Johnny has his dad's hair,
his mom's nose, and
the same fears as both his parents
The last issue of Parenting for Moral Growth focused on helping children deal with fears of terrorism. Some of our Muslim friends were quick to point out that all three of the terrorist incidents we provided as examples were acts by extremists claiming to be Muslims. We might have unconsciously reinforced a stereotype, which was far from our intentions.
It is very easy for kids to internalize some of the fears we hold, even unconsciously. We nevertheless have a responsibility as parents to examine our underlying stereotypes and to help our kids process assumptions as well. Here are a few things that might help begin a dialog with older children:
Examining the possibility of a media bias
We have to keep in mind that mass media in North America is entertainment, and thus subject to viewer ratings; media outlets have an incentive to select topics that they know will attract an audience. Stories that enforce the dominant "us vs. them" paradigm are always a popular subject. Consider the following:
- The majority of the terrorism that Europe has experienced in recent decades is perpetrated by separatists, not by Islamic fundamentalists, despite the enduring coverage of events. 1
- Lest you think there is a different story in North America, terrorists claiming to be Muslims have killed only 37 people in the United States since 9/11. That is 37 people too many, but an extremely small number when put beside the mass murders in shopping centers, movie theaters, schools and other places, and indeed in comparison to the 190,000 other murders that have taken place in the United States since September 2001. 2
Muslims worldwide are enduring in their calls for peace
We occasionally hear people, especially certain radio or television figures, say "Why aren't Muslims denouncing terrorism?" Muslims--both famous and less well known, and both individually and as organized groups--have frequently and regularly both denounced terrorism and called for peace, harmony, and understanding. Our not hearing their calls is due to the way our media works: if an organization of a thousand Muslims makes a call for peace, and one crazy person plants a bomb, even one that does not causes bodily harm, only the sensational act makes it to the front page.
Without counting the numerous Muslim statements for peace that came after the September 11th attacks, here are just a few from more recent years. Many of the below come via the website of sociologist Charles Kurzman, where additional statements are documented:
- July 10, 2007. The Islamic Society of North America condemned acts of terrorism that had taken place in Glasgow, London, and Yemen. The Society "sympathized with the victims of these senseless attacks and offer(ed) heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their dear ones."
- July, 2005. Two hundred Islamic scholars from 50 countries at a conference in Jordan drafted "The Amman Message." The message was later endorsed by hundreds of other Islamic scholars. The Message said in part: "Assault upon the life of a human being, be it murder, injury or threat, is an assault upon the right to life among all human beings. It is among the gravest of sins; for human life is the basis for the prosperity of humanity."
- That same month (July, 2005), more than 500 British Muslim scholars, clerics, and imams signed a document affirming that "Islam strictly, strongly, and severely condemns the use of violence and the destruction of innocent lives. There is neither place nor justification in Islam for extremism, fanaticism, or terrorism."
- Ontario consultants on religious tolerance has documented two dozen statements by prominent Muslims, and Muslim groups over the past several years, all against violence and terrorism.
- A more recent example comes from website of the Vatican Radio, in July of 2014: "Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State...The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims."
The holy texts of Islam promote the same peace that many other major religions do
We only have to look to recent history to see examples of all types of people who have used dogma to justify horrendous violence towards some "glorious end"-Fascists, Communists, Christians, etc. In fact, the word Islam is an Arabic word that comes from the same root word as salaam- the Arabic word for peace. Islam means submission to what God wants and doing what God wants us to do, which is to build community and take care of the poor and the disadvantaged, as well as the environment. Islam's religious teachings and texts are full of messages about peace. Nearly every chapter in the Qur'an begins with the words "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful." These words, as well as a host of others in the Qur'an, reinforce the importance of caring for others.
The hadith are accounts of what Prophet Muhammad did and said, and are considered the best source of how to live one's life as a Muslim. The hadith are important because Muslims are supposed to try to live their lives the way the Prophet did; he was the perfect example of living a life according to God's wishes. Muhammad was famous for his kindness and his generosity; he married a wealthy widow when he was in his 20s but, precisely because of the way he shared his kindness with those around him, he was no longer wealthy when he died.
Young people hearing things like these from people they know and trust have a better chance of entering a world already full of challenges with a more balanced, sensitive, and just view than some media outlets currently allow.