Top 5 Most Damaging Events for Islam’s Reputation

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Yasemin - top five

These are not in any order, but I felt it would be helpful to list the top 5 reasons you are wrong about Muslims. Yes. I know what the title of my blog post says. It is not a typo. It would be counter productive to help detractors attempt to further prove why Islam should be feared. Therefore, I am going to list the reasons as to why it should not. They are not in any particular order.

Before you read them, take a look at this. I found it quite interesting. It lists 10 Reasons We Shouldn’t Fear Islam.

TOP 5 REASONS YOU ARE WRONG ABOUT MUSLIMS

  • Muslims are your neighbors …and you are still alive.
  • Where are all the Muslim voices? WHERE are all the MUSLIM voices? WHERE. ARE. ALL. THE. MUSLIM. VOICES? – First of all, calm down, take a breath. Here‘s one for now. You’re welcome.
  • You curse Muslims day and night fearing the worst for yourself and the world. Then you get a bagel from Dunkin Donuts. How do you know that Indian cashier, who happens to be Muslim, didn’t slip a killer laxative with your cream cheese when you weren’t looking?
  • Trust me. She should KEEP that veil over her face. She has done us all a huge favor.
  • They are likely more afraid of you than you are of them.

Muslims, PR and NY

Yasemin - islamophobia

There are thousands of Muslims who live and work in New York. They probably need PR more than anyone else in the country, mainly because the tragic 9/11 events took place there. There was tramendous backlash against Muslims immediately following 9/11. Many women took off their scarves in fear of being targeted. Men shaved off their beards. People stopped praying at work for fear of persecution (yes, that still happens in America, although in a more subtle and sneaky manner). Mosques were attacked, people were ambushed on the streets, and families were harassed at their homes.

The air has cleared a lot since then, but Muslims undeniably have to fight Islamophobia on a daily basis. Pamela Geller reminded us that New York is the perfect place to spread Islamophobia, because of its diversity and ironic tolerance, when she placed anti-Islam ads on New York’s MTA subways. Recently, she placed ads related to journalist, James Foley, who was killed by ISIS. This is the smartest PR any Islamophobic person can implement. It has the ability to truly affect New Yorkers by appealing to their emotions.

Americans have had a roller coaster of emotions and opinions as it relates to Islam and Muslims. They are conflicted over what they feel as a 2010 PewResearch poll indicated. With recent events that unfolded in Iraq and Syria, emotions could run higher. The trends of ups and downs in polls prior to 2010, however, suggest that a similar mix of feelings may exist. This means there is an opportunity for Muslims to open up dialogue and to build relationships with non-Muslim New Yorkers.

The great thing about New York is in fact its diversity. People are more open minded and tolerant with foreigners because it is such a norm. New York would definitely be open to perceiving Muslims in a more positive way.

 

What Does PR Have to Do With Muslims and food?

Yasemin - halal logos

Enough with discussing the ways Muslims can prove they are not terrorists …for now. I want to focus on a very curious topic that can really make businessmen in the food industry even more rich than they currently are.

Practically everyone in America has heard of the word “Kosher.” Thousands of people in the US specifically look for packaging on labels to indicate whether the food item is in fact Kosher certified. Kosher indicates to members of the Jewish faith whether the food they will be purchasing has been prepared according to Jewish dietary laws. Halal indicates the same thing to Muslims. The challenge Muslims face in America is that packaging usually does not show whether the food is Halal or not. There is a reason for that. Those certifications are granted by organizations who analyze the ingredients and style of preparation before deeming it as acceptable to be consumed by the members of their faith group. This costs manufacturers, however.

Manufacturers have recognized the economic value of certifying food products as Kosher long ago, giving the Jewish community in America quite a bit of options. However, the American Muslim community has only recently started certifying brands as Halal – although many Muslims have been purchasing Kosher brands as an acceptable substitute. Regardless, what this means for businesses is they need to start listening to conversations amongst Muslims. It may or may not be taking place online, but the faster companies recognize the business opportunity to sell products to conservative Muslims who avoid specific food items simply because they are not certain of the sources of the ingredients, the faster they will win loyal Muslim customers.

