WASHINGTON: The Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) has launched a campaign called "Beyond Stereotypes," featuring a new publication called American Muslims: A Journalist's Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims, which intends to educate the media and disabuse journalists of misinformation about the religion.
The guide and the campaign were developed by the nonprofit advocacy group's national office. The campaign's aim is to provide the Islamic perspective on such issues as democracy, women's rights, and "interfaith relations."
CAIR plans to distribute the publication to as many as 40,000 editors, reporters, and producers at major media outlets across the country, as part of the broader initiative to educate the media about Islam.
CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper said that his group has already received "hundreds" of requests for the guide from media professionals via its Web site. Ultimately, it hopes to place the guide on the desks of journalists at all the top US papers; the talk show hosts and news directors of major TV and radio networks, such as CNN, Fox, NBC, and CBS; and the assignment editors and news directors of every local TV station in the US.
The in-house effort by CAIR also includes plans to train local Islamic leaders in media relations, including outreach through editorial board meetings, seminars, and media luncheons and breakfasts. In its online guide to hosting media events, for example, CAIR details a numbers of steps to ensure that meetings are effective and run smoothly, including inviting local community leaders and the media to meetings as well as "informing your guests about the proper etiquette of visiting a Muslim home or mosque."
CAIR members at its 33 chapters around the country, as well as others concerned about the media's portrayal of Islam, are being recruited as sponsors for the cost of distributing the guide. Recruitment efforts have taken place via e-mail lists, the CAIR Web site, and direct outreach by local Muslim leaders. Hooper said he doesn't expect difficulties gaining the financial support needed for the initiative given the level of concern by Muslims about their media image.
"That's one of the hot-button issues for American Muslims and Muslims worldwide - the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media" and the effect such portrayals have on general attitudes toward Islam and Muslims in the US, Hooper said.
Studies that indicate media stereotypes in the US and elsewhere include, most recently, a study of UK media commissioned by London mayor Ken Livingstone, which found that just 4% of 352 articles examined were "positive" in their overall depiction of Islam or Muslims.
According to the guide, common misperceptions in the media include the notion that Islam is not compatible with democracy or modern culture, that the Quran teaches violence, that Muslims around the world hate the US, that Islam does not respect women's rights, and that all Muslims are Arab.
CAIR has been active for some time in seeking to curb bigoted statements about Islam and Muslims, most recently calling on radio listeners to register complaints with local station owners over statements about Muslims and Islam by radio talk show host Michael Savage. On an October 31 broadcast, Savage said: "What kind of world are you living in when you let them in here with that throwback document in their hand [the Quran], which is a book of hate... Don't tell me I need reeducation. They need deportation."
Asked if media members would pay much attention to a guide sent to them unsolicited, Hooper said that journalists in general are indeed eager to be fair and balanced in their portrayal of Islam and Muslims. Hooper added that a number of undisclosed major media outlets have already contacted him about providing their organizations with copies of the guides.
"I work with media professionals on a daily basis and I know that the vast majority are doing the best they can with the resources and information they have available," Hooper said. "But all this is designed to do is put accurate and balanced information into a form that is accessible to media professionals, that they can have handy when and if they're writing stories about Islam and Muslims."