Friday, July 22, 2005

Image and Images: I did something I never, ever do yesterday. I called a radio talk show.

I don't call radio talk shows for the same reason I will never go on a game show or a reality show. Why should I put myself up for public ridicule so that somebody else can make a buck? I'll put myself up for ridicule for free, like I do in this blog, or so I can make a buck, like I do with other writing. But I will never feed into the entertainment frenzy for a dangled carrot or because some radio guy manipulated my emotions.

But yesterday John & Ken, the talentless KFI drive-time hacks managed to find their way into a Muslim mosque, with an audience that was a fair balance between Muslims and non-Muslims.

It was part of the Islamic PR campaign that follows every single terrorist attack. Muslim spokesmen come out and express their frustration at the public association between terrorism and Islam. The public is wrong, they say, to associate Islam with terror.

And the spokesmen are absolutely right. It is not fair to characterize all Muslims in this way. I completely understand their frustration.

I would like, therefore, to give them some advice. Here are my suggestions to the Muslim community for how to change the way the public perceives them:

Stop accusing non-Muslims of ignorance. Stop saying the problem is that people don't know enough about your religion. You are so adamant in your disapproval of people's ignorance that at times it comes across as if your disapproval of thier ignorance is more powerful than your disapproval of the terrorists.

Remember--what happened on 9/11 was an action. The images of those towers falling down are powerful, powerful images. Actions and images will always be more powerful than simple words. You cannot merely tell people you are good and noble. You must show them.

The only way to completely disavow yourselves of the events of 9/11 is to provide positive actions and images that are so strong, so noble, so good, that it counteracts the imprint made by those monsters who want to co-opt your religion in the name of their cause. Surely, if a dozen so-called Islmaic Fundamentalists can do the damage they did in a single day, imagine the positive impact the 7 million Muslims living in the US could make, if they made a concerted, direct effort for even longer.

Imagine the awesome power of even a quarter of those--a million and a half people--all brought together as one unit to display solidarity with the United States, with their Jewish, Christian, and atheist brothers and sisters, and against the terrorists.

I have simple ideas, although I am sure better ones will be clearer to you than they are to me. Public vigils for the victims of terrorism, where the monsters are decried and the idea of brotherhood is embraced. Money always speaks loudly--a donation of $10 by every Muslim in the US would provide over $100,000 to the families of each victim, all done in the name of Islam. Not as atonement or apology, for you have done nothing wrong.

But these evil men are stealing your religion from you. They are desperate. They will resort to terrible means to convey their message. If you wish to win back your religion, win back the name and the image that you know Muhammad intended, then you must begin, not merely to tell the American people you are something else, but to show them. You must be just as desperate in your attempts to provide good and positive images and actions frequently and often, as those beasts are in providing their damaging, hateful ones.

And to the non-Muslims who are reading this, perhaps feeling the superiority that comes from viewing a situation as an outsider, I must say we are guilty of this ourselves.

We want the world to know that America is a loving, caring nation. That our actions in the world are noble and good.

We lament that other nations hate us, and we either say we deserve it, or we dismiss their feelings as unimportant. In fact, we politicize all our international action. When the man in office is on "our side," we embrace his wars, and call then humanitarian and good. When he is on "their side," we decry it as power grabs.

What we do not do is, as a people, unite together in agreement that whatever our governments are doing, whatever their governments are doing, we love the people of these nations, and want them to have happiness. What we do not do is look to insure that the interests of good are, in fact, being served, but merely grant morality to the actions of our leaders based on whether they were standing under the right banner when they said, "Vote For Me."

You and I should be reaching out to the people of the world, not just willing to send our sons die for them, but willing to live for them ourselves. The people of Iraq, the people of Afghanistan, the people of the world should find themselves showered with food and clothing and fuel. And it should be clear--this is a gift from the American people. People who saw you suffering and in need, and who knew they had the means with which to give.

And then, on their heels, come the teachers. Those knowledgeable in farming and engineering, education and medicine, not to do, but to teach. To impart replenishing, renewing horns of plenty that will continue to provide for these people for generations.

And when they say, your government is so generous, to send you here, the teachers can say, no, brother. I have sent myself here. My government gives me the freedom to act as I will, and I choose to use that freedom to serve you.

Then the people of the world will truly understand what freedom is. Then the people of the world will understand who we are--not because we told them what to believe, but because we shared so much of our hearts with them that they knew us for who we truly were.

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