A good example of companies who have been listening to their customers is the Vermont cheese company, Cabot. They have been labeling a number of their products as certified Halal for quite some time now. It has become a popular brand among Muslims, and many reach for Cabot before any other brand because they have some comfort in knowing the source of the ingredients have been verified. This has given Cabot a headstart to win Muslim customers away from its competitors, all because they listened. That’s exactly what PR has to do with Muslims and food.

Here is an interesting link on Halal, PR and Muslim Consumers by one of the largest public relations firms, Edelman.

Islam’s PR Challenges are the Fault of Muslims

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Yasemin - finger pointing

Before Muslim followers have a fit with this one, I should quickly clarify. What I am talking about is ownership. A key principle I have learned regarding reputation is that when you have a major problem with the way others perceive you, the public will not accept an explanation, as it comes off as defensive. They will not accept rejection of the notions they hold either, because the reality is that perception is truth. Meaning, denying or rejecting what they perceive to be “facts” will merely add “liar” to their list of opinions, while you are still stuck in the same spot you started in: extremist.

The main idea is acknowledging to the audience that you hear them loud and clear and that you share the same concern. And trust me, Muslims do have the same concerns regarding those followers who claim to share their faith. It just gets blurred behind their concern that extremists take up way too much space in the media, even though they are considered to be only a handful when compared to the 1 billion adherents in the world.

This is why Islam’s reputation management is a critical and pressing concept for the Muslim world to understand, and equally important to care about. They should not be preoccupied with and distracted by the T word (the word terrorist is extremely offensive to Muslims, as it should be, mostly because it is accepted as a hate-filled label with no basis for its use).

Rather than busying themselves with such distractions, they should try to understand what it is specifically that pushes people to place Islam into certain categories. They should understand what myths, if any, people are attracted to. They should research what types of people are more likely to hold adverse views against Muslims. It is after taking such steps that the managing of reputation can begin. A long journey awaits to actually calculate appropriate strategies – ones that cannot be misinterpreted or misused by detractors – and then to implement these strategies.

Why are Muslims “extremists” and “terrorists”?

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Many people want to know why Islam is constantly in the news, and never in a good way. Why are there so many Muslim extremists and terrorists? Some feel Islam promotes something evil. Others find it to be outdated and stuck in ancient times, needing a modern facelift. Understanding Islam boils down to one very important element that often gets overlooked: Education.

Firstly, people need a greater understanding of what Islam is and what it is not. It just is not realistic to expect Muslims to simply remove controversial elements from Islamic scripture. For Muslims, every word and sentence in their holy book are like essential organs in the body. They might argue that just because the function of that organ is not yet known, does not mean it deserves to be removed from the body.

Additionally, people should know that, like Christianity, there are differing views amongst Muslims that make it impossible to be “one voice,”as Westerners tend to expect Islam´s spokespersons to come forward as that one voice. I should make it clear that Muslims do not have a “pope” that speaks for them. They do not have just one Islamic leader, because there is democracy in Islam (democracy even tends to be debated amongst Muslims). In fact, it tends to be those who do not believe in democracy (or those who use democracy when it is convenient for them) that create a bit of conflict in their communities. They simply have difficulty valuing other opinions. There’s a reason for that.

Ever wonder where most of the Muslims live in the world? You know that phrase, the Middle East? It is a region of the world where dozens of countries are bunched into a bucket and happen to be pretty poor. Those countries are mainly in Asia. So why not just call it Asia? Well, all of those countries in that area share one major thing in common. They are mostly majority-Muslim nations.

Next, let’s consider the economic and educational features of that interesting area we call the “Middle East.” There seems to be a common theme in all of those countries. Its citizens are relatively poor and happen to have very low education levels. Those countries produce the most terrorists. What I am saying is, it is not as if these are Harvard graduates that go back to their countries to become extremists. When a person is in poverty, they lack education. When they lack education, they lack the ability to think critically and to analyze. They lack the ability to use even basic common sense at times. This is important to understanding why the Muslim world has such a huge dilemma on their hands right now.

