The media must refuse to promote material maligning a race, religion, ethnicity or nationality in the name of freedom of expression.
Recently, a local newspaper featured a political cartoon which used Islamic symbols to satirize an Imam condoning the London terror bombings. Another cartoonist depicted a Hispanic coming to America solely with the intention of benefiting from our welfare system.
Such humor does not always bring laughter. In both cases, the respective communities responded with strong indignation and protest. When the media paint a community with a broad brush, knowingly or unknowingly, for the evils of a few, the entire community then feels compelled to respond.
American media attracts global attention when our leaders speak out on issues through our newspapers, magazines, on radio talk shows, through the Internet and on TV. And the world understands that it is not a very sensible expression of facts to call the IRA "Catholic terrorists" or the abortion clinic bomber a "Baptist terrorist."
But, it should equally be common sense not to name suicide bombers, whether in London, Israel or in New York, Islamic terrorists -- these terrorists do not and must not be allowed to represent 1.3 billion faithful. Furthermore, Islamic leadership should not have to issue religious edicts denouncing such acts when an average Muslim has nothing to do with it.
Should we ask the pope to apologize for the IRA or have local Catholic communities come forward with statements denouncing IRA bombings in London? Do we constantly harass American fundamentalist Christian leadership to be sorry for the acts of Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh and Eric Rudolph?
An Israeli Jew recently attacked and killed four innocent Arabs in a bus. Should we then expect the Board of Rabbis to issue an apology in the name of Judaism and the Jewish populations? Should we have named this killer a Jewish terrorist? Religious killers come in every denomination, but unless they are Muslim, we routinely brush off such incidents as acts of a few crazies. Why then does it become mandatory for Islamic leaders to issue "fatwas" -- religious edicts -- confirming terrorism is not compatible with Islam?
It is wrong to back the Muslims in a corner and force them to plead not guilty for a crime neither they nor their faith is responsible for.
Sure, a few imams are guilty of inciting hatred but which religion has not produced a few zealots? The war on terror begins with the battle for the minds and hearts of the Muslim populations, so says our State Department. Demonizing the Islamic faith will not win the support of the faithful -- it will only be a strategic error.
Let us isolate the terrorists, but not dignify and sanctify their act in the holy name of a religion.
Let us not hold a fifth of humanity guilty for the crime of a small minority. It is against the American justice system and against international norms.
When we associate the name of a faith with a few, we then strengthen their cause and make them martyrs for the faith.
If a neighborhood is attacked for the mistakes of a few, people of that neighborhood have no other choice but to bind together and defend their territory. Tribal mentality then becomes a norm.
Indictment and/or negative portrayal of an entire group of people is simply wrong for the crimes of individuals. Our leaders in media and government must recognize this.
Victor Ghalib Begg is chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan.
Source: Detroit Free Press