by By JOHN IWASAKI
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Rami Al-Kabra put a public face on Islam last month, manning a booth at the Puyallup Fair to represent local Muslims for an Islamic advocacy group.
“Some people were very supportive. They said, ‘Thank you for being here. We want you to be out there so people can see you,’ ” said Al-Kabra, secretary for the Seattle chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But one woman he encountered blamed Muslims for the kidnapping and beheadings of foreigners in Iraq, even though his organization repeatedly condemned such brutality, he said.
“When someone’s mind is set,” Al-Kabra said, “you’re not going to change it.”
A poll released yesterday by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., said that one in four Americans believe several Muslim stereotypes and hold a much more negative than positive image of Muslims.
A quarter of survey respondents believe that Islam teaches violence and hatred and that Muslims value life less than other people.
While 67 percent viewed the word “Muslim” in a neutral light, 32 percent had a negative image and only 2 percent a positive one.
“I wasn’t surprised, to tell you honestly,” Al-Kabra said. “I know Muslims in the United States have a lot of work to do to educate Americans about what Islam is and what Islam is not.”
Several leaders in the local Muslim community said the news media spread “disinformation” about Islam, smearing adherents of a worldwide religion for the violent acts of comparatively few.
“In the propaganda campaign, we’re getting crushed,” said Ali Salaam of the Islamic Center of Seattle.
Rizwan Sawad, a Bellevue resident, said that Muslims like himself have denounced terrorists “up and down, left and right, all through the world. These people are giving Muslims a bad name. They are criminal. Nobody is writing that. Nobody is telling that on TV.”
The involvement of Islamic rebels in the siege of a Russian school last month, combined with the vicious slaying of foreigners in Iraq, “has nothing to do with the teachings of Islam,” said Sawad, who runs a travel agency. “Unfortunately, these (perpetrators) have the same religion and the same Islamic name, so we are guilty by association and guilty by ethnicity.”
About half the more than 300 victims in the Russian siege were children. Within days after the bloody standoff ended, some commentators in the Middle East issued unusual self-criticism.
Perhaps the most widely quoted was Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, who said that “most perpetrators of suicide operations in buses, schools and residential buildings around the world for the past 10 years have been Muslims.”
The situation is painful and humiliating, al-Rashed wrote in Asharq Al-Awsat, a pan-Arab newspaper: “Our terrorist sons are an end product of our corrupted culture.”
What drives terrorists is “hate, which is against Islam,” said Aziz Junejo, host of the public-access TV show “Focus on Islam” in Seattle. “Hate is a horrible thing. For all these people who are willing to kill themselves (by suicide bombing) — to kill their own people — hate has to be their power factor.”
But not just any hatred.
“It’s hate due to oppression,” Junejo said. “It seems whether they’re in Iraq or Chechnya, these people are being oppressed.”
Whatever the motive, the backlash is the same for Muslims in America, he said.
“Collectively, we’re put on the defensive, and it’s not fair,” Junejo said. “And I blame the media for this.”
Not all the findings from the Council on American-Islamic Relations poll spelled trouble for Muslims. Among other findings, the poll found that:
# Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that some who use Islam to justify violence are misinterpreting its teachings.
# About half of respondents held one or more favorable attitudes toward Muslims, such as agreement that “Muslims have family-oriented values.”
# About three-quarters of respondents had no Muslim friends or colleagues; those who did held much more favorable views of Muslims.
The poll was conducted by Genesis Research of Descanso, Calif., which did 1,000 telephone interviews nationwide.
IF YOU GO
“Hope not Hate,” a town hall meeting on relations between the United States and the Islamic world, will be at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the University of Washington’s Gowen Hall, Room 301. Panelists will be Bill Center, president of the Washington Council on International Trade; Robert Burrowes, a Middle East expert at the UW; Tarek Dawoud of Muslims in Seattle; and Jeff Siddiqui of American Muslims of Puget Sound. The event is organized by Americans for Informed Democracy. Information: 425-445-8107 or www.hopenothate.org.
P-I reporter John Iwasaki can be reached at 206-448-8096 or firstname.lastname@example.org