BOB: And I’m Bob Garfield. Between the sheer brutality of the Islamic State, the attacks by gun and hatchet-wielding crazies in Ottawa and New York, and the steady stream of young Westerners willing to lay down their lives for ISIS, the world continues to grapple with the perceived threat of Extremist Islam. Here’s comedian and talk show host Bill Maher.
BILL MAHER: Its the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book...
According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans are VERY worried about Islamic extremism around the world -- up 25 points in the last 3 years. And Americans increasingly believe that Islam encourages violence more than other religions. Manhattan Institute finds that Muslims in America are actually highly assimilated. But WNYC's Arun Venugopal, who offers this report on how Muslims are grappling with so much terrible PR, says that finding...
ARUN: Doesn’t matter. The gut-wrenching pictures of beheadings from Iraq and Syria, seems to demand a response from the Muslim world….
OBAMA: It is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL.
ARUN: And to some extent, that’s exactly what happened the second week of September.
CLIP: Because it's totally un-Islamic
CLIP: Because what you're doing is inhumane
ARUN: With campaigns like Not in My Name
CLIP: [5 second montage of people saying "Not in my Name"]
ARUN: British Muslims standing against ISIS.
CLIP: We must all unite together and try to stop this group from damaging Islam and damaging Muslims.
ARUN: Not in My Name is an earnest attempt by Western Muslims to distance themselves from extremists, with hashtags and YouTube videos. That video's been seen a few hundred thousand times. But in the weeks following it prompted a whole lot of eye-rolling, and a competing hashtag, a much snarkier campaign on Twitter ironically called Muslim Apologies. With tweets like these...
Tweet:: I'm so sorry for inventing surgery,
Tweet: for coffee, for universities,
Tweet: for hospitals, for toothbrushes for vaccinations, for numbers.
Tweet: I'm sorry that Mufassa had to die in Lion King. Hashtag Muslim apologies.
Tweet: I might as well just apologize for living. For breathing. And for being born Muslim.
ARUN: Linda Sarsour is one of those people who fall into the Muslim Apologies camp.
LINDA: I am the Executive Director at the Arab-American Association of New York,
ARUN: and she's a regular combatant in the ongoing war of words between Muslims and critics of Islam. And it's not that she has a problem with denouncing ISIS -- she just thinks it's a pointless exercise, because it won't sway ISIS or the Westerners who already hate Muslims.
LINDA: You have Imams standing together for major mosques that are representing tens of thousands of people in New York City and they're standing up as New Yorkers as Muslims as Americans saying, "We condemn terrorism". Where's the media? I don't know. Its pretty sad. And thats why sometimes I tell my people, "Is it worth it that you go out there and say this or write these statements. "Why do you feel so defensive? Why do you feel like you have to defend yourself?" You're a good American. You're leading a congregation. You're talking about social justice. You're a law-abiding citizens.] Why do you always feel compelled to have to apologize for every damn Muslim out there that does something crazy or does something violent?
ARUN: But for some Muslim leaders, this isn't just a campaign to educate suspicious non-Muslims.. Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid is the head of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York and says that by condemning ISIS he's also trying to reach Muslims in his own community.
Abdur-Rashid: The fact is, there's an onslaught of targeted information that's constantly being beamed towards America and the rest of the world from forces and places overseas. And particularly among the young people, they have legitimate questions, they want to know: "Is this perspective legitimate or illegitimate according to our faith?" So one can never teach enough or preach enough in order to establish the truth.
ARUN: Haroon Moghul's a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and writes a lot about Islam. He says the job of countering extremism -- and suspicions about Muslims...
HAROON MOGHUL: [Becomes Whether or not you want to you have to say over and over and over again, "This is not us. This is not what we believe.'
ARUN: I've been reporting on 'the Muslim issue' for a while now -- and periodically, when things got quiet and there weren't any extremists or controversial mosques in the news, I'd think "Maybe America's moved on." But now I realize that's not gonna happen. This isn't something that will just go away, so I'm curious about these 2 hashtag campaigns and have wondered which of them is more effective. In this corner you have #MuslimApologies -- snarky, hip, progressive -- and over there, the very earnest #NotInMyName. I turned to a communications expert, Robert Perez.
ROBERT: I'm a strategist for social causes and in particular I explore what makes humans tick.
ARUN: A couple years ago, Robert worked on a campaign to convince the Presbyterian Church to ordain gays and lesbians as clergy. They ran ads in the main Presbyterian church magazine, featuring stories of the LGBT faithful.
ROBERT: We also shared the stories of straight, conflicted Christians who had had a change of heart. We called them journey stories, where you show the conflict, you show the concern, you even show the fear and those stories proved to be very powerful.
ARUN: The campaign apparently worked -- conservatives who'd voted against ordaining gays and lesbians, switched. Robert says that with these sorts of hearts & minds campaigns, it's critical to address the real fear that some people have of 'the other,' whether that's the LGBT community or Muslims.
ROBERT: We want people to empathize with us, and we need to empathize with them.
ARUN: And that, he says, is why the the Muslim Apologies response is likely to be counterproductive. As hip as it may be, it doesn't reach across the aisle.
ROBERT: So, unless you reflect and acknowledge that fear, a campaign like #MuslimApologies might end up being a roadblock. Good at rallying people, and bringing people together who are like-minded, but perhaps not the right way to frame a conversation to help lessen anxiety and fear among folks who maybe do not know Muslims themselves.
ARUN: Which, quite frankly, is a lot of Americans. But there is another way to look at these 2 approaches. Taken together, they could signal to outsiders that Muslims don't speak in one voice, that they're not a monolith. That some may have a sense of humor. Haroon Moghul says they’re both illustrations of how Muslims are articulating their identity in a style that other Americans can relate to.
HAROON:...Now you have to make it explicit. You have to hashtag it. You have to talk about it. The very specific forms are different because now we have social media, we didn't have that fifty years ago. But every minority community has had to do that.
ARUN: Is that fair? Not really.
HAROON MOGHUL: ...but that's just historical reality. And I think what you're gonna see in the next five or ten years is more and more of this sort of explicit embrace of an American identity...
ARUN: And the fact is, it’s not just Muslims. Not just minorities. A recent spate of violence against women spawned the defensive retort, Not All Men. Which prompted the hashtag response: Yes all women. The call and response of Twitter is the currency of our time.
MOGHUL: You're torn with these conflicting impulses. On the one hand I want to push back against ISIS, on the other hand for the love of god can I stop talking about Islam and just be a normal human being and have the same concerns and realities as anyone else and go watch Walking Dead for example. But in a real sense: How long do we have to be professional Muslims?