Journalism - Issues of Islam and Muslims in the United States
Staff Writer, June 10, 2007

On June 10, 2007, in an effort how to counter the issue of Islamophobia, the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles hosted a lively discussion with prominent media figures, Nicholas Goldberg (Op-Ed & Current editor, Los Angeles Times), Edina Lekovic (Communications Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)), Rob Eshman (Editor-in-chief, Jewish Journal) and Phil Shuman, an Emmy award winner (KTTV Fox 11). The panel was moderated by Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director of MPAC.

Salam Al-Marayati expressed his frustration in regards to the media coverage of Muslims. A recent example was the Pew poll that showed Muslim-Americans are diverse, largely integrated, happy with their lives, sharing core values with other Americans, and embracing the American dream but the major media outlets reported a skewed statistic: POLL: 1 IN 4 YOUNGER U.S. MUSLIMS SUPPORT SUICIDE BOMBINGS. Salam elucidated the fact that the statistics coming from a poll can be projected in any number of ways. He also said that he does not question the Pew poll and out of 1050 Muslims living in the United states who were used in the survey, 1% said that suicide bombings against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam; an additional 7% said suicide bombings are sometimes justified in these circumstances, which is relatively a small number when compared to the total 4 million U.S. Muslim population.

Nicholas Goldberg said that Americans are largely divided with the ideas lately; e.g. either support the Iraq war or oppose the Iraq war and there is no middle ground and he believed that his newspaper reports both sides of the
story diligently and at the same time receives a lot of criticism from both sides each claiming that the newspaper is biased towards the other. He also agreed with Salam's assessment that the statistics of a poll can be
projected in any number of ways as one wants.

Rob Eshman said that the only way to overcome such negative portrayal is by having Muslims mix with their fellow non-Muslim American citizens. He personally felt that in his capacity as an editor of a Jewish Journal, he had a great opportunity to work closely with the Muslims all these years otherwise he wouldn't think it is a possibility. He also indicated that most of the Jewish journals have started reporting accurate stories of Islam and Muslims than ever before, especially after 9/11 because Jewish community needs deeper understanding and education of Muslim community.

Responding to Rob's question, which according to Pew poll about 28% American Muslims do not believe that Arabs were responsible for 9/11 attacks, Edina Lekovic said that the poll results presented last summer by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University also found about 36% Americans believed in a 9/11 conspiracy of some fashion.

Phil Shuman said that reporter is at the lower order in the hierarchy of any media outlet and for example when the boss asks his reporter to do a reporting on Pew Polls, it is quite possible that the reporter did not choose right Muslims for the interview and would have reported the news inaccurately. In that event, he urged the viewers to write concise letters to the media outlet and that will greatly help in improving the quality of the reporting at least in future.

MPAC featured "Truth over fear", a ten minute documentary that delves into various Islamophobic issues such as experience of Muslim children in schools, negative portrayal of Muslims in Hollywood movies and TV series,
and how a Muslim congressman was harshly questioned in a TV interview etc.

Dr. Maher Hathout, Sr. Advisor, MPAC presented three items in his wish list to the panelists. The first is to give mainstream Muslims equal space or air time in the media along with the others - including the ones who believe in God, the ones who do not believe in God, the ones who bash the religion. Secondly, he wanted media to be credible in reporting; when a person clearly says that she is no longer a Muslim, the media reports that the person as a Muslim speaking about Islam, which does not make sense. Finally, he wanted media to be mindful of using one's religious affiliation especially when a person commits an act of crime; if a non-Muslim is involved in killing of innocents and he claims that God motivated him to do that, no religion is brought in but when a Muslim engages in a similar act, then his religion is found all over the place.


Journalism: Issues of Islam and Muslims in the United States
Islamic Voice, August 2007