’t raging at the US.”
With few exceptions, what is missing in media coverage are words from Islamic leaders who show discernment, speak positively about America and advocate for peace.
The lack of coverage triggers the charge that Islamic leaders never speak out against violence – which reinforces that narrative that Muslims are rage-filled, violent people.
Except that narrative isn’t the only narrative. Another narrative exists: Muslims leaders do speak out against the violence
“Expressing outrage in the face of the maligning of God or the Prophet Muhammad is a moral right,” said Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, a leading Islamic figure, to the Islamic community.
After citing the Quran, he urged Muslims: “[W]e implore you not to inflict violence upon anyone, whether foreign delegations or otherwise. You should not destroy property or flout the values and cherished principles that you defend, as attacking innocents, killing foreign diplomats and ambassadors contravenes religious and moral principles before it contravenes political ones.”
He wrote to the West: “Jesus Christ … spoke of love of thy neighbor. We will remain neighbors forever. No reasonable person would conclude that it would be possible for either of us to disappear from the face of the earth. Therefore, why shouldn’t we cooperate to establish effective neighborly relations in an effort to create a space for mutual liberty and prosperity?”
Would that Western leaders held Jesus Christ in similarly high esteem.
But I digress.
An American Muslim leader, Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, said: “The making of this video presents an extremely false narrative of American society and of American values. It does not represent the views of the American public as a whole, nor does it represent Jews, Christians or people of any other faith.”
Magid is an interviewee in the EthicsDaily.com documentary Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims that aired on ABC-TV stations in January-February 2010.
“As horrific and offensive as the video might be, nothing justifies the sort of violent acts we have heard reported in Egypt and Libya,” he said. “[W]e call on Muslims across the world not to pay any attention to the voices of extremists such as the ones that created this video. These individuals do not represent our American government.”
Magid added: “Our great country guarantees all of its citizens the right to freedom of speech, and unfortunately some use this simply to perpetrate bigotry and hatred. The words of these individuals are intended only to create tension and to solicit violent reactions from Muslims and people of other faiths around the world. It is critical that no one aid them in this task.”
Regrettably, such voices within the Islamic world are often dismissed in the West as inauthentic, unrepresentative of “real” Muslims, the exception.
Of course, such dismissal speaks to both the prejudice and the ignorance in the West.
If the alternative narrative about Muslims is to find any oxygen in our global culture, then the Christian community must supply that oxygen in our houses of faith. That means correcting the demonizing, universal statements about Muslims.
It means encouraging Christians to practice discernment – to see sensationalized cable TV coverage and eye-catching magazine covers as only part of the full story.
It also means seeking the moral balance between freedom of speech and doing the right thing. Having the right to say hateful things about Muslims does not make it morally acceptable to do so.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Editor’s Note: A February editorial critiqued another Newsweek cover story that claimed Muslims were engaged in a global war on Christians.