Okay, so you may point to the fact that there are majority–Christian countries like Mexico and Ukraine that have millions of people living in poverty are not producing extremists and terrorists. Well they are, but media outlets refer to them as warlards and protestors instead.

Christians and Jews are the Best Advocates for Islam

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Yasemin - abrahamic faiths

Let’s face it. If ten million Muslims were to claim Islam to be a peaceful religion, it would simply get ignored. However, if one hundred influential Christian and Jewish leaders were to claim the same, followers of those faiths might actually take a moment to listen. It is human nature to not believe someone who is defending themselves. It is partially the logic behind attorney representation (in addition to the idea that they know the law better). Anyone who is under character attacks needs to recognize the significance of advocates.

Religious leaders of Abrahamic faiths (religions that stem from the prophet Abraham), can be a powerful force to remove the stigma attached to the entire religion of Islam. Muslims need to acknowledge the role that leaders of Abrahamic faiths can play in clearing the air and improving Islam’s arguably disturbing and unfair public opinion. This is not to say that Muslims should sit back and let others do the work. Muslims should continue to do their part and educate others about what they believe in to give a first-person account of what they understand their faith to be, and how they choose to practice their faith.

Interestingly enough, young people are probably more likely to defend Islam because their generation is more homogeneous. While they may be less educated on current events, they may be more educated about others in the world thanks to social media. This leads me to believe that they may keep more of an open-mind about others compared to much older generations.

Below is an interesting YouTube video by AreWeFamousNow that shows New York’s mixed views on Muslims. As one of the most diverse cities in the world, you may find the reactions to be quite interesting as well.

Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.

Are You Implying We Shouldn’t Trust the Media?

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Yasemin - news lie

I’m not going to imply it. I’m saying it, with no hesitation. We just cannot take everything we see, hear and read as fact. Time and time again, the media has proven to us that we cannot trust everything that is reported. Firstly, they get stories wrong, reporters have proved to have biased predispositions, editors and news networks and newspapers also have biases and personal agendas, and they often care more about ratings and viewership than about accuracy and truth. This means, they will broadcast and print mostly anything they believe will gain attention. As a matter of fact, to cover their backsides, editors review articles to ensure the wording reflects that information is not being presented as “fact”so as to aviod a lawsuit for slander.

I am not claiming the need to be cautious in trusting news reports to be my own original idea. Perhaps most Americans understand that the media portrays news in a manner that could be argued to be propoganda. However, interestingly enough, it would seem that the opinions of the majority of those same people are dramatically influenced by what they read in the papers or what they watch on tv. Reporters have put on their boxing gloves and are giving the religion of Islam a serious beating. The problem is that bystanders are simply watching this innocent faith get that beating with no justification at all.

How can you punish a large group of people for the actions of a few? If you have heard this hundreds of times and are sick of hearing it, I am pretty sure that the followers of that faith are equally sick of saying it. If the shoe were on the other foot, all heck would break loose. Don’t just read that last line and pass over it without processing what I mean. What I am saying is, if it does not affect us directly, we just cannot get ourselves to invest in caring enough. This is what makes what the media does all that more objectionable, inappropriate and intolerable. We should stop holding entire groups of people of any particular faith responsible for evil acts. To start, we should start reading articles with the mindset that perhaps what is written is not the 100% truth.

Celebrities Can Influence the Peace Process

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peace sign

Some argue that the “War on Terror” is actually a war on religion; specifically, Islam. They point out President George W. Bush’s crusade remarks, and support their argument by naming people, like Bill Maher, who are vocal about Islam’s supposed stronghold on the Middle East, suggesting that we should “change” followers of Islam by force – an ironic point of view, as extremists of all faiths, and not necessarily just the God-believing kind, attempt to do just that.

People who have such visibility in the eyes of the public, have a large following, and have automatic credibility for the simple fact that their name is known. In some cases, even when the person is not an expert, nor is the person an intellectual, they still manage to have sway over the public. It is for this very reason that when a celebrity does something unethical, but still within the legal framework, they are severely punished by public opinion and often times ruin their careers, if seen as serious enough in the eyes of the public.

This indicates that they would also play a significant role in the world peace process, assuming they were to show interest and act upon it. Angelina Jolie, for instance, has invested her heart and soul into numerous projects to help the human condition. However, the one opportunity she has not yet embraced, or at least as far as I know, is to initiate a campaign that will motivate every day people to participate in world peace efforts. Most people do not consider the fact that every person can contribute to such a large cause. Unfortunately, most people see contribution as a financial one.

There is so much every single person can do to make people more compassionate, to instill empathy in other humans, and to become caring citizens of the world. But what is the point if the media works against such people and celebrities avoid opportunities to do something about it?

The Truth of Hype: Are Our Neighbors Monsters?

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feb media hype

What is good media, anyway? Media networks might not admit it (shocker) but sensationalism actually works. The world of journalism has compromised accurate news reporting for the sake of increased revenue. There is a blatant existence of news story hype at the expense of truth and accuracy.

With the introduction of social media (you know, bloggers and virtual journalists), news just doesn’t sell the way it used to. There is an unimaginable level of competition amongst news agencies to traffic the most readers to their sites. The existing race to get the most clicks, the most views, and the most visitors drives the motivation behind the way news is reported. This is why we are seeing more viral videos on news sites that teach us nothing about the world by the end of the video. It’s also why deadly viruses like Ebola and terrorism (yes, terrorism is a virus amongst all humans) are covered daily as of late.

Fear drives sales. The world is fascinated with learning about things they fear. So in Western Christian nations, the easiest way to produce fear is to create a monster out of people who are foreign and unknown. The exaggeration of cowardly and lost Muslim extremists has become the news-selling poltergeist. People will tune in because Muslims live on neighboring streets, or in neighboring towns and states, so they are fascinated by how these humans living amongst them can be such “monsters.”

Media outlets would have no success portraying the same of Christian extremists in Africa because America is a predominantly Christian nation. It may be an over-generalization, but just entertain the thought for a moment: Christians are certain that their faith does not encourage or promote such evil acts. But they are not convinced of the same about other Abrahamic faiths (specifically, Judaism and Islam). This is also true in Muslim nations; Christians are seen as people who destroy lands for the sake of Christianity, under the guise of liberation and freedom. This is how media sells in those nations.

In short, it is important to understand the way media works. PR plans need to be prepared according to these challenges. Hype and sensationalism exist. It just cannot be denied. But avoiding the fact that this impacts faith groups in serious ways, and that a good PR campaign can alleviate tensions brought on by the media is just not sensible.

Perception: Few Bad Apples

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bad apple cartoon

A few bad apples can ruin the reputation of the larger bunch. It’s a reality that must be recognized in order to be addressed. But it all starts with perception.

There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world (for what it’s worth, there are 7 billion human beings). Research conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that the rise of Islamic extremism is a concern in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike. Interestingly enough, of the Muslim countries surveyed, Turkey was least concerned that this would be an issue. Anyone who knows a little about Turkish history and the trend in the interpretation of the religion can guess why. If Turks are known to be extreme in anything, it is in their liberalism (as far as Muslim countries go) – but, that’s a whole different topic.

The way Muslims perceive their own faith is equally important as to how others see it. For one, it puts them in a position to be more compelled to do something if they are concerned about it. Meaning, it adds a level of accountability. On the other hand, this perception could also potentially breed an enmity-filled nonfunctional and aggressive culture for all of society.

It becomes the responsibility of the Muslim world to find ways to voice concern over the actions of their community, and then to take measures to help deter such behavior. They must work toward efforts that will promote positive and exemplary actions so that those in the Muslim world can re-learn, so to speak, the values of their own faith.

To get such messages across to a mass audience, the media tends to be one of the best tools. It is also a great way to relay these same messages to other communities, so to increase awareness of what it is that Islam represents. In doing so, perceptions will eventually fall in line with the actual realities of the majority of the peoples within this faith group.